lost and found

I found an old coin in our meadow the other day, an 1812 large cent.  We regularly walk this hundred acre meadow with an occasional eye out for an old arrowhead, stone tool or other treasure turned up by the farmer’s plow.  While others have amassed the meadow’s ancient gifts over the years, I have never found anything except a few interesting stones smoothed by wear and springtime flooding.  I’d imagine their use by Indians as tools for shaping or grinding,  with imprints where hardy fingers have held them tightly in their palm.  But in truth, they were probably from the river bottom, washed up by floods.

But this day, in the soil at the edge of the path, there was no mistaking something round and ridged and fashioned by modern man.  It was rusty, dirt covered, had some verdigris, and some weight, and decidedly worth taking home.  I rinsed it under the tap to try to reveal its image, read its date.  Still brown and a bit rusty, I tried a toothpaste scrub.  That part is a real no-no as it turns out.  Just so you know – the only thing to do with an old coin is to rinse it with water and rub it lightly between your fingers – just in case it really does have value.   You don’t want to scratch it with cleansers or remove its aged patina.  Luckily I didn’t use much toothpaste, but it wasn’t worth much anyway.  If you do find an old coin – ask a reputable dealer for advice.

Known as the “classic head” large cent these coins dated between 1808 and 1814 were made from English planchets, minted in Philadelphia, and were based on new designs by the engraver, John Reich.  Left facing Lady Liberty has her hair tied with a fillet inscribed “Liberty.”  She is surrounded by thirteen stars, seven on one side, six on the other, and at the bottom is the date, some dates are large and some are small.  On the reverse is the coin’s value.

While it is probably worth a few more cents now, the value of the coin, like an antique, or an old house, is not monetary, it’s history.  It’s the fun of discovering it, imagining the hands it passed through, and wondering how it got here.  On that note, there’s an interesting story.  A neighbor and longtime resident brought up the subject of how the farmers of yesteryear used to collect and use the “nightsoil” from the city to fertilize their fields.  (Now, if you haven’t heard of nightsoil, well here you go – warning – you might want to depress your “stinky” key as you read :)

She told me that long ago the “waste” would be collected from the city’s outhouses, where cans were used instead of a pit, and the farmers would turn this compost into their fields for fertilizer.  And she pointed out that outhouses were a goldmine for coins, where of course, change would slip and fall out of loose trousers.

So, my initial theory of the farm laborer losing a coin, or anything else, in the soil he was tilling, has been transformed to a much less romantic image.   While I’m glad to have this little treasure, lightly cleaned and scrubbed and added to my “old and found” pile, I will definitely think twice before retrieving any further coins from the farmer’s upturned soil.

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