If I had a dream job, I would love to tell people that I am a professional treasure hunter. Stop with the laughing. No, I don’t think I am Indiana Jones even though I have dressed like him at comic-cons. It is not a get rich quick scheme. Actually, it is more of a hobby that ends up costing more than whatever I find. Still, I enjoy the thrill of the hunt in the hopes that I might score big one day.
I think I am far from alone in my unbridled excitement. Treasure hunting takes many forms. There are those trying to strike it rich, but then there are those of us who just love the search and, if wealth follows, all the better. Take a moment and read through the various ways that you too could become a treasure hunter.
- Metal Detecting
My personal favorite. Often, people joke that metal detecting is the hobby of retirees on Miami beach. While that image holds some truth, metal detecting is so much more. To get started as all one needs is a shovel and a detector. An entry-level detector for a beginner can be had at the local sporting goods store for about $100. As your technique and enjoyment increase, one can step into a pricier model.
Metal detecting for the enthusiast is so much more than looking for spare change, and occasionally, the lost ring at the beach. For those of us who take it seriously, we study old maps and drive around looking for old buildings to search for. A metal detectorist will gladly spend time listening to that old-timer speak about the old swim hole or bulldozed neighborhood of yesteryear. Another option would be to hunt for gold if you know the right locale. There is quite a bit hidden just slightly under the surface.
2. Privy Digging
This is one that I have always wanted to try but never got the opportunity. Not sure what a privy is? A privy is another name for an outhouse, and yes, people do dig them up. Until indoor plumbing became commonplace, outhouses were common even in large cities in the 18th and 19th centuries. Not only was human waste deposited in holes, but they became dumping grounds for garbage and anything else that one wanted to disappear. Many items can be found in privies — old coins, marbles, glass, bottles, and antiques. Some of these collectible items can run into the $1000’s.
Privy digging is hard work though, and it helps to go with experienced individuals initially. First, research has to be done to find locations, permission to dig obtained, excavate some exploratory holes, and then dig up to 4 or 5 feet deep by hand. Also, you must have helpers in case the walls collapse. Privy digging is hard but it can be rewarding.
3. Shipwreck Hunting
Shipwreck hunting can be very profitable, but the initial investment is expensive. Shipwreck hunting takes experience and patience. Hunters often spend years traveling the world, searching for documentation on a treasure ship’s voyage. They spend hours trying to calculate the resting spot of a ship they may have sunk 100’s of years prior. Usually, a person needs financial backers and to get the backers they must prove they have the knowledge and skills. Scuba diving, boating, and reading sonar equipment are just a few of the areas in which knowledge is necessary.
Success can be measured in the tens of millions. Mel Fischer spent years searching for the Spanish galleon, the Atocha. When Fisher finally discovered the resting spot in the 1970s, the value was in the neighborhood of $450 million. However, it does not have to be about money. One of America’s first astronauts, Gordon Cooper, was looking for Soviet submarines during some of the earliest spaceflights in the 1960s. During his orbits, he noticed several oddities that could not be submarines, yet they all lay under the water. He guessed correctly that they were sunken ships and kept the information secret for the next 50 years.
4. Dumpster Diving
“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” This is probably the most disgusting way to treasure hunt, but it is not uncommon. Often, dumpster diving is thought of as a last-ditch effort by the poorest and most desperate in society to find food or even shelter. Disease and vermin are common around such sites. Still, some people make money from the method.
Stores commonly destroy returned items, but not always. Some major retailers will dispose of perfectly good electronics and clothing just because it is out of season. I once saw a Bed, Bath, And Beyond throw-out a brand-new Keurig coffee maker. The Radio Shack behind my house disposed of tools. While I do not regularly hunt trash, I must admit to looking through the trash cans of stores in my neighborhood while growing up.
5. Gem/Rock/Fossil Hunting
This type of treasure hunting takes some experience and usually a mentor to teach the ropes. It does not take much, a few tools, a hammer, and access to the outdoors. One really must know what they are searching for, but certain minerals and fossils can be quite valuable.
Every region of the United States has its unique geological history. California has gold, Wyoming has fossils, North Carolina has emeralds. In Arkansas, the only diamond mine in the United States is at Crater of Diamonds State Park. For a small, fee you can search the old kimberlite field for diamonds. Every so often luck strikes, as it did for this visitor in September of 2020 who found a 9.07-carat gem.
6. Coin Roll Hunting
Coin roll hunting is something that I do once the weather has turned sour. As the name sounds, it involves going to the bank and exchanging dollars for rolls of change. Then you spend time looking at all the coins for varieties and errors. It is a trial and error process that can be tedious as one spends hours looking through a magnifying glass at the fine detail. Many people get bored quickly.
However, more likely than not, you probably have had an expensive penny in your pocket at one time or another. There are quite a few pieces that can fetch a few thousand dollars at auction and the dates are not even old. There is the 1992-D 1 cent close AM, 1983 1 cent copper, and the 1969-S double die, as examples, that all have values over $10,000 and have been found in pocket change in the last decade.
7. Garage Sales/Thrift Stores/E-Bay
Have you ever gone to a garage sale at 8 a.m., only to discover that you were far from the first visitor? That is because some individuals have already scoured the sale for ‘the goodies.’ They made plans early on where to go for what to look for. They are buying low and selling high.
A few times a year, you will hear about the person finding the rare painting at the garage sale. It is also not uncommon for women to see jewelry without realizing that it contains precious metals and stones, or that it could antique costume jewelry. Who wouldn’t want to turn shopping into a fun, profitable experience?
8. Plant and Fungus Hunting
Like gem and rock hunting, plant and fungi hunting take experience. You need a few tools, but more than that, you need an expert to teach you the ropes initially. Obviously, picking the wrong type of mushroom can be hazardous to one’s health. No one wants to eat the Angel of Death Mushroom on accident. Many people do not think that anyone would buy wild plants from some random naturalist, but they do all the time.
Chefs are always looking for that new flavor and some organisms just will not grow on a farm. In Michigan, there is the National Morel Mushroom Festival every year. Morels can sell upwards of $20 to $30 per pound. In Europe, they raise dogs and pigs for truffle hunting. Spices, such as nutmeg and saffron, can also be valuable. For example, saffron is taken from 6-inch flowers that only bloom once a year and is more valuable than gold.
9. Magnetic Fishing
Magnetic fishing is a relatively new hobby and form of recreation. As the name suggests, it involves attaching a magnet to a rope and then throwing them into the water. An individual slowly pulls the rope back and the fisherman finds out what stuck to the end.
People would be surprised by what is thrown into the water. Phones, purses, bikes, antiques, and guns have all been known to be pulled out of the water during a magnetic fishing trip. Occasionally, an item has value and can be resold to dealers for a profit. Also, as a reminder, most of these hobbies have rules and regulations that need to be followed. Please do not ruin it for everyone else.
These are not the only ways to treasure hunt. I am certain that I have missed some. I just want to highlight what I know and encourage individuals to take up one or two as a hobby. They are addicting once you start. Also, who knows, maybe you can be one of the lucky ones to strike it rich, and then you can retire as a ‘Professional Treasure Hunter!”