How to Handle Treasures Found While Metal Detecting a Permission

Imagine – you’re experiencing the thrill of finding Indian head pennies, Mercury dimes, old TootsieToy cars and other relics out of a small part of a yard of an 1860s miner’s cottage.

When you’re finished, you spread your finds out over a table to show the property owners. They take everything, saying they want to go through your finds to keep some items for a display in their home. They say they will give you what they don’t want. You never hear from them, despite numerous attempts to reconnect. Eventually, you give up hope of having any treasure to remind you of the amazing hunt.

I learned the hard way that when starting a permission, it’s essential to have an agreement with the property owner how finds will be handled. 

It never used to be that way. Property owners, rarely, if ever, cared about seeing, much less keeping, anything found on their land. Lately, that has shifted to property owners definitely wanting to see what you found and, in some cases, keeping items.

“People are wanting more now,” said Terry Frazier, who metal detects in eastern Nebraska and western Iowa. “Maybe that’s because of all the YouTube channels and TV shows about metal detecting and finding lost treasure. People are realizing treasure can be found anywhere.”

Jim Parry, who metal detects in southeastern Minnesota, said he’s been lucky for the most part and has rarely had a property owner ask about keeping items he finds. Parry said when the topic does arise, he presents three options:

  1. It is their property, so they have the right to keep anything they want
  2. What is found can be split between property owner and Parry.
  3. The property owner can let Parry keep everything.

Parry feels he has the advantage of living in a small town in Minnesota where he was born and raised.

“I have a personal connection with the majority of my permission property owners,” Parry said. “I’m also a middle and high school teacher here and also teach metal detecting classes for youth.”

Most of my detecting of homes happens in small towns in southwest Wisconsin. I’ve worked hard to establish The Driftless Digger brand as legitimate and professional. People see what I find elsewhere and have read what other property owners have said about my detecting. That goes a long way in building trust with potential permissions that I’m not trying to come in, raid their yard of treasure and sell everything to make money.

I tell property owners up front that the code of ethics I follow states the property owner always has first right of refusal to what I find. We establish before I begin detecting whether they are going to want to see everything, whether they’re only interested in seeing certain items, like coins or relics, or if they don’t care to see anything and I can keep it all.

Angela Edmonson, who lives in Cobb County, Georgia, has been detecting for a year-and-a-half. She hasn’t encountered property owners who want to keep things. 

“For people that I don’t know personally, I always offer up all my finds and let them choose what they would like to keep,” Edmonson said. “So far no one has followed up or wanted any of what I have found. I am always willing to share regardless, because the thrill is in the hunt for me!”

If the property owners want to see what I find, I establish whether I will show them my finds each time, in person, before I leave, or whether I will take the items home, clean them up and send pictures. The property owners would then tell me what items they want to keep, which I would bring back next time I come.

Often, property owners don’t want what we believe to be the obvious treasures.

“I have had people want simple clad for some reason,” said Mike Lukehart, who metal detects in western Iowa. “A few weeks ago I did a property of a woman who was a photographer. In the end all she wanted was an old metal teacup that I found because ‘it was the cutest little thing.’ She had absolutely no interest in Barber quarters, Indian head pennies or buffalo nickels, all of which I found.”

With any permission, no matter how kind and uninterested the property owner seems about your finds, make it a point to establish upfront how finds will be handled, and how you will show the owner what you find. Doing that at the beginning will save much disappointment in the end.

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3 Comments

  1. I recently detected a late 1800’s permission and found my first V Nickel. I had established beforehand the owners get whatever I find if they should want it. This young couple was amazed and kept the V Nick and a lovely buck knife I found. They didn’t want anything else. I was a bit bummed, but at the same time I was happy I was able to share just a small part of what is hidden below the ground we walk upon. I encouraged the young couple to try metal detecting. Not sure they will, but the seed was planted. Fantastic article with really good advice, Jim.

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