Monday, November 21, 2016

Why don't I find any silver coins?

silver coin
Question-
I have two places that I go to, one being a boy scout camp and the other being an abandoned strip of houses from the 20s that i have pulled out around 10 and 15 wheat pennies, respectively but no silver. I was wondering why this is and whether or not it happens to you guys?

Answer-
 Many reasons.
  • First and foremost, mintage. Look at mintage numbers for pennies vs silver for any year. Pennies are always higher. 1964, for example, saw 929,360,000 dimes minted, while 2,648,575,000 pennies were minted. That's almost three pennies for every one dime. There are simply MORE pennies in existence.
  • Second, pennies can appear in the highest number of any coin when receiving change. The maximum amount of pennies that can logically be distributed in change - if the cashier has enough of each coin type - is four. The maximum quarters you'll get as change are three. The maximum number of dimes is two. The maximum number of nickels is one. That means if you got change ending in "4" or "9" - ie, 64 cents or 19 cents - you'd have more pennies than any other coin type. Back in the old days, cashiers were more serious about their job. They used to count your change backwards to you. Not like today where someone lazily hands you your change wrapped in a receipt.
  • Third, at face value, a dime is 10x more valuable than a penny. A quarter, 25x more valuable. A half dollar coin, 50x more valuable. A dollar coin, 100x more valuable. Most people that drop a penny today will seldom expend the energy to locate it, bend over, and pick it up. The same was true for some people in the old days. Certainly a kid who dropped his pennies would spend the time to find them, but adults, like today, often disregarded pennies. The same is not true for higher denomination coins. Still to this day, few people will ignore a quarter they've dropped, even though a quarter today is roughly the same value as a penny in 1900.
I think these are the three biggest reasons we find many more Wheats than silver. There are more Wheats in existence, there were more Wheats in people's hands and pockets, and pennies have always been "disposable". That's why it's not uncommon for people to find many more Wheats to silver. Some places, the ratio is better. Some places, the ratio is horrible.
Speaking of places, why would we assume a Boy Scout Camp would have lots of silver? They were primarily occupied by young boys. Their food, lodging, and everything else was probably already paid for. They weren't buying or selling goods or services while camping. They maybe had some coins for the day trips where they'd go into town or something, but generally, they weren't engaged in commerce. The same is true for these houses from the 1920s. Houses are great places to detect and people often find great coins, but money wasn't changing hands on the front lawns of U.S. homes like it was changing hands on the streets downtown, or at a stage coach stop or something. The adults we'd expect to have money in their pockets weren't rolling around on the lawn or playing in the yard - their kids were. The same that was true for the Boy Scout Camp is true for kids playing in their yards. They didn't have a lot of money, and what they had was likely small change like pennies and nickels. Please note I'm not saying that you can't find silver in these places. Of course you can. But it's not unusual for the penny:silver ratio to be really high.
Some people insist that places have been "cherry picked". This is possible, but it's debatable in my opinion. There are a host of problems I have with the "cherry picking" idea.
Certainly there are machines that are "hot" on silver, but no machine can completely differentiate between wheat pennies and a silver dime 100% of the time. I will use my E-Trac Target ID numbers to elaborate. On the E-Trac, Wheat pennies are pretty reliably identified as 12-40, 12-41, and 12-42. Silver dimes are usually higher; 12-44/45. Of course, target ID can be affected by depth, soil, nearby targets, the condition and orientation of the coin, etc. But generally, a Wheat will ring in this three number range. But other coins can also hit in this range, including half cents, two cents, and on occasion, an odd silver dime. It would be really foolish for these "cherry pickers" to skip a 12-42 because it's not a 12-43. You just can't be 100% sure that it isn't silver. And what if you're sure it's a Wheat so you skip it, and it turned out to be a 1909 VBD!? And how many times have you recovered a penny only to hear another target that was masked by that penny? Why would you skip a Wheat penny when you KNOW it's a Wheat? It's old, it's likely at a similar depth as silver, and it could be masking a better coin. I can't ignore these possibilities when I hear a Wheat penny.
Edit: I should add that I do believe a site has been gone over by an experienced hunter when I find Wheats and modern pennies but no pennies from the 60s and 70s which often sound like silver dimes.
People are using newer, better machines and finding silver in parks that have been "pounded" since the 60s. They were either masked by nearby targets, masked by ground interference, or too deep to reach. I myself pulled a Barber Dime out of a park that people swore up and down was devoid of all silver. And a few months ago I was at a park that had the turf removed, and there was plenty of silver deeper than anyone had previously dug. So when people say "people cherry picked that place in 1990, so there's no silver left", this is what I say in response.
This reminds me of a discussion I had with a friend recently regarding the beach I detected last week. Maybe this is only tangentially related, but I'll type it out anyway. Let's pretend that we have an area to detect that has clear boundaries, and this area is static; no new targets come in to the area. It is "frozen in time", and all the targets in the area are within reach of our detector. Given enough time, this place can be completely cleaned of every target. Let's say our goal is only to find silver coins, and everything else is "junk". We have no way of knowing this information, but there is an exact number that represents the ratio of conductive "junk" to coins. Let's say there are 1000 total targets, and the ratio is almost 200:1, junk to silver. When you start detecting, the first target you dig you have a 1 in 1000 chance of digging a silver coin. Each target you recover only improves your odds that the next target will be silver. Depending on your luck, you could have terrible ratios or great ratios, but eventually, the junk will become less and the silver will be found. The reason I thought about this scenario is because my friend quipped that "at least we know this site isn't that good, so if XXXX shows up, he won't find anything either". I thought about it for a few minutes and realized that all we are doing when we "find nothing" is improving the odds that the next guy will find what we missed. So it does not console me any amount when I think a place is "pounded". All I can think about is the idea that someone else will come get what I missed, and they'll have an easier time because I was kind enough to clear a hundred pieces of junk.
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