CLIFF STEFENS...MR. TREASURE HUNT,
AND A CLUB'S BEST FRIEND!!

By Dick Stout

Western & Eastern Treasures Magazine


Ready for another fascinating profile of a long time treasure hunter? Well here goes....

This time I am pleased to share with you a story about a very knowledgeable, dedicated and very successful treasure hunter, Cliff Stefens. Cliff hails from the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania area, and is a member of the South Jersey Metal Detecting Club, in Haddon Heights, New Jersey. Not only can he teach you more than you care to know about the pastime, he can also help your club flourish in more ways than one.

I first met Cliff back in 1982, when I was attempting to unite clubs and form a national organization. The result of course was the formation of the FMDAC, and Cliff was an integral part of the founding group. His input, tireless dedication to the effort was extraordinary, and those that know Cliff today will tell you nothing has changed....he still gives his all to anyone who needs help.

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Q. WHEN DID YOU START METAL DETECTING?

In the fall of 1966


Q. WHAT WAS IT THAT ACTUALLY GOT YOU INTERESTED IN METAL DETECTING?

Reading about treasure hunting in Argosy magazine. I enjoyed fishing & hunting, and had just started collecting coins, so metal detecting seemed a natural fit.


Q. WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST METAL DETECTOR?

It was a Conquistador II. There was an advertisement that caught my eye in a treasure magazine. It featured a triangle with an eye in it...the symbol of “the association”. They were a “cause” for better detecting, as well as a supplier of detectors, and related equipment. They would answer all your questions and try to fit you to the right machine. They were also willing to spend time on the phone, giving advice, tips and were a big help.

The Conquistador II was the better one of two models, and was basically a White’s Goldmaster with a sensitivity control added. The switch had two positions....normal or expert. I couldn’t wait to use it. The II had an extra 10 inch loop and cost $309.00, a pricely sum for a hobby in 1966. Having been a hunter and fisherman for decades I learned to buy the best that you can afford right up front. You’ll only want it later any way....

In 1967 I bought a backup machine, a BFO from Bill Mahan, an early detector manufacturer. While I used the machine every so often, I never really got the hang of it. It seemed to work well only when you wanted to find buried cables and pipes.

I also became close friends with Harry Bodofsky, a local White’s distributor. Harry made sure I tried out every new White’s metal detector that came along, and through the years I’ve owned pretty much all of them up to the Spectrum XLT. I still enjoy that machine because I own so many loops for it, from the 4 inch up the new 15 inch.


Q. WHERE DID YOU GO FIRST TO USE YOUR NEW DETECTOR?

My old high school athletic field. I remember losing a bunch of coins on the bleachers there quite some time ago, and it was only logical to go there for revenge. Since that time they had moved the bleachers closer to the sideline of the football field, but there were still marks on the field indicating where they used to be. My first coin find turned out to be a 1964 silver quarter, one of five silver coins I found that morning. After a couple of hours I drew a crowd of kids, and I decided to leave. At home I counted up my loot. 3 silver quarters, 2 silver Roosevelts, 15 or 20 pennies, and my most interesting find...a 1935 Buffalo nickel.

I soon decided that I needed earphones. That beep-beep drew crowds. I also needed better tools. I’d started out with a small trowel, but I needed a probe. I took a screwdriver with a 5 inch blade, rounded off the edges and then used a well taped chair leg cup to cushion my hand. I then took a piece of two inch conduit, cut a long five inch slant to give it a trowel effect, then taped it like the screwdriver. A carpenters apron from the cellar became a goodie bag.

Likewise in the beginning I had trouble keeping track of my search efforts, and began using line markers. Mine were 15 inch knitting needles painted orange.


Q. YOUR FIRST COIN WAS CERTAINLY A GREAT FIND, BUT WHAT OTHER GOOD FINDS COME TO MIND WHEN YOU STARTED OUT?

I remember a coin from the spring of 1967. It was found in a very old park, and it was only a few inches deep. When I dug it up it looked brand new....not a mark on it!! It was an 1815 Capped Bust Quarter with proof like surfaces. Many years later it more than paid for a new top of the line detector and then some. I also found my first silver dollar that year....an 1887 Morgan Dolllar. It was in a raised border of a freshly planted dogwood tree.

I started putting my old coins in 2x2 holders, and when I showed my coin collecting friends, they were amazed. They couldn’t believe that such collectable coins could be found with a metal detector.

Jimmy Sierra & Cliff Stefens...FMDAC Hunt in 1985
Cliff & Jimmy Sierra 1985.....

Q. WHERE DID YOU SPEND YOUR TIME INITIALLY (i.e. SCHOOLYARDS, PARKS, ETC...)?

I used to hunt Friends Meeting House properties. Most were established in the mid 1800's, and you just knew there would be old coins there. Permission was also pretty easy to get at that time. I also liked hunting old parks, some of which doubled as training and staging areas for Civil War troops. I also sought out any place where money was handled or exchanged. Old fair and carnival grounds are good examples, as well as athletic fields. At some of these sites I would average 200 to 300 coins a day, but back then I feel certain we were working the “first layer” of coins. Most were only 2 to 4 inches deep. The only people digging coins deeper than five inches were liars!


Q. HOW LONG DID IT TAKE YOU TO FIND YOUR FIRST RING?

My second time out! I not only found lots of coins I found three rings: one silver friendship ring, one gold class ring (bent and no stone), and one junk ring. That day I also found a silver bracelet, and two silver half dollars. In the 60's & 70's, if you hunted all day, you would usually come home with a ring or two, and at least one or two half dollars. Hard to believe I know, but it’s true.

Because we didn’t have the luxury of discrimination back then, you pretty much had to dig every signal, and I think that accounted for so many rings being found back then, and why so few are found today. I can also remember times when I simply stayed on my hands and knees.... the targets were so frequent. That’s when the line markers came in handy.


Q. IN THE BEGINNING, HOW DID YOU GO ABOUT FINDING PLACES TO DETECT?

I became a map addict, and studied all the local maps I could find, and I used to drive around all the towns near where I lived. I became really familiar with all of them. Pretty much every place back then was a good place to hunt if you had permission. I used to carry a small notebook, and I would write the owners names and title in it. I would list the street or location, and then something like Mr. Grant/owner. If someone ever questioned my being on the property I would pop open my book and show them who gave me permission.

My system was to always get up and start hunting early in the day. I would often be out hunting at 6 AM. My goal was dawn to dark, and 300 coins. I had two old parks that I spent six months in, continually finding old and very collectable coins.

One time I had permission to hunt an entire block of Friends Meeting House buildings (meeting house, hospital, old folks home, school, etc). The old folks often sat on the benches in the area, and one day an older lady told me that although I was finding some coins in the area, I should try the far end of the playground area. She said every year a chautauqua would set up for two weeks, and everyone would be there at least one night during that time. The ladies would set up a table, sell cakes, cookies, pies, etc.. to raise money. Under the main tent there would a show, where someone, perhaps a world traveler, would show items he had brought back and so on. The kids would play and carry on outside in the dark. These shows would move from town to town, and be back the following year with something new. She said the crowds that came were large, and that I should search that area. Was she ever correct! The finds that I came home with were many and very old.

That particular incident taught me an important lesson. That was to seek out the older folks in the area for information. You might have to sit and listen to them ramble from time to time, but the time spent is worth it. I once got a tip from an old timer who lived twenty miles away about an old amusement park located only two and half miles from my house. At that time it was just a wooded area, and one in which I used to hunt small game. I would have never recognized it as an amusement park. It orignally opened in 1891 and closed in 1915. 75 years later everything reverted to woods, except for a few concrete support pillars, which were easy to miss. Even the early newspaper files barely mentioned this area. The coins I found there were very deep, and I think someone must have beaten me to the spot, because I didn’t find any halves, and only a couple dozen quarters. There were mostly Indian Head Cents, V Nickels and Barber dimes.

Back then my mind was always working overtime. I kept asking.... where did you play sports? When did you play? What towns had the away games? Where were the concession stands? Where did the majority of the people congregate? Did you attend summer camp? If so, where? Boy Scouts ? Girl Scouts? Religious retreats? In those days it was a different world. We didn’t have computerized detectors, or for that matter computers. Finding good sites to detect was entirely up to you, and I was always working on that angle. I used to sit down with a pen and a piece of paper, and list every place I had gone to growing up, what I had done, the approximate time frame and so on. Those were the places I was going to go back to and search.

Cliff Steffens and Ed Laub
Cliff & Ed Laub, two former marines.....
with briefcases holding 1790 Barber Coins & 100 Silver dollars

Q. DID YOU EVENTUALLY JOIN A CLUB, AND IF SO, WHICH ONE?

In 1974, the White’s dealer in the area, and my best friend, Harry Bodfosky, persuaded me to join the First State Treasure Hunters Club, in Wilmington, Delaware. We met near the New Castle airport, and had perhaps 20 to 25 members. Soon the club started to grow, and I was in charge of the monthly contests, and Harry was supplying the prizes. Within 3 years we had over 300 members. We always had great contests each month, and ultimately at the end of year, every member had a chance of winning a top of the line detector, a 20 oz gold bar, gold scales, accessories, etc.. We had monthly bulletin boards, info sheets on detecting, and so on. Harry was also a genius at finding excellent speakers for each meeting, and when we didn’t have a program, we held a members auction.

Shortly after joining First State I also joined the Southern Jersey Treasure Hunters Association, and the Philadelphia club.


Q. WERE YOU A LONER OR DID YOU TEND TO OUT DETECTING WITH OTHERS?

Initially I was a loner because I liked to hunt very early in the morning. Most of those I knew early on liked to sleep late. When I hunted in the city however I would be sure to take a friend with me if the area was suspect. Later on I met Ed Laub, and he and I became treasure hunting pals. As of this date, Ed is in Laughlin, Nevada, with his motor home, and I’m looking forward to his return this spring so we can hit the Jersey shore.


Q. WHAT WOULD YOU CONSIDER TO BE YOUR BEST FIND AFTER ALL THESE YEARS?

Over the years I’ve found a lot of neat things. Gold and silver jewelry, especially diamond rings. I’ve found some key coins...1885 & 86 Vnickels, 1921 Quarters, 1915 Barber Half and 1877 Indian Head Cent. Another great find was a 1793 Chain Cent found in the 70's. I knew what it was, but put it away for a rainy day. Eventually I took it to a coin dealer, and he was glad that I hadn’t attempted to clean it. A little olive oil brought out the portrait, and the 93 on the reverse. I sold it for $1850.00.

Then in 1973 I found my first gold coin....a 1854 Type II Small Head Indian One Dollar Coin. The condition was AU, without a scratch or blemish. I have since found two more gold coins...a 1908 & 1909 Quarter Eagles ($2.50 Gold Piece).

My nicest diamond ring was found at a playground. It was a 14K White Gold Ring with a Half Carat Diamond, in a Tiffany Setting. At a trade show it was appraised at $1700.00.


Q. WHAT IS THAT ONE ITEM THAT YOU ARE STILL SEARCHING FOR THAT HAS SO FAR ELUDED YOU?

Well, I’ve never found a 20 cent silver coin, and while I have found gold bracelets, most of them were very thin. Would love to find a larger one.


Q. DO YOU ATTEND OPEN HUNTS?

I’ve never really enjoyed organized hunts too much. I enjoy seminars, and talking to manufacturers, dealers and exhibitors....seeing new equipment, and of course asking the question...how deep will it go? As for hunts? I’ve never been excited about competing for silver dimes and quarters I don’t really need. I prefer working behind the scenes at these events, planning and preparing for the hunts themselves.

Back when I was involved with the Federation Hunts in Atlantic City, they were a big challenge. I wanted them to be different. I wanted those hunts to be the best hunts going. My first consideration was that they were had to be fair for all contestants. We laid out grids on all three blocks of beach, and made sure that each had an equal distribution of quality finds and prize tokens. Next we had to have quality prizes. I told Harry (Bodofsky) that I needed thirty prizes worth $100 or more, and that the tokens for these prizes were to be distributed equally throughout the hunts (each would get ten tokens). No top 30 token would be redeemed till the end of the day, and the 30 token holders would line up and draw envelopes for their prizes. When our top prize was a new Ford Mustang, we used keys. 30 people lined up and each took a key from a treasure chest. When his or her key did not start the car, they were given another envelope, telling them their prize (really good prizes). Eventually there were only two people left, and needless to say I was a little worried. I can remember Harry telling the last two hunters...”if the next key doesn’t work, you young lady will drive this car home”. The key was inserted, and Varoom, varoom!!! It started and all hell broke loose. The crowd was cheering and the hunt was over with a bang! What a finish...you couldn’t have written a better ending.

None of the first few federation hunts in Atlantic City would have returned a profit had it not been for raffles. We of course were only looking to break even, and in the process make the event a fun one for our members. Later I had an idea for upgrading things and raising money. I wanted to put gold coins into the sand. We would pay for the coins by raffling off silver dollars. A good friend and local coin dealer was liquidating the Dupont estate, and supplied us with the coins. I bought 30 two peso gold coins for $25 each. I put them in 2x2's, stamped Federation Hunt, Atlantic City 1986. We put them in the sand in Hunt 2, so if they weren’t found right away, you still had a shot at finding them in Hunt 3. I also purchased 80 silver dollars in AU condition, paying about $6.50 each, and they were raffled for an average of $25 each, thus paying for the gold coins plus a little extra for the coffers.

As far as I know the FMDAC that year was the first to bury gold coins! Later on of course we used tokens for the top 30 prizes.....

Cliff and the brand new Ford
Cliff standing in front of the
grand prize in Atlantic City, 1986

Q. IF YOU DO ATTEND OPEN HUNTS, WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITES?

I have attended very few, but when I do they are pretty much close by...Atlantic City or Wildwood. I also enjoyed two trips to England for detecting. Ed Laub and I went with Jimmy Sierra on the Discovery Tours. Met a lot of great people and had a load of fun!


Q. WHAT METAL DETECTOR(S) ARE YOU USING TODAY?

The Excaliber 1000 for beach hunting, and the Explorer II for land hunting (old parks, farms, etc.) and I also use a Sun Ray Target probe & pinpointer....hip mount version. I also take along the White’s XLT (hip mount) and carry with me all the various loops for it. Guess you might say I am prepared for any event.


Q. WHAT ACCCESSORIES (COILS, PINPOINTERS, PROBES, DIGGERS, HEADPHONES) ARE YOU CURRENTLY USING?

My choice of diggers...the Ed Laub model.


Q. HOW OFTEN DO YOU GET OUT DETECTING TODAY?

Not as often as I’d like because of lyme disease. I really enjoy beach hunting, and try to the shore at least two or three times a month. I also need a knee replacement, and it’s hard to get up and down like I used to. I sometimes feel like I am the bionic man. I have had four hip and shoulder replacements and three arthrosporic surgeries on my knees. I hope to have a knee replacement in February of this year. Can’t wait for the “new body parts” catalog to come out!!


Q. WHAT DO YOU SEE FOR THE FUTURE OF THE PASTIME?

That’s a tough question. I foresee the old timer continuing to do his thing, researching and taking what the field has to offer. On the flip side I am afraid that many newcomers might get frustrated because of not instantly finding the really old stuff, that they give up, storing their detectors in the closet. The good finds are not that abundant as they once were, but they are there, and we have to find a way to share our knowledge with those coming on board now. I can’t tell you how many people come to our club meetings, and cannot tell you the make or model of their detector, swear they don’t work, and only came because they wanted help. We must find a way to get them involved....it’s in our own best interest to do this.


Q. WHAT CAN DETECTORISTS DO TO PROMOTE THE PASTIME?

Clubs need to go to extremes to promote the good that we do. The return of class rings, assistance to law enforcement, and so on. Share the pastime with the uniformed. Have club displays and demonstrations at town community events, displays at malls and give talks to community groups. I would love to see the industry adopt the Harry Bodofsky rule.... If Harry sold you a detector, he paid your membership for the first year in the local club. Maybe clubs today could offer the newcomer membership at a cut rate for the first year.


Q. IF YOU COULD PASS ALONG ONE OR TWO WORDS OF ADVIDE TO OTHER DETECTORISTS, WHAT WOULD THEY BE?

That’s really pretty easy. Learn your detector. Learn how to pinpoint single coins. Retrieve all your targets with a minimum of effort and with little disturbance to the area. Your goal is to make the spot invisible....not a trace of digging! There is nothing worse than a hunter who leaves a lawn area full of unfilled holes...that’s why we are fighting laws and regulations today.

Next, keep records of where you’ve hunted, what you’ve found and what the conditions were at the time. This will allow you to look back and analyze a great many things....where the really old coins were found, where you need to go back to with the new coil, or the new skills you just picked up. Every time I got a new machine I would go back to the old Meeting House sites to see what I might have missed in the past.

Third, make an effort to find a hunting partner. Some areas, especially in the larger cities, can be dangerous. Hunting in pairs can help this situation. There is safety in numbers, and not to mention, detecting is simply a lot more fun with a good friend.


Cliff Steffens and Ed Laub
Cliff hunting a Roman Site in England

Q. LASTLY, SHARE WITH THE READERS A LITTLE SOMETHING ABOUT YOU AND YOUR FAMILY....

Well, Fran and I have been married for over 53 years, and we have two sons, C.J. Jr. (Aged 42), and Bill who is 40. We live in Chester County, Pennsylvania, and my other hobbies are hunting, fishing, traveling and camping. What keeps me young is vacationing with my family, and of course metal detecting

Every Easter we spend two weeks in Florida and then two weeks in Sea Isle City, New Jersey in August. Add to that two weeks of trout and bass fishing with my sons, and I have plenty on my plate. We pretty much average 11 weeks of travel each year. Ah...the joy of retirement!!

I am a longtime member of the South Jersey Club and run the monthly contests, and write a page for their newsletter.


CONCLUSION

I have known many detectorists over the years, but no one as skilled and detailed as Cliff. Without his input in the beginning stages of the FMDAC we would not have succeeded. I remember vividly getting calls at midnight from Cliff & Harry (Bodofsky) getting my take on a new twist to the Atlantic City hunt. What did I think of this idea or that idea, and there was always a comment like “this will be a first” and it always was....

Lastly, talking to Cliff is fun and exciting. His enthusiasm is infective, and you always come away a more enlightened person. If you ever visit the Phildadelphia area be sure to look up Cliff and tell him Dick Stout said hi! And Cliff...many thanks for sharing, and good hunting!!

For more information on Cliff’s club, the South Jersey Metal Detecting Club, click here