Thousands of Americans collect rare coins, and a lot of collectors regularly search for treasure across Florida. Even when you're armed with a metal detector and plenty of patience, opportunities to find rare coins are increasingly scarce, but the occasional haul encourages people to keep on looking. Nonetheless, you cannot assume that you can automatically keep what you find in Florida. Learn more here.
Reporting lost property found on public land
According to Florida law, if you find lost property on public land, you can, in principle, keep any items you find, but you must generally follow a lengthy and complex process before you can walk off with your booty. This process exists to make sure people do not cover up deliberate theft as the discovery of lost property. In theory, these rules apply when you discover ancient coins.
First, if you find somebody else's property on public land, you must report the discovery to the police. Failure to report the discovery of stolen or lost property could result in a criminal charge. If the item was worth less than $300, you could face a charge of petit theft. For more valuable items, you may need to consider a grand theft charge.
What's more, when you report your find, you must also give the police a reasonable sum to cover the cost of transportation and storage of the item, as required. You must also pay the cost of a public notice that asks for the rightful owner to come forward.
If the rightful owner does not come forward in a reasonable period (normally ninety days), you can collect the item from the police and it becomes yours. The property remains yours even if the owner comes forward at a later date. Of course, the situation is often not as simple as this.
Finding property on private land
Florida property laws differentiate your rights according to where you find lost or hidden property, including ancient coins.
If you find the coins on your own property, it's highly likely that the authorities will allow you to keep your stash. In these cases, ownership of the property would nearly always entitle you to keep anything you find on your land, even if somebody else tried to make a claim for rightful ownership.
For example, somebody could claim that the coins belonged to an ancestor who sold on the property to you. Even then, the law would state that the former owner of the property passed on ownership of the coins with the property deeds.
However, if you find the coins on somebody else's property, the authorities are less likely to let you keep your new discovery. In this scenario, the coins belong to the property owner, even if he or she didn't know where the valuables were.
Private landowners in Florida can generally dig up their land to look for treasure as much as they like. However, even if you own the land privately, Florida state law does not allow you to dig up any area designated as a burial ground. Even though a burial ground may yield some of the most exciting (and valuable) discoveries, the law protects these sacred areas. As such, if you ignore the law and dig in these areas, the authorities would confiscate any coins you discover.
Things become even more complicated if you start looking for coins in coastal areas. In 2015, a team of treasure hunters discovered a haul of coins worth around $4.5 million off the coast of Florida. The coins came from a 300-year-old fleet of 11 wrecked Spanish galleons.
The team found 350 coins under the sand close to the shoreline. However, under Florida law, the collectors were not entitled to keep the full value of the haul, and the authorities awarded 20 percent of the value of the discovery to the State. Coins found on Florida shipwrecks often lead to complex legal wrangles, and to keep your discovery, you could face a legal battle against the state, descendants of the ship's owner or even an insurance company.
Before searching for valuable coins, you should carefully consider who owns the land you are on, or you could face a battle to keep anything you find. For valuable discoveries, it's a good idea to contact an experienced attorney for advice about what to do.
If you've found a good haul and have gone through all of the legal red tape, the coins are yours to do with as you wish. You can keep them for display, donate them to a museum, or work through online coin dealers to make yourself a small fortune.Share