Utah Stories

Certifiable N.U.T.S.: Utah’s Metal Detectorists

The National Utah Token Society scours old maps, insurance books, and articles to find the best places to send metal detectorists.


These treasure hunters scavenge to crack open the N.U.T.S of history

Metal detecting is much more than a hobby for the National Utah Token Society, or N.U.T.S. In fact, N.U.T.S is dedicated to collecting and preserving Utah’s historical medals, tokens, coins, and bottles.

metal detectorists national utah token society
Mike Morey, N.U.T.S. President

For instance, when a park in Salt Lake City was being resod, the society received permission to search the grounds. In one section they found older coins, military insignia from clothing and old muzzleloader bullets. At some point, the park may have been a camp for Johnston’s army when they moved through Utah during the 1858 Mormon War.

“We have donated some of our finds to museums and found evidence of towns rumored to exist,” says Mike Morey, N.U.T.S. president for the past two years. Mike got into metal detecting when he was in grade school and his dad bought him a metal detector for Christmas. He hunted for dropped coins in his schoolyard. The first time he scouted he found a gold ring, but over time he lost interest in the hobby. Seven years ago at Cabela’s, his wife asked him what he wanted for his birthday and he chose a metal detector.

“I’ve always been interested in history,” Mike says. Members of the society do historical research to find the best places to look. They puruse old city street maps, fire insurance books, and articles for information. “The internet has opened up the world,” says Mike.

He encourages people to get out and talk to seniors to learn about the history of places and to figure out where to search for historical objects. “So much history hasn’t been preserved,” he says. “We can go out and recover an artifact that documents and validates a person’s story. A downtown Salt Lake tire dealership could have been an old tavern one hundred years ago.”

Fields, demolition projects, and sites where homes have been removed are also good places to look. The society has received permission to go into former schoolhouses and churches. In such places they find old marbles and historical coins such as buffalo nickels, silver dollars, and rare gold coins.

They find old trade tokens too. During certain times in Utah and other states there was a shortage of coinage. For example, during the Civil War copper wasn’t available, and transportation was often a problem. Tokens were used as a form of advertising and commerce. In the 1930s, changes in federal law eliminated tokens. Now tokens can be very valuable. Mike recently saw one sold on EBay for over $3,000.

Other good places to look include anywhere people have gathered such as campsites and old baseball fields. Near the railroads and old streets, members have found antique Union Pacific railroad padlocks and Union Pacific chauffeur badges from when the taxi was a Model T.

According to N.U.T.S. code of ethics, it’s important to respect property and obtain permission. Some places such as Camp Floyd are prohibited. Several other areas in Utah such as parks in Fillmore and Midway are off limits as well.

“Be there legally and be kind to the people who allowed you on their property,” says Mike. “A bit of skill is involved. You don’t want to leave big holes in a soccer field. There are ways to use a probe and nudge a coin up through the grass.”

The society meets once a month and brings in guest speakers and historians. They show their finds of the month and award prizes to whoever finds the oldest coin.

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