How to Find Treasure in Your Own Backyard
Following the Rules
In the United States, you can go treasure hunting on your own property. If you get permission from the owner, you can also hunt on any privately owned land. You cannot do any treasure hunting on federally owned or indigenous land. Nor can you treasure hunt on any State-owned land unless you get permission from the land manager. Usually, permits are only granted for scientific research and not for hobby treasure hunters.
In the United States, we are bound by several Federal acts of legislation that pertain to treasure hunting:
- American Antiquities Act of 1906
- National Historic Preservation Act of 1966
- Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979
Additionally, each state has rules of legislation to protect and preserve archaeological, cultural, and historical sites on state-owned lands.
Metal Detecting for Lost Loot
The simple fact is people misplace things. Sometimes those things are very important to them, such as wedding bands, engagement rings, or some other type of heirloom jewelry. My own grandmother lost her wedding ring when she moved into her new home in the suburbs of Chicago. It went missing for almost 20 years until I found it while digging up her front yard to plant a new tree.
The point is, almost nothing stays lost forever—especially if you are equipped to do some treasure hunting. In my case, all I had was a spade shovel and a keen eye. I wasn’t looking for my grandmother’s ring, but I sure knew to investigate that sparkling object I was digging up.
If you are actively going to do some treasure hunting, then It will probably be a good idea to use a metal detector and at least have a small garden shovel. Plus, you might want to have a bag of some kind to store your loot.
Some common items you may find include coins of varying dates and metal content; jewelry, buttons, and other heirlooms. If you’re lucky, you might find lost artifacts and weapons of war, such as guns, rifles, swords, knives, and spent rounds; If you’re unlucky, you’ll probably find a trove of old bottle caps and nails.
Picking: One Man’s Junk Is Another Man’s Treasure
All across America, people are hunting for what is known as “rusty gold.” American Pickers is a TV show produced and aired on the History Channel that showcases a pair of guys that travel the American countryside in search of anything of historical and cultural value.
They call this type of treasure hunting “picking.” They call it that because you are picking through other people’s collections, automotive graveyards, and sometimes junk piles. Pickers have a great understanding of historical value. Well, at least the good ones do.
Picking isn’t necessarily a “finders keepers” activity. Normally you will have to negotiate a fair price with the current owner. But if you do your homework, you will more than likely come out on top and double your investment.
Storage Auctions and Abandoned Treasures
Another great way to go treasure hunting is to attend what are known as storage unit auctions. These auctions are conducted in most states. When someone rents a storage unit and fails to pay the rent per their contractual agreement, the storage facility can lawfully auction off the contents of the storage unit to recoup the lost fees.
When you are attempting to hunt for treasures in this manner, you have to know what has monetary value and what doesn’t. Often times a bidder will win a unit that may or may not yield a profit. So, it is a good idea to have a strategy when investing in these types of units. It’s also a good idea to have connections with antique dealers, consignment shop dealers, and other resale shop owners.
I’ve won storage units that have yielded me great profits, but I have also lost money when I first started out. I was excited by the TV show Storage Hunters, but nothing is like what you see on TV. I usually keep to storage facilities that are within a 20-mile radius of my home, but I’m sure if I expanded that radius I’d have an even better success rate.
Americana and the Hunt for Knowledge
There is only one type of treasure hunting that I enjoy more than any of the above-mentioned hunts, and that is the hunt for knowledge. Having majored in history with an emphasis on American history, I particularly enjoy hunting down topics of Americana.
While also being a photographer, I have developed a fascination for hunting down and photographing relics and landmarks that represent the American struggle. If you live in the United States, you know exactly the types of relics I’m talking about because you probably drive by many of them every single day without a second thought as to why they are there and who placed them there.
For instance, you probably drive by a VFW post and see an old army tank, which was probably purchased and then donated by a WWII veteran, parked in front of it. You might live out in the country and see a rusted old tractor in the farm field which is now a landmark that “old-timers” use when giving directions. It could be that drive-in theater screen where many teenage hearts were broken.
Americana remains because it has significance to the American way of life, and there is no better treasure than the kind you keep in your heart.
The Treasure in Your Heart
Treasure hunting isn’t reserved for the archeologist or the deep-sea diver searching for sunken ships full of gold bullion. The majority of treasure hunters are hobbyists like me. We do it because it brings us pleasure. For some of us, it brings a bit of financial satisfaction as well.
The easiest kind of treasure hunting is the kind done with the metal detector, but by easy, I don’t mean financially rewarding. I mean easy because you have a great tool that helps you locate lost treasures. Plus, many metal detectors have a setting that can determine the type of metal that is buried.
Nearly as easy is the hunting for Americana and the historical knowledge you gain from it. For me, it is also a bit financially rewarding because I blog about it and I often sell photographs of the relics I find.
Just remember—treasure isn’t just in the eye of the beholder; it’s also in the heart, and I have a heart of gold.