I detected with a guy recently that constantly complained every time he dug a penny. “Ugh another wheat!” “Aaaaaargh! MEMORIAL!!” “Zincoln Stinkin Lincoln!” He actually fell out in the ground and flopped about once, after a particular nasty number of dug pennies in a row. Sure pennies generally are not the monster finds we dream about finding, but there are several reasons that it is important to dig them.
Though I don’t count them as a keeper unless they are unusual or rare, I enjoy digging wheat cents, and have thousands of them in a big fish bowl sized apothecary jar in my office. Memorials are not too much fun to dig, but here are the reasons that I dig them even when my experience tells me the target is going to be a shallow, dropped penny that is not old.
1) Could be a Rare Date or Variant
Every time I dig a wheat penny here in the US, I carefully segregate it in my pouch and check every date and mint mark at home after I clean my finds. Though I have not found one yet, I’m confident one day that 1909 S VDB cent will come my way.
The coin doesn’t know its rare. Over time, most detectorists end up digging a rare coin. Detecting is your best chance to find an authentic rare coin.
2) Get Them Out of Your Way
If you are on a site with historical significance that has produced, or should produce some very old good finds, but has recent coins just below the surface, it stands to reason that getting them out-of-the-way can clear the ground to detect and hear the much deeper good stuff that may lurk below them.
3) Could be a Civil War Plate or other Monster Find
Many detectors depth gage and number system seems to be calibrated for coin sized objects. As a result, bigger objects that are deep can masquerade as shallow smaller targets.
I’ve dug two civil war plates this year: a rare US martingale, which was a breast plate for a horse, and a US Belt Buckle. Both were at about 12-14 inches deep, and in both instances, I thought the target was a shallow penny. The sound was the same. The numbers on my detector were the same.
Johnny Pryor recently experienced the same phenomena. He dug a US box plate here in Middle Tennessee and shared the story with me. It was right at dark and he was leaving a yard when he got a penny signal right near the driveway. He quickly tried to dig a shallow plug and flip it out of the ground, but it wasn’t there. He had to dig a deep plug to find the box plate. I’m sure other Civil War relic hunters have experienced the happy surprise of digging a penny that turns out to be a plate.
4) That Beautiful Green Color
I love digging certain pre-1930 wheat cents that carry that incredible green color that many Indian cents carry. That is my favorite color, and I have a few particularly brilliant examples segregated in a finds case to check out from time to time.
5) They Add Up
A good detecting buddy of mine by total chance met my mother, who works at Wal-Mart, by clogging up the CoinStar machine with dirty coins. Throw your clad and coins in a large water bottle or other container placed near where you clean out your finds pouch. I have one container I throw clad in, and another container for wheats, which incidentally I also throw marbles I happen to find in. Clean them once they add up and cash them in.
Rolls of circulated wheat pennies, 50 cents face value, on eBay go for as much as twenty times that: ten bucks or more.
You might not like them, but there are many organizations out there that would love to receive your pennies. You can dump off the whole container with them once per year and make a difference.
7) Staying Sharp During a Session: Getting in the Groove
This is the number one reason I don’t mind digging pennies. By digging several in a given yard, for one I am confident my detector is working properly. I can see how accurately I can pinpoint and how quickly I can get the cent out of the ground and move on. I can distinguish a wheat from a zinc penny, and usually guess wheat versus copper memorial based on my depth meter. Sometimes just being sharp and feeling your detectors ground balance and other settings are hitting targets well will help you get in a groove where you dig a keeper or monster find that you might have missed had the ground not been cluttered with those stupid pennies!
Thanks for reading and best of luck on your next hunt!