The coin looked ancient, but how old, Ron Martin couldn’t tell.
He rubbed the heavily corroded copper with a pad after dabbing the surface with water and a bit of acid. Slowly, details appeared.
“All of a sudden, I could see a face on it,” said Martin, a Milesburg resident. “I thought it was George Washington, but I wasn’t really sure what I was looking at.”
Right era, he discovered, but the wrong George.
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While using his metal detector recently near Spring Creek outside Bellefonte, Martin unearthed a 1775 English coin bearing the likeness of King George III.
He found the artifact, likely a halfpenny, beside an old stump, about 5 inches down and 50 feet from the creek. The 52-year-old Penn State janitor had dug up Mercury silver dimes from the first half of the 20th century on other treasure hunts, but never something like the blackened disk in his hands.
“I was tickled to find it,” he said.
At home, Martin first soaked the coin in motor and penetrating oils, wiping away more than two centuries of grit with each dunking. After the water, fizzing acid and more wiping, his eyes lit up when the date emerged on the back.
“That just blew me away,” he said.
He wonders how the coin came to be buried there. Did it fall from the pocket of somebody resting against the tree? Perhaps it tumbled off a wagon rolling down the dirt ancestor of the road near Martin’s discovery.
For Martin, pondering the past is part of the hobby.
Former fairgrounds, historic farmhouses and early roads are some of his favorite places to comb with his metal detector. Any place where coins might have jingled together becomes an enticing destination.
These days, it can be a race against progress.
“Hopefully, you can get there before construction, before these areas get all torn up,” Martin said. “Next thing you know, you’ve got a housing development going up. Some of these places I wanted to check, they’re not there anymore.”
Martin has his eyes on a promising site, but for the time being, he’s savoring his latest find. Dealers have told him it’s worth little because of its worn condition and the coin’s prevalence during the Colonial era.
So he won’t get rich. Martin doesn’t care. He owns a piece of history minted a year before the Declaration of Independence, a bit of English copper maybe nestled in the Earth for longer than Centre County has existed.
And that’s enough of a reward.
“I’m probably going to keep it a while because I really enjoy having it and showing it to people,” Martin said. “I’ve really put a lot of hard work into my hobby.”