metal detectors

The Treasurists

“We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.” Thornton Wilder

Thornton Wilder, a favorite author, gives an example of his insight to life in “Our Town” when Emily returns to her grave on the hill:

“Good-by, good-by, world. Good-by, Grover’s Corners . . . Mama and Papa. Good-by to clocks ticking . . . and Mama’s sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new-ironed dresses and hot baths . . . and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you. (She looks toward the stage manager and asks abruptly, through her tears) Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?—every, every minute?”

Some do, some of the minutes, Emily. I often come upon them at the ocean’s edge:

I walked once again along our Long Beach surf shooting the jetties with shore birds and the sands with autumn sunbathers. It was the ides of September when most Long Beach lovers bask in the humidity-free days and the throng-free…but not thong-free, shore.


Sunbathing is always in season at Long Beach, NY

I’ve spoken to many sand and sea lovers over the years, photographers, journal writers, fishermen, surfers, kiters, tanners, and just plain…lovers. Each has a story to tell. This day I spotted a man in the distance sweeping his metal detector across the sand. As I approached I found that there were two of them, Dave and Gary.

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I detected  detectorist Gary from afar.

I learned that Gary and Dave’s wives were good friends in High School. The ladies met again a few years ago when Dave’s wife said to Gary’s, “My husband has a very strange hobby…metal detecting.” Gary’s wife said, “Our husbands are going to get along great.” Now, these detectorists told me, “We see more of each other than they do.” I asked if they ever saw “The Detectorists” on Netflix. They had and they love it, as do I. Their wives? Nah.

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MA infantry uniform button 1780

Now, detectorists can go long periods without a “good find”. Many of them search sand and fields, sometimes going over old farmland, with owner permission of course, to come upon good finds. One was found by the duo’s friend, a 1780 MA infantry button.

There is much chafe in the Earth, beer-can pull tabs and even some “can slaw”, a wonderful term to describe the shredded remains of a can that has been lawn-mower processed. But these treasure hunters do find interesting and sometimes valuable coins, buttons, bottle caps, tin toys…and occasional jewelry.

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Detectorist Gary, the gem finder

Gary has been a metal detectorist for 25 years, his dad having started him. I said, “I’ll start with the question I’m sure you are most often asked, ‘Find anything of good value?’” Sometimes, if you’re observant when you ask someone a question like, “What’s the biggest fish you ever caught?” you’ll see a glint in the eye, even before before a word is spoken, that there is a story inside… bursting to surface.

Gary worked as a marble and stone setter or you might say, a “marblist” for thirty four years. One day,  September of last year, he was working a job out on the Eastern end of Long Island, East Hampton to be accurate, a tony town, for sure. The famously rich might be strolling about there like, Leonardo Dicaprio and Martha Stewart. Dave was sweeping his detector’s coil across Cooper’s beach when he got a signal and scooped up a bit of bling.

It was a ring but the size was so small he first thought it was an earring. And it had a stone so large he was sure it was cubic zirconia. After all, real gems don’t come so large. He tucked into his pocket. Later “upon further review” as the phrase has it, it turned out to be not just a gem but a 3.67 carat solitaire diamond…in a platinum Tiffany setting. The ring wasn’t weather worn so it must have been lost rather recently.

Now, Gary did try to find the owner of the gem by reporting it to the police and having a jeweler run its registry number in a computer check but no such “luck.” Gary said that if someone doesn’t claim a find after four weeks it belongs to the finder. He did try for nine weeks to locate the owner. Oh yes, the ring was appraised at $55,000, he sold it for $32,500.

It was suggested that he really found a new car in the sand that day but Gary said, “Oh no, I bought myself some time, I was having surgery and it came along at such a perfect time.”

After 34 years of marble and stone setting Gary’s joints had  become weary and worn. He needed an operation and therapy for his shoulder but because he was self employed he didn’t have the health plan to cover the need. Now he had the wherewithal.

Now, I detect a sweet balance here. It appeared to the jeweler that the the person who lost the ring had it insured, so no real inquiry to find it, thus no real loss to its owner. And it certainly appears that Gary’s finding the solitaire diamond did give him more time to enjoy more solitary moments sweeping sand in the sun. So this loss and this find? Well it was just fine.

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Gary’s gem find. Diamond is about the size of head on dime. Photo by Gary

Dave showed me an old bottle he had just found, it even held some liquid remnants. He had a Buffalo head nickel too, “from 1925 to 1938”, he said. The detectorists were okay with me taking photos. They said people are always taking photos. Dave said, “Over the winter I hear a buzzing sound. I’m looking at my machine, it can’t be my machine. I look up and there’s a drone over me.”

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Detectorist Dave, Long Beach, NY with old bottle

Dave has had his own health battles and he has won the war against Hodgkins lymphoma. Now he too enjoys his days in the sun, he especially likes the fall, “We like October, no bugs.”

I asked him what his best find was. His eyes too foretold a savored story, then he spoke of his most memorable find:

He had been away on vacation when a neighbor, an Iraq veteran, lost his dog tags in the sea. They were very important to him. That was on a Thursday and Dave didn’t get back from vacation till Sunday. The dog tags had been flowing and ebbing with 12 North Atlantic tides from Thursday till Sunday night, but yes, that Sunday night he still went down to the shore with his gear and waded into that ocean.

He said his neighbor was on the phone nearby saying, “He’s trying but I don’t think he’s going to find them.” But in ten minutes Dave said to his friend, “Is this what your looking for?” holding up the treasured tags. Dave said his friend started crying. Then he started crying too. He added, “I found some nice rings and stuff but…this was my best find.”

Treasure, memorable moments, making a difference in whatever way…golden.

The NY Post and Dave’s tags find:

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Detectorist Dave’s Buffalo head nickel.

Dave said when he’s on the beach detecting “three hours go like minutes. He said, “Today a buffalo nickel from 1925 to 1938. Somebody had this coin maybe 80, 90 years ago. They touched this coin, to me it’s wow, this is history.”

Gary said, “When we find gold on the beach we alway try to return it if we can. Sometimes we can return it and it has sentimental value too. Sometimes we get a reward but it’s no big deal. Everybody asks what my greatest treasure is and I say…it’s my family.”

Be well,
See my sister site:

4 replies »

  1. I recall you, Lenny. Brand new detectors, only a few day in the sand. And you had a pair of sandy lensless eyeglasses and a dime believe. I was later very sorry I didn’t photo them. But I know I’ll get a good story out of you soon. Be lookin’ for ya. It’s all about having fun. Keep on, Lenny.


  2. Thanks for giving me your card really didn’t have any time to speak truth is trying to hide. I get plenty of kidding from my friends only seaching the beach for two weaks only found some coins and junk ring good for laugh soon come a better story thanks for you giving me a story to tell.


  3. Thanks, Bob. Glad you liked my post. No, I didn’t get the name or number of the young lady in the photo. This post was about The Treasurists. You must be confusing it with The Lecherists, which is still a post in progress. Lots more research for me to do. Keep a keen eye out for future posts.
    Be well,


  4. Hi Lee, Great story about Dave & Gary metal detecting. By any chance did you happen to get the Name and Tel # of the sunbather in your first photo ? Please forward any info on her ASAP. Great article always fun to read. Thanks, Bob Rittmeyer


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