When news surfaced that the FBI had dug up $600,000 in cash buried in a backyard inFontana, CA, we got to wondering: How common is it for homes to contain hidden riches? More than you might think—stories abound of homeowners who’ve unearthed sizable sums in the form of cash, gold, jewelry, and other valuables. Many stumble across such treasures by accident, but if you want to be a bit more proactive about treasure hunting on your own property, here’s some advice.
Check your home’s history
First off, it helps to know a bit about people who have lived in your home. Contrary to popular belief, they don’t have to be mobsters or millionaires to have squirreled away something.
“Ninety-five percent of the people who hide valuables in their home lived through the Great Depression in the 1920s and ’30s,” says Jason Dankworth, manager atBellevue Rare Coins in Washington. Back then, people were leery of putting their savings in banks. A stash like that could still be sitting on the property, particularly if no major remodeling has been done that would have unearthed those gems. We don’t literally mean “gems,” though—most of these Depression-era stashes will take the form of gold or silver, in coins or bullion. That’s because paper money was nearly worthless during the Depression, so Americans hoarded gold, even though it became illegal to do so in 1933.
Home in on good hiding spots
Obviously, valuables would be stockpiled in a spot that would elude easy detection. A prime area to look is under loose floorboards.
“One woman who came into my store found a box of silver dollars from the early 1900s worth $7,000 under floorboards in a closet,” recalls Dankworth. “Another guy was doing plumbing work in the crawl space under his house and came across a bag of gold coins worth $40,000.” Covered fireplaces are another oft-overlooked area; Dankworth says another couple doing remodeling found their fireplace stuffed with silver bars worth $2,000 apiece.
Some treasure hoarders even went so far as to build hidden spaces behind whole new walls. “So if any room seems two feet smaller than the floor plans suggest, that’s a good sign,” says Dankworth. So is a home where three walls are plaster (the material typically used during the early 1900s) and one wall is modern drywall (which will feel warmer and smoother to the touch).
Get the right equipment
A treasure hunter’s main sleuthing tool is a metal detector. While sophisticated models will run upward of $10,000, “for metal detecting in your backyard, you can expect to pay between $350 and $1,000 for a very capable detector,” says Ben Silverman, webmaster for the Granite State Treasure Hunters Club in New Hampshire. Not ready to commit? You can also rent them. “The more expensive machines will provide better target identification at lower depths and offer other features like the ability to discriminate out iron and other undesirable targets.” For a reasonably priced, reliable introductory model, experts suggest the Garrett Ace 350 ($350), since rather than fiddling with complicated settings, you simply select jewelry, coin, or all-metal mode and you’re good to go.
Assess the value
Even if you don’t find something as obvious as a pot of gold coins, that doesn’t meant your discoveries aren’t valuable—even an old pile of change can have surprising potential.
“Many people don’t know this, but any U.S. dime, quarter, dollar, or half-dollar coins minted before 1965 was made of 90% silver and hold a much higher value than the face value of the coin,” says Silverman. “Most of those coins have been removed from circulation over the years by collectors, but metal detecting any property that has been around since then will usually yield silver coins. It has been said that there are more coins in the ground than there are in circulation today.”
Another hidden gem: “key date coins” minted during a year when few coins were made. For instance, according to U.S. Rare Coin Investments, only 1,758 silver dollars were minted in 1794; one such specimen recently sold at auction for $10 million. Moral of the story? The hidden treasure on your property may be “hidden” in more ways than one.