Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Gold Coins - Why Finding Them Is Difficult

Gold has always fascinated mankind, and today the lure is no less than it was in the last century the most noble of metals, the king of elements, the stuff of which dreams and treasures are made. From the very outset, gold was conceived as a part of the federal coinage system. The first United States gold coinage consisted of $5 pieces, called half eagles, delivered in 1795 followed by $10 or eagle pieces. An additional denomination, the $21/2 piece or quarter eagle, had its advent in 1796 from the Philadelphia Mint . Within the United States and abroad, there was a great distrust of paper money (previously issued Continental Currency notes were virtually worthless, so obligations of the new American government were viewed with suspicion), and emphasis was on intrinsic value. 

The weights of gold and other coins were equal to their intrinsic or melt-down value. The gold $10 piece was established at a weight of 270 grains, consisting of nine parts gold and 10 parts copper, the copper being added to give strength to the alloy. The intrinsic value concept was quite satisfactory so far as promoting the acceptance of new federal coins, but whenever the value of gold metal rose on international markets, vast quantities of minted quarter eagles, half eagles, and $10 pieces went into the hands of bullion brokers who melted or exported them. The $5 half eagle, made in greater numbers, tended to be the "workhorse" denomination. 

Gold coins of this value were struck more or less continuously from 1795 onward, with typical years generating production in the tens of thousands of pieces. There is the curious notation in the mint record that although 17,796 half eagles were minted in 1822, just three are known! An example in EF-40 grade, catalogued by the present writer for the sale of the Eliasberg Collection of U.S. Gold Coins in 1982, realized $687,500! As of today, 33 years later, in 2015, the price for one single $5 half-eagle gold coin dated 1822 goes for MORE THAN $5,000,000!! The price of gold rose during the 1820s and early 1830s, so that by the end of the period very few pieces had escaped the melting pot. A freshly-minted 1822 half eagle, or any other half eagle of the era, could be melted down and return more than $5 in value!! Congress passed legislation on June 28, 1834, effective August 1, 1834, mandating a change in the authorized weight of gold coins. After that time, gold coins were worth less in melt-down value than face value, so they were once again seen in the channels of circulation. 

Until the 1820s, there was no significant known source of native gold in the United States, and Bullion to make gold coins came from a variety of origins, including foreign gold coins melted down (an important source), bullion from Central and South America, and the reduction of various wrought items such as jewelry. By the 1820s, gold discoveries in North Carolina became important. In 1838 mints were established at Dahlonega, Georgia, and Charlotte, North Carolina, to produce coins from bullion found in those areas, with additional amounts coming from international payments, the melting down of foreign coins, and other traditional sources In the United States, gold coins were commonly used in large commercial transactions. As an example, if you were having a ship built, say a whaling ship, it would cost you around $35,000 in 1841, and paid for in gold coinage, NOT currency! At the time, during the middle of the 19th century, the country was inundated with a flood of privately-issued paper currency notes, with most values being from $1 to $10, but with abundant quantities of values from $20 to $100 as well, plus some stray examples of higher denominations. Just about every bank in existence issued its own currency. 

The enforcement of laws was loose, and many were the so-called "wildcat banks" which had little or no substantive backing, but which issued hundreds of thousands of dollars in worthless notes. The public distrusted these notes, and many demanded gold in payment for transactions. On the international scene, privately issued bank notes were not accepted, and gold coins were the norm. Thus, quantities of United States gold coins found their way to England, France, and other trading centers. The discovery of gold at Sutter's Mill on the American River in California in January 1848 ignited the Gold Rush, which saw the migration westward of tens of thousands of individuals. Soon, vast quantities of gold were extracted from the rivers and soil of California. Shipped to the Eastern markets, the yellow metal became "common" in relation to earlier supplies. In view of the increased availability of gold, in 1849 two new coin denominations were created. The first was the gold dollar, which was to become the smallest federal gold coin. The second denomination was the $20 double eagle, minted in pattern form in 1849 and for general circulation beginning in 1850. This new, large, heavy coin made it economical to convert large amounts of bullion to struck form, for it took much less manpower and effort to make one double eagle than it did to coin an equivalent amount of gold in four $5 pieces or eight $21/2 pieces. 

By 1853, gold had become so plentiful in relation to silver that silver had risen sharply on the market, and federal silver coins were worth more in bullion value than in face value -- the same situation which confronted gold coins two decades earlier. In general, United States gold coins were widely used for commercial transactions in America from 1795 up until about 1880, for reasons stated, and after 1880 found their main use on the international market. This history and background has important implications for the rarity of gold coins as we perceive such today. Although today it is common to read that the United States was on the "gold standard" from 1795 onward, in actuality our country did not adopt the gold standard system until the year 1900, at which time the United States was one of the last developed nations to do so. Under the gold standard, countries participating in this stored gold coins and bullion in central banks and simply exchanged currency or certificates among themselves to settle transactions. Thus, after the year 1900 large quantities of American coins were stored in European, South American, and other vaults and were seldom moved. In the meantime, within the United States gold coins were rarely seen in day to day commerce If you had been a typical citizen in the year 1900, chances are that during everyday grocery purchases, real estate transactions, and any other business transacted during a given 12-month period not a single gold coin would have been encountered, particularly if you lived in the East (gold coins were seen in circulation with more frequency in the West). 

Although gold issues were not needed in everyday circulation, they continued to be minted in record quantities. For example, the year 1904 saw a coinage of over six million double eagles at Philadelphia and over five million in San Francisco. What happened to them? Most were shipped overseas. Gold coinage continued in large quantities, and in the 1920s, when gold coins were mainly kept in banks and rarely seen in circulation, record numbers were produced. The year 1928 saw a production of 8,816,000 double eagles, an all-time high! From 1929 onward, the economic situation in the United States deteriorated (i.e. the Great Depression) in 1933 there was widespread concern for the security of the American monetary system. On April 5, 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed that gold coins were to be returned by the public to the Federal Reserve System by May 1st, with the exception of pieces of numismatic value. Citizens were prohibited from holding gold with minor exceptions In the same year, 1933, the government issued several notices to the effect that the United States would remain on the gold standard and that citizens should not be alarmed, which, of course was a bald-faced lie. The Gold Reserve Act of January 30, 1934 provided that: "No gold shall thereafter be coined, no gold coins shall hereafter be paid out or delivered by the United States... all gold coins in the United States shall be withdrawn from circulation..." This legislation effectively ended gold coinage production and removed the gold backing of paper money. In the same year, 1934, the United States withdrew from the gold standard. At the time of the decrees of 1933 and 1934, millions of dollars worth of gold coins, primarily of the higher "bullion" values of $5, $10, and $20, were held by various world banks. The idea of shipping them back to the United States in exchange for currency seemed patently ridiculous to foreign bankers, Accordingly, foreign banks held on to United States gold coins more tightly than ever! Years later, when gold coin ownership regulations for United States citizens were relaxed, then dropped entirely, European, South American, and Asian banks became a prime source for gold coin specimens.

Sunday, October 3, 2021

Digging vs. Excavating - Unpleasant Aspects

I've enjoyed the metal detecting hobby now for almost 60-years. Getting the signal, deciding what your option is regarding the target, basing the decision on your instrument's VDI and sound indications. If the decision is to remove the target from the ground, my least favorite part of the hobby comes into play; digging, or in the Archaeologists parlance, excavating. Now, as embarrassing as it is for an old detectorist to admit, I don't like digging, and never have! It is a critical part of the hobby, and I feel the public's eyes boring into the back of my head. But I still follow the detectorists code of ethics, open the ground like I'm doing an appendectomy, carefully opening the ground and probing gently, as not to damage either the target or the matrix it resides in. And closing it up like you'd never been there.

Keep it clean and professional, Dirt Dog!

In order to keep from getting kicked out of wherever you are hunting, your excavating skills must be of the first order and not that of a dog digging a bone! Dirt everywhere, including your hair, and a messy, obvious soil-colored blotch on a park swale, or a manicured private lawn. And to make it even worse, sometimes not even filled back in, giving the dig the appearance of a small meteor crater. And to make it even worse, leaving a piece of trash you brought back into the world, laying abandoned next to the unfilled hole in the ground! Why ever would people frown on equipment-laden, clanking and beeping detectorists' marring the landscape everywhere they go?

Well, many times experienced, and not so experienced, detectorists have a tendency to aim barbs at the newbies in the hobby regarding this open hole issue. And why not? They have committed the ultimate crime of becoming a participant in your hobby, the dogs!!!! Of course they are leaving those holes!!!! But hold on just a New York Minute, my friend! I am a club officer in the largest metal detecting club in the United States. We have many club hunts and private permission hunts, on occasion, where the club members get to hunt some literally undetected virgin property here in Central Florida. Our membership ranges from brand new detectorists, even children, to the middle-of-the road detectorists, as well as the old men and women of the hobby, as they shine the golden light of experience and metal detecting street-smarts over the unwashed wannabes.

But what's this? A club hunt where a club member twists their leg after stepping in a freshly dug hole on the hunt-field? But no newbies in sight, only hardened veterans of the metal detecting hobby? Another hunt, this time on the beach, with another sprained leg after stepping into another deeply-dug, unfilled hole in the sand? Again, another member quietly reports seeing not a newcomer, but a veteran hunter dig and leave the gaping hole without even looking back! The good practice goalposts of the hobby are slowly moving back across the line, into the realm of unacceptable and irresponsible behavior, by even some of the best of us. I need not sound the alarm again about the danger to the continued health of our hobby this sort of negligence represents; the eventual outlawing of any metal detecting anywhere! So let's all agree to agree to do better, and to self-police our own pastime before police, city officials and land owners do it for us. Cheers!

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Missing the Obvious - Turner Beach, Captiva, Florida

 Sometimes the search for treasure can put blinders on the detectorists' hunting it, and mostly without you even realizing it. I know, I have run up against this time and time again while treasure hunting. My old friend Ed Pfau, now detecting the great beyond, having passed many years ago, used to say "Don't miss the forest for the trees!" We were both enthusiastic about the hobby of metal detecting while treasure hunting back in the 1970's and 1980's and were well-traveled about the state of Florida while seeking it. I still retained my pilot's license back then, before diabetes clipped my wings permanently. Living in Broward County, but loving the history of Florida's west coast, many weekends we would load the detectors, coolers, and gear into the baggage compartment of my plane, and head for the islands of Lee County; Sanibel and Captiva were our usual destinations. 

These islands both had small, grass (read "sand") fields which with our rather light load, we could just make it in and barely make it out! The Sanibel strip actually crossed a paved road, with automatic barriers that would drop and stop traffic by keying your aircraft radio on a specific frequency long enough for you to land, or takeoff. We were usually looking for treasure on Captiva island, and most usually at Blind Pass, as it was always sanded in and easily accessed. We had it on "good" authority, that pirate treasure had been buried along the banks of this pass, and we spent a lot of time searching for it. On the Captiva side of the pass was a small beach called Turner Beach, which was a nice little spot, but we rarely even found clad coins there, let alone much else. There was a small bath-house/restroom/changing room up on wooden stilts, maybe 3-feet off the ground. 

Passing by it or being a little too close, brought a slightly unpleasant, acrid smell, you usually found about public restrooms of the minimal maintenance/rarely cleaned kind. The floor of the bath-house consisted of 4x6 lumber with a 1/4 to 1/2 inch gap between the boards, letting shower water, as well as  even more unpleasant fluids and substances escape down onto the damp, weed-covered ground directly under the structure. We were not impressed and did our best to steer clear of this disgusting little bath-house. We spent many more trips on the opposite side of Turner Beach, hunting treasure in the sandy regions of Blind Pass. I was in my office at work back in Broward County one afternoon when Ed came in and tossed a copy of the day's newspaper on my desk. He had circled an article with a black magic marker. The reporter wrote about a young guy with a metal detector who had ducked under the bath-house, into the excrement-filled weeds and had recovered almost $17,000 worth of gold and silver jewelry (and this is at 1988 gold prices!) along with clusters of high-grade diamonds the bling had contained. I looked at Ed and he looked at me. He said "I STILL would not have hunted under there, even if I'd known!" We both laughed until we couldn't laugh any more!

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Recognizing Treasure - It Ain't As Simple As It Looks!

 Many times, treasure hunters may not always recognize treasure AS treasure. Now this sounds like some type of contradiction, but it's not. And this maxim forms the core of this afternoon adventure so many years ago. My friend Kevin Reilly and I were not only metal detecting pals, but also diving buddies. SCUBA diving and metal detecting was usually our MO when we were exploring and treasure hunting in mid-1980's south Florida, One of our treasure hunting targets had been a good-sized, cloudy water "lake" called Crystal Lake, in Pompano Beach, which was anything BUT crystal in your wildest imagination. There was an an old bare-barked tree leaning over the water on the south-side of the lake with a long, knotted rope dangling from one of the few remaining spindly branches. High school and college kids swing on this rope all day and every day during summer, doing the "cannonball" into the murky waters, 

We figured there should be a mound of class rings and gold chains under the impact point, and we were gonna make a killing on all that lost stuff! With our diving gear on, we waded slowly into the disgusting water, and dipped under the surface. If you thought the lake looked bad from the surface you were in for an an even more unpleasant surprise under the surface. Horrid stringy water plants rose up from the bottom, a nasty sewage-color, like mutated seaweed, you could not avoid it. Turning on our dive lights, the surrounding water was filled with plant debris and bits of organic particles, making it difficult to see much of anything. We descended deeper onto the plant-choked bottom, and tried to use our metal detectors among the close-spaced weeds, the coils hanging up on anything and everything. The few signals we got were submerged beer cans, pop-tabs and assorted car parts. We surfaced and Kevin frowned, with weeds hanging off his head and wrapped around his regulator. "We are not gonna find $#@! here in this sewer and I don't know why I let you talk me into this...there is nothing here!"

I nodded and said "Yea, not much here and yuck, what a mess in here!" We submerged again and headed back to the place we had come in, me shinning the light toward the bottom, about 10-feet down. A flash of yellow paint slowed me down a second as I played the light-beam along the bottom where I had seen the object. I signaled Kevin I was going deeper, and headed toward the object. The light revealed a sorry-looking Fort Lauderdale News/Sun Sentinel newspaper machine, dirty and weed covered. I moved the beam around the bottom and found two more machines, then a dozen, then even more. About 30 newspaper machines were lying in a heap on the bottom!

It looked like somebody broke open the coin-box on a bunch of them, then tossed em' in the lake to cover up the crime. We were about to surface and head back to the truck with an interesting story to tell, when I noticed a small plaque on the front of the machine that mentioned that there was a $50 reward for returning the machine to the newspaper!!!!!! Kevin and I grabbed a few lift-bags from the truck and brought up machines 4 or 5 at a time, With the truck bed full of dripping wet newspaper machines, we drove directly to the newspapers downtown office in Fort Lauderdale and true to the plaque, the good Sun Sentinel people handed us $1500 cash, in 50-dollar bills, on bill for each machine returned. We had made $750 each, in addition to an interesting story to tell. A much better turn of events, Lesson learned; treasure is not always easy to recognize, so look closely,

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Life Gets In The Way Sometimes

 It's been a while since I posted here, mostly due to a plethora of  severe systemic illness that keeps me running what, for all intents and purposes, is a small medical laboratory. Multiple daily blood tests, constant injections and handfuls of pharmaceuticals every other hour is the order of the day. Once a VA specialist asked me if I was tired of  all the injections I shot up with every day. When I nodded, she told me it was called "Diabetes Fatigue" which amazed me in the sense they had gone to all the trouble to formally name the irritation with all the drugs and procedures they foisted upon you. And recently, months ago, I had a good-sized cancer tumor removed from my colon, a stage-2 which was planning to kill me in short order. A good deal of my metal detecting hobby pals have already shoved off for the great well-tended park in the sky, and I miss them all. 

Here in the US I have been hoping we could develop a national database, much like England's amazing Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) whereas the American metal detecting hobbyist had a place to register and display artifacts recovered during detecting outings, many of which are historic and of interesting origins, However, the current social turmoil enveloping the U.S. has brought most intellectual endeavors to a standstill, instilling a certain opinion that it will be many years, if ever, before the country will recover to it's former level of enlightenment. 

At any rate, since this is my first post of 2021, six months late, I might add, I'll just let the blog take me where I will here on out, and thanks to all my friends and colleagues, and associates for putting up with me, Especially my wife Patti who has to endure my take and displeasure on everything and anything with quiet resignation. Patti also endures being the CFMDC's "model" for all my graphic projects and announcements for the club, as well as on video announcing club hunts and events. She has even acquiesced and done "voice-overs" for me on video projects where I had a cold or could not talk, which Patti point's out is "...very rare!"  Here she is in one club project...hi Patti!

Patti modeling our metal detecting hunt!

Patti before Photoshopping


Sunday, April 19, 2020

Family Treasure From The Past - 1917

Unseen forces are always at work in our lives; premonition, coincidence, happenstance, and all the other words for odd things happening at odd times. Treasure hunting, in general, is full of these, and more. But what about treasures that you never recognized as a treasure...nothing a metal detector could find, even if you knew where it was buried? This happened to me, quite recently, and it all started with the recent movie "1917," a true story of two WWI soldiers on a mission to warn another British regiment inside Germany of a coming ambush that, if they don't succeed, could cost 1,600 soldiers their lives. Seeing the previews of this picture, brought back memories of my Grandfather George, my mother's father, who served throughout WWI, and eventually WWII, but his WWI adventures are what I remember most. My grandfather was a carpenter by trade, and a quiet man, who always reminded me of a movie-star. He was not a shy man by any stretch of the imagination, but he held the silent strength that most Americans of the late 19th and early 20th Century embodied. They were Americans not confused as to who they were, or what they believed in and were willing to back it up with force if need be to protect their loved ones, country and allies from evil and tyranny. Or would die trying. 

Grandpa George in France circa 1917
 Grandpa George died over 50-years ago. Living in rural Connecticut, he had a massive heart attack while making a sandwich in his kitchen. No paramedics then, only an ambulance that took over an hour to get there, by which time he had breathed his last. We attended his funeral by flying half the night on a Northeast Yellowbird 727. Strangely enough, he had visited us in Ft. Lauderdale only 3-weeks earlier, and had flown on an airplane for the very first, and very last, time in his long life! He had seen combat, and had also been General John J. Pershing's driver (or chauffer) in France. But that was long ago, and even my memories of him grow dim, but they came back with renewed clarity a few weeks ago when I opened a large brown-paper mailer from my sister in Connecticut. Opening it, a sealed plastic bag tumbled out, filled with a stack of documents and leather wallets. I carefully removed the piece of notebook paper that my sister had penned; "...I got these from our cousin Glenda...some of Grandpa George's things she thought you would like." I opened the small brown book and read my grandfather's handwriting on the inside cover, penciled in more than 100-years ago in 1917 war-torn France. A damaged photographic negative was also slipped into the inside cover. It was an unbelievable piece of family history that somehow survived reasonably intact after over a century! 

  I have no clue who the young man is in the U.S. Army automobile...probably a friend of my grandfather. A few other artifacts of the war were included in the package, German marks and French francs dated 1918, were in a surprisingly well-preserved brown leather wallet along with several tattered maps of France, probably used by Grandpa George in navigating General Pershing's staff car across the countryside.

Handling these 100-plus year old documents is difficult, as they have been stored folded, probably since 1919 or so. It seems infinitely strange I should be holding and reading documents my grandfather held and read over 100-years ago. Oddly it makes me think that perhaps events in time and space still do exist simultaneously, and that somewhere and some-when in 1917, he is just now writing the name of  Red Cross nurse Miss Alice Lee Herrick of Chicago in his small souvenir book as the artillery booms in the background. 

Thursday, March 26, 2020

The Mordes of the 1980's - Long Before The End of the World

I was fairly active in writing treasure-hunting articles back in the 1980's. We had no digital cameras back then, and I used a 35 mm Pentax ME camera, shot Eastman Kodak Tri-X B&W, had my own darkroom, in which I was always found developing and printing the 8x10 glossies I'd send along with the manuscript. I actually wrote for a couple magazines, an in-flight mag for Delta, and a few other general interest publications. A case-in-point here, I interviewed and did an article about Jerry and Cindy Mordes in 1984, who then owned "Pot Of Gold Metal Detectors" in Ft. Lauderdale, for the now-defunct Lost Treasure Magazine.. Jerry was an animated guy, a lot like a game show host, and he told me thru a lot of hand gestures and narrative, that he and his wife Cindy were avid (read addicted) beach and water hunters and searched every single low tide, AM and PM, for usually a 3-months straight. He said they were almost dead at the end of each detecting marathon, but found some really amazing and valuable things in the process. You have got to realize this was 35 years ago, before metal detecting became the "National Pastime;" you didn't have 15 to 20 people metal detecting the beach every hour, on the hour, every quarter-mile, digging every single bottlecap and rusted tent stake, and no social media to proudly display your pile of rust. And although the finds were many, the rewards were less; you have to remember gold was around $35 an ounce then, not the $1300 or more an ounce it is today. Cindy related how her and Jerry got called out on an emotional mission looking for lost pauper graves in Ft. Lauderdale's "Evergreen Cemetery"

Jerry and Cindy Mordes circ.1984-note the "new"old machines behind them
Cindy said "Evergreen was one of the original cemeteries in Fort Lauderdale and has graves dating back to the Civil War." In particular, she also explained, that over the last century or so, Florida's watery and swampy ground had slowly but surly pulled the pauper grave caskets and their occupants deeper and deeper, until there were many scores of pauper graves lost to the caretakers. These were the graves of the poor, indigent and unclaimed people.

Cindy Mordes displays a recovered metal grave marker - note the damaged surface

She and Jerry had been recruited by the caretakers and City of Fort Lauderdale to bring their metal detecting club (Pot Of Gold Metal Detecting Club) out to see if they could locate the metal grave-tags hammered into the top of pauper caskets. The club spread out over the lonely headstone-less graveyard, scanning the grounds for a signal. Many grave-tags and subsequent grave-sites were re-discovered thanks to this group back in 1984. Cindy found a few grave-tags that were so badly damaged the information on them was not recoverable. She said "I was so sad we could not make out the information on em'." She frowned "I wanted to take some of them home to clean and see if I could read them, but the caretakers said 'No' so I left them."

Back in the shop, we talked about the grave-marker recovery project a bit more. Jerry said "You are worried about what you might find, metal detecting in a graveyard and think about the bones in the box under your feet and wonder if they mind you walking over them." A good-sized Garrette Gold Pan suddenly fell off it's perch and clattered to the floor making us all jump. Cindy looked at us and said "Maybe we shouldn't be talking about this." Jerry looked at the fallen gold-pan and just said "Hmmm" The final count was a dozen or more graves that were found by the members of Pot Of Gold Metal Detecting Club, thanks to the hobby some lost souls were found and remembered. I don't know whatever happened to Jerry and Cindy, with 37-years and hundreds of miles between us. I can only hope they are as avid about the hobby as ever...I know a dozen souls that hope so too!