Gold, An Elusive Target - How To Reduce the Odds

By Kenneth H. Rohn
From page 60 of the April, 2000 issue of Lost Treasure
Copyright © April, 2000 Lost Treasure, Inc. all rights reserved

As we in the metal detecting fraternity know, the most sought-after and elusive target is gold. When you come right down to it, why haven't more gold items been found? Considering the vast number of coins and jewelry that have been lost or unaccounted for, it's astounding that so few ever come to light. It is indeed one of the strangest phenomenons of our hobby.

Being in the right place and with the right equipment and know-how can be a big plus in reducing those odds. But, how are we to know which is the right place to search? This is where the thinking cap comes into play.

Although we may cogitate gold coins as being of ancient vintage, they were circulating in the U.S. as late as 1932. In 1933, our country went off the gold standard by order of the president. It was illegal to own any gold coins except for collector items for several decades thereafter. Some $20 gold pieces were minted in 1933. None were supposed to be issued. Two, maybe three had gotten out and it's causing trouble for those who possess them yet today. So, as late as 1932, gold coins were susceptible to being lost.

There are several places in the U.S. where gold coins are being found on occasion. One of these is the east coast. Another is the west coast. Other places are where people of old congregated. In those days, it was common to have outdoor doings such as town meetings, dances, picnics and church socials. These are the places that we have to locate and search out.

They may be overgrown and, by casual observation, one would never suspect that a park or grove ever existed there, but if anything was lost, it's still laying there waiting for someone to dig it up.

I know of one man who, upon getting a signal, let some young people dig up the target for him after they insisted. That target turned out to be a shiny $5 gold piece! He admitted later that he thought it was a pull-tab; an expert with a detector and with 1,000's of hours at the controls. Need I say more?

There are obstacles to overcome with this valuable metal. One is that the signal is almost, if not identical, to trash. A great many of us, myself included, more often than not turn our discrimination much too high in our attempt to avoid those nuisance signals. In the process, we drastically reduce our chances.

I have of late forced myself to set the discrimination down to almost zero and, at the same time, vowed that I'd dig everything, no matter what. Naturally, my tolerance weakens in a short while and I again find myself using a high setting. One way to get the odds in your favor is to resist that high setting as long as you can tolerate digging trash.

Another factor to consider is that gold is heavy. Coins are very heavy in comparison to their size. Thus, they have a tendency (I would say) to sink deeper than other coins. Take for instance the early dollar coin. From 1849 to 1854, a $1 gold piece was only 13 millimeters in size. Our Roosevelt dime is 17.9 millimeters. We consider our dime small, but it's almost 5 millimeters larger than that early gold piece. Its small size and heaviness cause it to sink deep. It's a rather minuscule target for any detector. If a coin of that size should happen to sink eight or more inches, it would explain why so few are being found. If it rests on edge, that would make it an even tougher target to locate.

It may be pure conjecture, but people in the old days seemed to pay closer attention to their money. An example - my grandfather carried a leather, multi-pocket, folding coin purse, the kind with snap fasteners. All of his coins went into that purse and then into a deep pants pocket. It seems unlikely that anything with that security could be lost, yet they were. I've found at least two intact coin purses and the remains of several more. One held one thin silver dime. Another had only the hinges and top rims intact. The leather had long since rotted away.

This always causes me to speculate whether or not the purse might have been stolen, emptied of coinage and discarded, because, in almost every case, I found them to be empty. It's an intriguing mystery to ponder.

From my detecting experiences all over the U.S. and Canada, I've learned that trash is prevalent in even the most remote areas. While on an expedition to Alaska in 1997, I dug up the remains of rusty tin cans where one would think no cans should be. But they were there. Those old timers used a lot of canned goods, especially milk, and when a cache of them is found you can bet your bottom dollar that some activity took place there. I mention this merely to prove a point. If any gold pieces were lost in such a place, a detectorist just naturally tends to move away. This is a mistake. I should point out that my detector loves those old rusty tin cans. The halo has had a chance to grow to huge proportions over the years, making for one loud signal.

At a ghost town in Minnesota, my nephew, Bill, and I were working around an old tumbled down residential area. The street was so overgrown it was difficult to determine if it actually was a thoroughfare. In my wanderings, I discovered a garbage dump in one backyard. A depository of several thousand cans and junk lay hidden in a gully 50 feet back. If any gold coins or jewelry were lost there it would make for a tough place to detect. However, it is possible, if one has the stamina and patience.

I recently did a bit of research on the subject and was impressed with what I learned. As an example, I'll dwell briefly on Minnesota. (Of course the same could be said of most any state.) This was a remote piece of real estate in the days of the early explorers. The land was inhabited by native Americans of the Sioux and Ojibway Nations when Pierre Radisson and Medart de Groseilliers came along in the early 1600's.

A French missionary, Father Louis Hennepin, discovered and named St. Anthony Falls in what is now Minneapolis. The state gradually became settled and, in 1849, it was made a Territory. Then, in 1858, Minnesota was admitted into the Union as our 32nd state. All during those early days, the traffic was heavy all across the land.

So, with an impressive background of fur trappers, traders and voyageurs roaming this area, plus the untold 1,000's of homesteaders moving in, one would think gold coins were bound to be lost and are just waiting for us to recover them.

The westward trek and exodus by the 1,000's of our forefathers is another good example of possibilities to ponder. These people carried all of their valuable possessions with them, including any money they may have been able to save for the venture. How many camps and rest areas along those trails have yet to be discovered by some industrious detectorist? Only time will tell. It makes me want to pack my machine and toothbrush and head out at the very thought of it. But, lest we forget, before we run off to far away places, there are countless areas just waiting to be explored and searched right in our own backyards.

Another factor to consider - even when all of that gold coinage was circulating, paper bills were also in circulation. Many people disliked having to carry heavy coins around so they opted for gold backs. Yet, by the same token, I would venture to say that literally 1,000's of gold pieces have been lost, in the ways of all human beings, and they're still out there just as shiny as the day they were minted.

Some things we must consider and practice in our quest for gold are:

1: Move slowly, and listen carefully to every signal and dig it up.

2: Overlap your swings by at least half a coil.

3: Always use headphones. They help to eliminate outside noises and enable us to hear deeper targets.

4: Keep that discrimination set very low, as low as you can tolerate.

5: During the off season, research as many old picnic grounds and groves, plus any gathering places as you can. The library is a good place to begin.

6: Talk to old timers, natives of the area. If approached right they are a wealth of information and local knowledge you won't find anywhere else.

7: Always probe and dig carefully, even though you may think it's a junk target. It could be that elusive gold coin or a piece of gold jewelry.

8: Persistence and careful detecting will eventually pay off; maybe not right away, but in the near future. Remember, there's a lot of it out there and it's waiting for a person with just a little more savvy than the rest of the crowd.

9: Always keep that coil as tight to the ground as possible with no up-lifting at the end of the swing.

10: Never give up hope. Keep on plugging (no pun intended).

On several occasions, I've recovered some very old items. I have a religious medal that is dated 1830, for example. I have found numerous silver coins, gold rings and other jewelry, yet that first gold coin eludes me. But, I'm persistent and there's always tomorrow and other exciting places to discover.