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Urban treasure hunters scan Logan's sidewalk paths

Matt Jensen

Utility crews in Logan are tearing out a stretch of houses, sidewalks and road in one of the city’s older neighborhoods for a street expansion project. As the layers are peeled away, urban treasure hunters scan the debris for coins and other tokens left behind and buried for decades. UPR's Matt Jensen reports.

Shane West of Ogden heard about the 200 East project and came to Logan equipped with a high-end metal detector and hand shovel to see what he could find beneath the old sidewalk. He says some of Utah’s older neighborhoods can be treasure troves of old silver coins and other relics. On Wednesday night, three people armed with detectors walked up and down the dirt paths that had been covered with sidewalks just a few days before.

After a couple hours in the dirt, West walked away with a few prizes.

"I found a 1907 Barber quarter," he said. "And a 1913 Barber dime. A couple of my buddies have found about five other silver coins. I've found quite a few wheat pennies and some odds and ends here and there."

He dug up an old brass bell and a small 1920s era tin of Colgate rouge with the rouge still inside.

"Most of the treasure hunters that metal detect are looking for those illusive silver coins or those illusive gold dollars or the almighty Mormon gold coin," he said.

There was such a thing. It’s estimated around 7,500 of the coins were minted.

"They only made a few years of it," said West. "They made certain denominations of gold coin that Brigham Young had minted so that the LDS that were established here wouldn't go into the mountains and dig for gold. But finding those is slim to none. They're hard to find."

Experts say the gold Mormon coin is one of the most unusual, non-government issued coins out there, and collectors will pay big money to get one.

"The hottest coin is the 1849 ten-dollar gold coin," he said. "In a poor shape, if it's an authentic gold coin, it's worth about $120,000."

But with big jackpots far and few between, West says the fun of metal detecting is just the thrill of the hunt.

"One of my favorite finds is an 1876 Carson City seated Liberty dime," he said. "I've also found a 1939 walking Liberty half-dollar. I was giddy when I found that."

West and his friends got permission to search the 200 East sidewalk paths. He says interest in metal detecting has been growing in recent years.

"This is a fun hobby," he said. "You can get into it relatively inexpensively. I just bought my daughter a Bounty Hunter Jr. - about $60 for a metal detector."

West says, historically, metal detecting has been an older person's hobby. But the economic recession and the activity's growing popularity on TV has turned more people into treasure hunters.

"They say that since the economic downturn, we're looking at a 1000-percent increase in metal detector sales," he added.

When demolition crews start removing sections of the road, that’s when West says the real treasure hunt will begin. For Utah Public Radio, I’m Matt Jensen.