It’s easy to lose a coin here or there; we’ve all done it. Imagine if a quarter that slipped out of a hole in your pocket today became a treasured artifact several generations from our own? Over the years some rather remarkable claims of 18th and 19th century coins found in backyards and fields in Boone County made their way into the newspapers. Prior to the widespread use of metal detectors (invented in the 1960s), these finds were largely due to luck and timing.
In 1916, Edwin Johnson, who lived in Walton, claimed to possess a 1795 Liberty silver dollar once buried in the yard by his grandfather for safekeeping. The grandfather was born in 1794, just a year prior to the coin’s minting and it’s unclear how he came to have it. Another family member dug it out of the yard after his death and passed it along to Edwin.
Not all buried treasure sites were well-remembered family secrets, some of these discoveries were happy surprises. In 1908, Owen Conner found an 1833 half-dime while digging in his Burlington garden. Its worth in 1904 is unknown, but today, this treasure could be worth up to $957!
By far the most fortunate, unwitting treasure hunter was John Winston, who found multiple 18th century coins on his Constance property in 1883. The first was found in April, when Winston was plowing for the spring planting; he unearthed a silver coin dating to 1782. This discovery was overshadowed by another coin found about two months later, resting in a furrow about 20 feet from the first find, presumably revealed by recently planted crops poking out of the freshly-plowed earth. This second coin was even older than the first, a Spanish Philip V coin bearing the date of 1721.
Winston’s run of luck was not finished yet; in the fall of 1883, he hit the jackpot, plowing up a cache of a dozen coins. The coins were all of the half-dollar variety of varying years with the exception of one coin that reportedly dated to 1707. This batch was more likely to have been an intentional burial, rather than an accidental loss.
A similar find, years earlier, was made by an honest hired man just south of the Boone-Gallatin County line. The worker found a tin of gold coins in 1876 while doing the grueling work of removing stumps from the yard of Mr. Downs; he quickly turned the treasure over to his employer. The total was $550 in gold; word got out quickly, and the heirs of the property’s former owner quickly filed suit, claiming their father had buried the treasure.
As long as there are pockets, there will be holes. As long as there are holes, there will be lost coins and people to find them.
By Hillary Delaney, Local History Associate