Treasure hunters: Removal of sidewalks yield buried coins

Written by David Green.


Most people see dirt, dust and debris. Others see buried treasures.

When Morenci’s sidewalks began disappearing due to the Main Street reconstruction project, men with metal detectors started their slow perusal along storefronts. They ended up with pockets of change to show the success of their search.dumbar_

Scott Dunbar has used a metal detector on and off for the past 17 years. He has a collection of artifacts at home that grew considerably in the past month.

He headed out Sept. 5 when the first sidewalks were torn up and collected 50 coins in about four hours.

The oldest coin he found that day was an 1864 Seated Liberty quarter that was somehow partially melted. He picked up five Indian head pennies dating back to 1889 and five buffalo nickels as old as 1926.

Scott also dug up 21 wheat pennies, starting at 1912; two buffalo dimes from 1907; and seven Mercury dimes beginning with a 1920 specimen.

Other miscellaneous finds included a pair of 1940s nickels, a pair of quarters from 1936 and 1941 and a half dollar from 1943.

One coin every 4.8 minutes, he notes. Fourteen coins with silver content. Fifty coins with a face value of $3.13, but a much higher value to Scott.

“When they’re dug up like this, they usually aren’t worth much,” he said.

At least not to a coin collector, but they have meaning to the person with the metal detector.

Those 50 coins were from one day of collecting. The two oldest were found near the Village Inn, but the hot spot was in front of Wes’ Carpeting. Almost everything he picked up that day came from a stretch of dirt measuring not more than 12 feet long.

The downtown sidewalk with the steps along West Main—now removed—was installed in 1951, sealing off all those coins Scott found. Only one came from a date later than that.

He headed back out two weeks later when more concrete was lifted and found an 1849 large cent piece and two Indian head pennies from the 1880s. He also came up with an 1876 Seated Liberty dime and a tag for the keys from a Studebaker that was sold in South Bend, Ind.

Ron Apger didn’t have that much success with his metal detector, but he did come up with 1926 and 1942 Mercury dimes and a 1941 quarter in excellent shape.

He also uncovered what Bill Marshall identified as an unexploded 30 cal. armor piercing bullet. Ron shared that find with the excavators, showing them what they were lucky not to have hit.

One of Scott’s favorite finds is an 1852 three-cent piece that he located at an old home site northwest of town.

“I even found a pair of ox shoes out there,” he said.

Whatever he digs up from his searches will get added to his collection, an interesting array of old coins and artifacts that isn’t really worth a lot of money, but that doesn’t matter to Scott. He sees plenty of value in the treasures showing pieces of Morenci’s past.

    – Oct. 2, 2002 
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