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You might think treasure hunting is the domain of professionals with expensive equipment — and it can be. Just this year archeologists found 10,000 gold and silver coins when they pumped the water out of a river in China, and treasure hunter Darrell Miklos found Christopher Columbus’s anchor after a long search that involved satellite imaging.
But anyone can find treasure, and without pumping the water out of a river or borrowing a satellite. In fact, here are some of the treasures found by regular people, without expensive equipment, in just the first few months of this year:
- 200 Morgan silver dollars found in an old shed in Alabama
- Maud Lewis painting found in thrift store sells for $125,000
- Truck driver found 350-year-old coins with ordinary metal detector
- Piano tuner found 900 gold sovereigns hidden in a piano
- Recycling plant worker found $100,000 cash in an old television
- Babe Ruth’s baseball glove discovered in apartment building cellar
A few Google searches can add dozens of examples to that short list. People find treasure every day somewhere in this world.
Maybe it’s your turn. Keeping in mind that treasure takes many forms, here are some of the ways you can go treasure hunting.
1. Crawl Under Your House
Many years ago I was in the crawlspace under my parent’s house burying my own treasure (100 ounces of silver), when I spotted an old wooden chest. Among the other interesting items inside there were numerous old coins and bills from Vietnam. I never knew if they were worth anything because I contacted the former owner of the home and returned the chest.
By the way, I left my silver buried there for years. Had I died nobody would have known about it. Now you can understand how treasures get lost in the first place.
Go check that crawlspace! And while you’re at it, crawl under your parent’s house and the houses of other family and friends.
2. Go to the Beach
I found some odd items when I used my metal detector at the beach. Once, on a Lake Michigan beach, I dug up an old one-quart beer can that looked like an oil can and had a screw-on metal top. Coins were a more-common find.
Fortunately, even a cheap metal detector can find coins and other metal items in sand. Mine cost less than $100.
The Florida Treasure Coast is perhaps the best-known stretch of treasure-laden beaches, and there is even a blog devoted to it. But the sand on any beach might hide things that a metal detector can locate. Earlier this year a 13-year-old boy found a rare coin on a Wisconsin beach. It was minted in 1793 and is worth $3,000.
Not everything along the shoreline is hidden under the sand. If you don’t have a metal detector you can go beachcombing with nothing but a keen eye, just to see what washes up. I used to find perfectly good lightbulbs on Lake Michigan beaches (sailors throw them overboard to shoot at them, and some get away).
3. Search Your Hotel Room
Hotel guests often leave things behind, and sometimes those things are valuable. Here are some of the places to look for these treasures, according to LifeHacker:
- Bibles – People sometimes hide cash in the bedside bible, and forget to remove it when they check out
- Between the Mattresses – This is one of the easiest places for guests to stash money or other items
- Bathroom Ledges – Business travelers sometimes leave wedding rings there when cheating on their spouses, and then (karma?) they forget them
A flight attendant, who commented on the LifeHacker article, and who presumably stays at a lot of hotels, always looks for treasures. She says, “I have found many valuables including rings, cash, jewelry, money clips and assorted items of interest on the very top of tall dressers, wall units, underneath bathroom counter ledges, and inside of zippered cushions.”
She also found a wedding ring worth $5,000. I’ll bet you’ll be checking the top of that tall dresser the next time you stay in a hotel room. Leaf through the bible while you’re at it.
4. Try Rummage Sale Prospecting
Going to rummage sales really is treasure hunting if you approach it the right way. Like many treasure hunts, you’ll have days when you find nothing. But once in awhile you’ll stumble upon something you can flip for a $20 or $50 profit, or more.
Pam Dwyer bought a picture of a horse at a yard sale in Arizona for $5 because her husband had a hunch there was more to it than just a painting. He was right. Behind the picture they discovered a portrait of President Kennedy painted by artist Carmelo Soraci. The portrait may be worth up to $5,000.
What else should you look for? Anything you can easily sell for more than you pay. For example, my wife and I have doubled our money on rummage sale furniture a few times.
There are also a number of ways to find silver at rummage sales. For example, many jewelry items are made with silver, and people regularly sell their silver serving dishes and silverware for far less than what it’s worth.
5. Visit Old Mines
I explored old mines in Colorado when we lived there, and found some ancient equipment as well as beautiful crystals and mineralized rocks. Profitable? No. But it was a lot of fun, and I still have some of those cool crystals.
To find more valuable treasures get a metal detector and read up on prospecting for gold in old tailings piles. In days past the technology was limited, so a lot of gold was thrown aside with the rocks carried out of the mines.
You can search online to find mines near you. I found GPS coordinates listed for many, making it easy to locate them. To keep your treasure hunting legal you’ll have to stick to mines that are now on public lands.
If you don’t find any gold you can go metal detecting for relics in old mining camps.
6. Explore Old Buildings
Years ago I was hired to tear down an old house by hand (watching it fall was a blast). In the process I found old magazines, a jar full of coins, photographers’ lamps, and other interesting stuff. I sold most of my finds at a rummage sale, and some were sold as scrap metal.
If you see an old building or house ask the owner if you can go treasure hunting, perhaps with a promise to split the money you make from anything you find. You can also find potential targets by using the Urban Exploration Resource Location Database.
An urban explorer known as “Freaktography” recently documented one of his explorations for the San Francisco Globe. He searched an abandoned house and found old medicine bottles and antiques. He also discovered rolls of currency totaling almost $7,000.
Keep in mind that there are several types of treasures you might run across in old homes and other buildings. There may be hidden money, antiques and other valuable items, or things that can be sold as scrap metal.
7. Pan for Gold
I’ve found a lot of black metallic sand in my gold pan, which is often associated with gold. Sadly, the only gold I ever found was two little flakes in a pan full of gravel from a culvert under an Ontario highway. But I had a lot of fun panning for gold, and I did find some colorful gems and rocks.
Black or dark green plastic gold pans provide better contrast than the old metal ones, making flecks of gold more visible. Buy one on Amazon for less than $20 and you’re good to go. When you start finding some gold you can supplement your pan with other equipment.
You can learn the proper gold panning technique on YouTube.
Panning is allowed on many public lands without a permit. GoldRushNuggets.com has a map of the United States where you can click on your state to get a list of places to prospect.
8. Try a Classic Treasure Hunt
The Fenn Treasure is a stash of gold, jewelry, and who knows what else. It’s reportedly worth more than a million dollars. And for the price of a book you can get all the clues you need to start searching for it.
Forrest Fenn, an art dealer and author, hid the treasure somewhere in the mountains north of Santa Fe, New Mexico. He scattered clues to its location throughout his book, “The Thrill of the Chase.” Since first publishing the book he’s also revealed more clues on his website.
We know the treasure is above 5,000 feet, and it’s not in a graveyard or building. Beyond that you have to decipher the clues hidden in a poem (on the website) and in the pages of his book
9. Go Thrift Store Prospecting
It’s fun to get a good deal at a thrift store, but it can also be profitable. If you buy things cheap enough you might double your money selling them on Craigslist. Then there are the real treasures…
For example, John Richard bought a handbag at a thrift store for $30 and discovered it was actually a designer bag with an Andy Warhol print. Estimated value: $500,000!
Then there’s the crazy story of Terri Horton. As reported by CBS News (online and on 60 Minutes), the 74-year-old woman from Texas bought an “ugly” picture at a thrift store as a joke. It turned out to be a Jackson Pollack painting.
Horton had planned to throw darts at it with a friend, but gave up that idea after drinking too much beer. When she tried to sell it at a rummage sale someone mentioned that it looked like a Pollack, so she started investigating.
Horton has been working to get it authenticated and claims to have turned down an offer of $2 million. No luck on the authentication yet, but there is a documentary about her adventure, titled “Who the #$&% Is Jackson Pollock?”
10. Make Recycling Into a Treasure Hunt
The essence of treasure hunting is searching for things of value that you can get for free (or for a lot less than they’re worth). Digging for buried stashes of money or panning for gold are the typical examples, but why not go prospecting around your home and community?
Specifically, look for “treasures” that can be recycled for a profit. Scrap metal is an obvious example. I once sold an old washing machine for $25 at a scrap yard, and an aluminum wheel I was going to throw away turned out to be worth $6.
For ideas on other recyclable treasures you might find around the house or out in the fields and streets nearby, see my post on ways you might be throwing away money.
If you’ve ever been treasure hunting tell us about it, and keep on frugaling!