Knowing how to find old coins and relics like jewelry and old tools (axe heads and the like) is easy if you know where—and how—to look. Before you start choosing places to search and setting dates on your calendar, though, you need to acquire a few items for your relic-hunter's toolkit. Handheld metal detectors come in two varieties, both reliant on electromagnetic energy to find metal objects. The first type, called “active”, focuses a narrow electrical field on the ground right in front of it and reacts to anything metal that you come across, while the second type, “passive”, relies on the earth's inherent electromagnetic field instead. Both types work well, but you should keep in mind that passive metal detectors won't react to any non-magnetic metal, such as aluminum.
Supplies needed to find old coins and relics:
- A metal detector
- A small gardening shovel (often called a "spade")
- A large paintbrush (optional, but it makes getting dirt off of any items that you dig up much easier)
Once you've gotten your toolkit together, it's time to go relic hunting!
- Pack light, but pack well. Though finding old coins and relics takes very little other than free time and the all-important metal detector, it pays to come prepared for anything. Sometimes items will be buried, so it's always a good idea to bring along your gardening spade and a paintbrush for dusting objects. Also, since traveling around on foot takes a lot of time, you'll want to pack yourself a brown bag lunch if you're going anywhere outside of town. Be careful not to pack too much stuff, though–remember, you have to carry it all around with you!
- Pick a location. Where you go depends on what you're trying to find. If you want to make a little pocket change by picking up old coins, try the grounds of a place where there has just been a large gathering of people. Sports fields, fairgrounds and even the front lawns of public buildings can conceal many dropped coins the day after a large event had ended. To find old coins and relics like bits of chain, farm tool heads, arrowheads and such, try historical sites such as ghost towns, fields that have been on farmland for generations, beaches, and places where battles have taken place at any point in history.
- Do your homework before you set out. As with any hobby involving the public, there are some precautions that you must take in order to be a relic hunter. First, always make sure that it is legal to go metal detecting at a particular location. Even in public places, there are sometimes rules and regulations that you must follow to legally hunt for old coins and relics, so definitely look into these things before you set foot on a property with your metal detector and shovel in hand.
- Be respectful of other people's property. If you must dig a hole to retrieve an item, be sure to bury the hole back up again afterward. If someone asks you to leave the property, do so politely without making a scene. One of the most important things that a relic hunter must know is that little trinkets and treasures are okay to keep (and if you find, say, a gold nugget, then it's your lucky day) but artifacts belong in museums. If you find a relic that may well be of historical significance, the honest thing to do is to contact local authorities, such as a museum, and turn it over to them so that it can be properly preserved and enjoyed by everyone.
References: Encyclopedia of Espionage, Intelligence and Security. Larry Gilman, 2004.