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Rare coins or $100 million in lost change: Aussie prospector reveals where you can find buried fortune

A man who found a rare coin worth $3,000 has revealed his top tips for uncovering lost treasure.

Despite cost-of-living pressures, Aussies still lose an estimated $100 million in loose change each year. It's a considerable sum, and many struggling to get by would be happy with even a portion of that lost fortune.

“It’s amazing how many people drop money," prospector Angus James told Yahoo Finance. "You pull a hanky out of your pocket and a coin flicks out and it’s gone."

The 40-year-old has been searching out old change and gold nuggets since he was 16 and has revealed his tips to help you cash in, or like him, delight in returning lost jewellery or long-forgotten war relics with their owners.

Angus James (right) holding a 1923 half-penny. And his hand holding $1 and $2 coins (left)
Angus James (right) has found everything from a rare 1923 half-penny to handfuls of lost change. Source: Supplied

The key, he said, is to study human behaviour.

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“One of my favourite hotspots is underneath old trees," he said.

"If I’m metal detecting near an old sporting oval, I always try to picture what it would be like during summer and where everyone would sort of sit.

“Humans are creatures of habit. We like to do the same things over and over again, so over 100 years of activity, there's going to be a few lost items along the way.”

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The second place James regularly finds lost items isn’t surprising – it’s at the beach. But what most people don’t know is that there are several reasons why.

“If you’re swimming in the water, your hands shrink, and then your ring will slip off," James said.

"As soon as it hits the sand, it’s gone – unless you have a metal detector. We have done a lot of recoveries over the years and help people find lost jewellery."

But not all items he has discovered were recently lost. After a big storm, the sand will be turned over and deeply-buried old relics can make their way to the surface.

He said it doesn't matter how many time a beach has been scoured, after a big storm, everything changes.

"If you get down there first thing you're gonna find a lot of really old things. It’s really cool,” he said.

James as a 16 year old (centre). Two close up images of a silver dollar from the US and a dog tag.
James has been prospecting since he was 16 (centre) and he's grown his hobby into a profession. Source: Supplied

James doesn't often prospect for coins in public forests, but that's the third recommendation he'd recommend amateurs target, particularly old camping grounds and creek beds.

The next hotspot may uncover a newer treasure. He said to try searching where there's been a big event like a country show or music festival. Think about how many people may have dropped something of value.

  • Beach

  • Under old trees

  • Old sporting oval

  • Anywhere after a big event

  • Public forests

  • Old camping ground

  • Creek beds

The biggest old “coin spill” James has ever detected was when he was a teenager. Inside a hole at the back of an old church, he discovered 32 pennies and 14 half-pennies.

“I'm guessing someone might have stolen the collection tray and maybe stashed it,” he said.

His best modern haul was $30 in one and two-dollar coins. But, his most expensive coin find was a 1923 half-penny in a little South Australian country town he grew up in, Naracoorte.

“It was actually in really good condition and I’ve been offered $3000 for that one," he said.

“This is a rare coin because they only made 15,000 of them – but with normal pennies they made millions.

"With a lot of the old coins, you might get lucky, they might have dropped them early on, before they got too much wear and tear on them. In certain soils, they come up really well preserved.”

The metallic composition of old coins can also play a role in how well they survive underground.

“It's quite incredible how well-preserved the silver ones are. Some of the copper pennies can get pretty tarnished with patina, and that can really make them look pretty bad in certain soils," he said.

"But you get some good ones."

A deeper reason, beyond wealth, has driven James’s prospecting hunger for almost 30 years.

Deep underground he has found signs of Australia’s ever-changing history, including European coins from 1770 and Chinese currency brought over during the gold rush.

“Every time I find an old coin I wonder, 'Who had this in their hand? Who dropped it and what the story behind it was?',” he said.

“Coins back then were worth a lot more money than they are today; it's incredible.

"A silver florin was a really good wage right there, you could have bought a lot of things with it.”

James regularly shares his finds on his Gold-Coin and Relics Australia Facebook page.

And it's not only rare coins that he finds — last week he made national headlines after he filmed a massive black cat roaming in a paddock in Ballarat.