Have you ever wondered what it would be like to metal detect in a foreign country that is rich in history dating back 2,000 years, where your next signal could just as easily be a Roman coin or a modern clad coin? West Germany is such a place, and I and fellow hunter Ron Mayes are realizing this dream come true. Back in the states I remember breaking into the 1800's era when those Barber and seated coins popped up. I finally hit the 1700's era in the form of large cents and a few colonial coins. But here in one single find I've broken all past records by digging up a Roman coin.
Monetarily speaking, it is not your bread and butter find. However, when I consider the historical implication that perhaps the last person who held this coin was a Roman about 2,000 years ago, its value skyrockets. I often wonder who dropped it? How did it end up here? Were they on their way to or from a conquest? It's hard to say. As you know, the Roman Empire stretched from Italy up to England. That's a lot of territory to cover with an eight inch coil!
Ron and I, both being in the Army, have been hunting primarily on old German casernes (military posts). Most of these date back to World War I or earlier. They have "all the right stuff" detectorist look for---old buildings and lots of grass. One such area that comes to mind is Landstuhl, Germany, about a 15 minute drive from where we resided. We knew Landstuhl had been hunted by other detectorist and they had done exceptionally well, especially around the old church. Reports of a silver half dollar and other silver coins only whetted our appetites. There had to be more.
Upon arrival at Landstuhl we decided that since the church had already been hit we would start on an old softball field adjacent to it. Finds were pretty sparse to say the least. A few wheat's popped up, along with some German pfennigs from the World War II era, bearing the swastika. We also found some brass grommets from tents, which is probably why we found the World War II coinage. We detected out of the field and up a small hill which brought us to another softball field. It looked too new to detect, so we took a break and decided on another plan of attack. From where we sat, the church was directly downhill. A road ran along the side of the church. Just before the church is a helicopter landing pad used by the Landstuhl hospital for emergencies. we decided to cut a path downhill to the church to see if anything was in this field. If there wasn't, we were already making our way back to the car.
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About 20 feet into the field Ron yelled out to me to come over and look. Laying down about three inches was a beautiful 1944-D walking Liberty half dollar. Silver looks so pretty when laying in black dirt shining in the sun. Ron put the half in his apron, took another step and popped up a 1957 quarter. Right away we knew we had hit upon a good spot. Not only that, but Ron was .75 cents ahead of me in the silver department. I had to walk about 75 yards before I popped up my first dateless standing Liberty quarter. We hunted this area for the next three months and took out over 700 coins. On some of our final slow days we included the church in our metal detecting endeavors. That old saying about a place being hunted out is just not true. We found four silver quarters there along with about 10 silver dimes (some Mercury's). We were still finding coins at Landstuhl but not like the first couple of months. All total, in the silver department, Ron and I found: one half dollar, three standing Liberty quarters (one dated 1925), 14 silver Washington quarters, 20 silver Roosevelt's, 13 Mercury's and three silver war nickels. Ron found a silver 1964 five Deutsche mark commemorative piece valued at around $100. In the foreign department, we found more German war coins with swastikas, Canadian pennies, French francs and coins from Britain, one a 1925 half penny. The field is giving up fewer coins, but they are still out there.
Not far from Landstuhl is a small village called Haupstuhl. It is surrounded by farm fields with a high ridge to the east. We took a lot of old coins out of these fields. Most of the coins were from the 1700's. They were mostly copper mixed with a few silver coins. One notable find is a Nazi ring found in a freshly plowed field. Since it was so small we theorized that it belong to a child, perhaps part of the Hitler Youth Program.
Another caserne that has been very good to us is one in Baumholder, Germany. This place has row upon row of old four-story German barracks. The first place we hit was an old church. We found the usual wheat's, silver dimes, German coins and Ron found a nice 10K gold ring. An expert sharpshooters badge with "sterling" stamped on the back also turned up. I think our best site in Baumholder was a small field in front of what is now the officer's club. It seems to have once been used as a parade field. Here we made identical finds of two Franklin half dollars dated 1951-D. Some nice German coins also surfaced: 1920's vintage 20 pfennig aluminum pieces and numerous World War II swastika coins. A good supply of silver Roosevelt's and Mercury dimes kept us returning to this site. Our last visit only resulted in a few wheat's, though.
Another area we hunted was behind an old German barracks. The first coin produced was a 1939 Mercury, which is always a good sign. A few minutes later a signal on the VDI scale indicated a penny: a switch to the depth meter indicated four inches. Digging down to that level produced the half-dollar-size Roman coin I mentioned previously. Having been in the ground around 2,000 years, it is not in the best condition but it's a Roman nevertheless. After digging another silver Roosevelt, we decided to call it a day.
Taylor Barracks in the Mannheim area produced some World War II relics for us. After reading about a couple of officers hunting in that area we decided to give it a try. I must say they were pretty thorough. We only got two silver dimes, but they did miss a nice Nazi uniform badge, the kind with the eagle claw gripping the swastika. It still has a little gold plating left.
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Kreuzberg Kasern by Zwiebrucken Air Base was also good to us. Here we dug lots of swastika coins mostly in denominations of one, five and ten pfennigs. We haven't dug any German silver World War II era coins. This has us puzzled. An old German beer token was recovered on this caserne. translated, it reads: "Good for One Liter of Beer". It was from the Schmidt brewery. I did pop up a 1951 five Deutsche mark piece. It is .625% silver and gave off a half dollar reading on the VDI meter.
In Dexheim we stopped at an old caserne and hunted a church along side the highway. Right away Ron dug a silver Roosevelt. Not finding anything of interest, I moved to the side of the church along the highway and got a VDI reading on a nickel at a depth of two inches. I located the coin, but while probing I scratched it. But, lo and behold, it was another Roman coin. It, too, was in bad shape, including the new scratch showing copper under the green patina it acquired from years in the ground. You just never know. A real heart-pounder find here in Germany is the 10 and 20 French francs. they are gold colored because of the brass content, and when they pop up, well, you know the feeling.
Perhaps the most exciting day of metal detecting came when Ron and I decided to hunt an old castle. After hunting a couple of hours we had an old button and a 1963 Lincoln penny to show for our efforts. Then we hiked back to the car to regroup. Since we'd left the car in the parking lot of an old church, we decided to hunt the church yard. I started hunting on the side of the church and Ron wandered over to hunt some picnic tables by the woods. Not finding anything, I glanced up to see how Ron was doing, but he was nowhere in sight. I guessed he decided to hunt in the woods. I began concentrating on finding at least one coin, but Ron soon interrupted me. He was all excited, grinning from ear to ear, and holding a small, dirty plastic bag. I remember the first words out of his mouth: "You're not going to believe this." He said he had walked about 20 feet into the woods when he got a big signal. Digging down about three inches he saw this plastic bag. He noticed its weight as he pulled it up. The bag contained 30 foreign coins dated from 1840 to 1986. How they got there is anybody's guess. Did some young lad bury his collection during a picnic or family outing? Too excited to hunt any further, we called it a day and hurried home to examine the new found cache.
After rinsing the coins in water, we saw they were in remarkably good condition. The cache's catalog value is just over $100. The best coin of the lot is the Latvian S.S.R. valued at $32.50. Now, after spending the winter researching and planning our metal detecting strategies for the warmer months, Ron and I are ready to go for the finds. Good hunting to you too!
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