FENWICK — A local girl with a penchant for collecting sea glass made a rare discovery last week when she uncovered a centuries-old coin dating back to 1655 in the dune on the beach in Fenwick Island.
Last weekend, 9-year-old Ella Peters was combing the beach in Fenwick when she came across a rather rare find, an old coin dating back to 1655 that likely washed ashore sometime in the last 350 years or so. From a young age, Bishopville resident Ella Peters has had a fascination with beach combing and collecting sea glass, according to her mother, Gretchen Peters.
Ella received a metal detector for Christmas this year, but wasn’t utilizing her new equipment last weekend when she uncovered the old 1655 coin buried in the sand in the dune on the beach in Fenwick.
“She was combing the beach and uncovered what looked like at first like an old bracelet,” said Gretchen Peters this week. “It had a lot of rust on it and we couldn’t make out what it was at first.”
Ella and her mother took the odd discovery to the nearby DiscoverSea Museum in Fenwick, which houses a vast collection of old coins and other artifacts from centuries of shipwrecks off the Maryland and Delaware coasts. Museum proprietor Dale Clifton, who has seen more than his share of old shipwreck artifacts, submerged Ella’s find in a solution to remove rust and centuries worth of decay to reveal an old coin clearly dated 1655 that had attached itself to a piece of wire, likely from the same shipwreck.
“Ella lit up like a light bulb when the object was cleaned and turned out to be a very, very old coin,” said Gretchen Peters this week. “It was clearly dated 1655. We’re going to take it to a gentleman who collects coins to find out what it’s worth, but I don’t think she’ll give it up no matter what he tells us.”
Ella, an avid collector at age nine, is also not about to give up the location of the find.
“She said she doesn’t want to disclose the exact location because she intends to go back and search it again,” said Gretchen Peters. “It’s like she wants to stake a claim to the area where she found it.”
Clifton said Ella’s find itself was not entirely unusual in an area with dozens of known shipwrecks dating back to the 1600s, but the way she found it was what made the discovery so special.
“It’s really incredible that she found it just sifting through the sand close to the surface without the use of a metal detector,” he said. “What makes it really special is the idea that Ella might be the first person to have touched that coin in 350-plus years.”
Clifton said the coin was made of copper and had fused itself to the other piece of metal, more than likely a barrel banding from the barrel it was contained in when it went to the bottom of the sea. He likened it to a “piece of eight,” the currency used during the era, except that pieces of eight were typically struck in gold or silver, while Ella’s find was copper.
“They struck their lower denominations in copper, just as we do today,” he said. “It’s likely from the pirate-era of that time and the owners probably used those coins as their pocket change to purchase things when they were in port.”
Clifton said it was difficult to tell from the markings the origin of the coin. He said that type of coin was likely used by several different countries as a common form of currency during the era. He said he doesn’t always like to put a monetary value on rare finds like Ella’s, but estimated it could be worth $30 to $100 to a collector.
However, he cautioned the Berlin Intermediate School fourth-grader to put its historic value ahead of its monetary value.
“If it was me, you couldn’t give me a million dollars for it if it was my first find,” he said. “To think she could be the first person to touch it since the 1600s makes it worth keeping. I hope she keeps it and studies it and learns more about the shipwrecks of the era. The historic value is much greater than its monetary value.”