The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 26, Number 7, February 12, 2023, Article 3


Tom Kays submitted this announcement and review of a new book on relic hunting in America with many finds of interest to numismatists, helping to document the use of coinage in the early United States (Virginia in particular). Thank you! I'm looking forward to seeing a copy. -Editor

Groundbreakers book cover Groundbreakers by Stephen W. Sylvia and Nancy Dearing Rossbacher (publishers of the North-South Trader Magazine) is a beautiful and massive book of nearly 600 pages illustrating the history of relic hunting in America with thousands of stunning color photos of artifacts (including many coins), plus sidebar stories about the significance and meaning of these historic treasures. Published in celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the Northern Virginia Relic Hunters Association (NVHRA), the oldest club of its kind in America, Groundbreakers highlights true tales about finding historic artifacts, pulling the best representatives from thousands of photos, spanning hundreds of lifetime collections of living and deceased diggers, whose amazing collections have never been fully shared in public until now.

Relics are sorted into colonial, Revolutionary War, youthful America, and Civil War times, with sidebars on digging events of today and special finds by club members in places well outside the Old Dominion, including New England, the Caribbean, and England. Of value to cultural resource specialists and history sleuths, Groundbreakers provides a complete survey with beautiful images of all types of artifacts that successful detectorists have unearthed after hundreds of thousands of hours in the field, and goes on to place them in historic context, often with personal connections to those who made, used, lost, and found these treasures. Groundbreakers is available for $89.95, plus $13.47 USPS Priority Mail Shipping (Virginia Residents 6% Tax). Mailed to United States addresses only. Order using PayPal at or e-mail for multiple copies at reduced shipping.

Here's Tom's review of the book. -Editor

More about Groundbreakers – A Review by Tom Kays

Groundbreakers back cover Who doesn't like a good story about finding valuable coins with a metal detector, or on a treasure hunt, or hidden in the walls of an old building? Many of the most interesting and valuable coins were found by people in exactly those ways, for example, the $6 million cache of coins in a farm field, coins hidden in the walls of an old house, and gold and silver coins recovered from the shipwrecks of famous Spanish galleons. Whether or not you follow numismatics or coin collecting news, you have likely read a headline like Metal detectorist finds valuable coins. Usually it's the tale of an amateur metal detectorist who discovers ancient, rare, or valuable coins in a field or somewhere on a beach. It is safe to say that every metal detectorist dreams of finding rare and valuable coins or at least some precious metal. People using metal detectors continue to find some of the most exciting, historically important, and valuable coins around the world, especially in areas of the US and UK, as well as northern Europe.

See historic treasures unearthed by hundreds of expert detectorists, over lifetimes of digging. As a life member of the Northern Virginia Relic Hunters Association (NVRHA), I know that writing and publishing Groundbreakers was a monumental, six-year effort by dozens of dedicated folks, who convinced normally private detectorists to share their stories and to photograph highlights of lifetime collections. Some of the finest diggers have passed on since starting this work. This becomes their legacy, shared with us, sampled from private collections and documented in confidential digging journals, after first-hand accounts are no longer possible. The thousands of artifacts shown are just the tip-of-the-iceberg, with several thousand more images deemed too many for the book. Tens of thousands of similar items are yet to be photographed.

I was present when many of the coins pictured (and hundreds that did not make it into the book) came to light, being shared as recent finds at club meetings. I often helped finders identify some of the more obscure coins including hundreds of cut pieces of Spanish/Spanish colonial silver, including a Star-of-Lima cob, hundreds of Georgian, contemporary counterfeit, half pence, small caches of US gold and silver coins, and oddballs such as a Hogmouth Thaler, or counterfeit Leeuwendaalder. Some dug coins remain unidentified. Groundbreakers introduces us to all types of dug coins (hammered, cobs, struck and roller-die-made coins, sharp silver, foreign and early Federal coins) that truly did circulate in pre-civil war America.

What I find most fascinating are equal introductions to the breadth of historic exonumia found alongside old coins, including sutler tokens, dog tags, personal ID pins, military insignia, political tokens, colonial coin buttons, badges, and love tokens. Groundbreakers doesn't stop, giving even more fascinating types of finds such as colonial glass bottle seals, counterfeiters lead molds, wax seals, scales and weights, colonial cufflinks, political buttons, slave tags, firemen's badges, patriotic pins, Masonic items, camp-made poker chips, and hand-fashioned embellishments and adornments made from coins. Aside from every kind of numismatic-related item, Groundbreakers explodes with loads of military and non-military uniform accoutrements, weapons, ammunition, unusual glass, horse tack, and every sort of civilian item used in olden days, all done to perfection with color photos, often linked through images of soldiers and famous persons using the same type of item (sometimes the exact one) as the artifact recovered.

Special thanks to Steve Silvia and Nancy Rossbacher who spent years on this labor of love. Extra special thanks to all the legends of relic hunting present and past, who cared enough about history to go looking in their own back yards, and finding curious old objects in the dirt, never stopped wondering about and searching for who left these artifacts all over the place.

P.S. I did hear about one complaint. Steve relates that Nancy received a call from a buyer in Georgia who said Groundbreakers is causing him to lose sleep as he stayed up two nights in a row, zealously reading it cover to cover

NOTE: Quotes in the first paragraph are from the introduction to Best Coin Finds by Metal Detectorists, Treasure Hunters, and More by Marin Aleksov (, Rosland Capital @Roslandcapital1 on Instagram)

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Wayne Homren, Editor

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