David Poland demonstrated his metal detector to an interested audience at Center on the Hill in Chestnut Hill.

David Poland demonstrated his metal detector to an interested audience at Center on the Hill in Chestnut Hill.

by Barbara Sherf

Would you allow a stranger to come play in your yard? Well, what if that stranger was a retired Presbyterian minister who gets his kicks out of hunting for treasures with a metal detector?

David Poland, 63, has been using metal detectors to find everything from apothecary jars to zipper pulls since unearthing his first Mercury dime when he was 4 or 5 years old. He recently explained the genesis of his unusual hobby to a group at Center on the Hill … the place for active adults, a program of the Presbyterian Church in Chestnut Hill.

“It was quite by accident that I found the dime in our yard in De Pere, Wisconsin,” Poland said. “My older sister, who was about 10 at the time, convinced me to spend it on treats as we heard the familiar sound of the ice cream truck coming down the street,“ he said. “I wish I had that dime back today, if for no other reason than to check the date and mint mark.”

While other kids were playing tag and running around during recess, Poland would scour the ground and kick up stones, finding change that had spilled out of the pockets of the children who were playing. “As a kid I was rewarded with $2 in pocket change for about 15 minutes worth of sacrificed playtime, and I soon became known as ‘Eagle-Eye’ Poland,” he said. “I’ve found all manner of jewelry from bracelets, brooches, cufflinks, tie bars, earrings, pendants, pins, rings, watches and more.”

He’s not into treasure hunting for the money. “I recently detected a property that took 85 hours to complete, finding about $47 in common pocket change and $163 in collectible coins. Factoring in the time I spend traveling to and from the site, cleaning the coins and artifacts, my profit amounted to just under $1 an hour. Clearly, I didn’t get rich on that venture, but I did have a lot of fun.”

Turning his metal detecting machine on, Poland shared how he methodically scans the ground and when he hears a signal, uses the trigger to pinpoint the approximate depth of the object. “I’ve gotten so good at it that often I know if it’s a silver coin or an Indian Head penny or Colonial copper. But you can never be absolutely certain, so when in doubt, I dig because you’ve got to dig trash to get the stash.”

While there are a lot of perks to be found in treasure hunting, there are also hazards. “You run into mosquitoes and other nasty, biting insects, broken glass, snakes, puppy poo, poison ivy and pull tabs,” he said, adding that children, pets and other adults can either be a “bane or a blessing depending on their behavior.”

Poland told the audience that treasure hunting goes back as far as early civilization, and even the Bible contains a story that begins with the words: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid…”

He noted that Alexander Graham Bell is crediting with making the first — although unsuccessful — metal detector in 1881, in an effort to save the life of President James Garfield. The President had an assassin’s bullet in his chest, and Bell hurriedly invented and constructed a crude device to try to locate the fatal slug.

“It would have worked had the metal detector not been confused by the metal coils in the bed that lay beneath the dying President. The coils interfered with the function of the device, and had their presence been realized sooner, Garfield’s life may have been the first treasure ever recovered by a detector,” he said.

Poland said about 75% of the people he asks to “let me play in your yard” permit his explorations. He promises to return any items that might belong to the family, but he keeps the rest; and he is conscientious about filling in the holes he digs.

If you are interested in having David Poland explore your yard, he can be reached at 610-888-5091 or by e-mail at dpoland16@hotmail.com.

Barbara Sherf can be reached at CaptureLifeStories@gmail.com.

* Article reprinted, with permission, from Milestones, a publication of the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging.