Edmonds beachcomber digs up history

Jimmy Buffett sang it best in his song Coastal Confessions, which goes like this:

            “I believe that down on the beach

                        Where the seagulls preach-

            Is where the Chinese buried the truth-

                        So, I dig in the sand…”

Jimmy might as well have been singing about Bob Bitner — a beachcomber, digger in the sand and treasure hunter. I ran into Bob recently as he hit Olympic Beach with an armful of electronics and a heck of a story to tell.

Bob uses his lunch hours to scan – and “dig in the sand” – searching and hoping. Might as well tell you right off that Bob and one of his sons dug up a 140-year-old Spanish coin buried under the wooden pilings at the Edmonds ferry dock. More on that in a moment – yes – it’s a tease – and it’s all true.

The treasure bug bit Bob a number of years ago. The family had moved into an old railroad house up in Darrington. From time to time, they would find things as they tore up old floorboards to remodel; a couple of old French and Italian coins and old square nails. That got him wondering what might be in the dirt outside.

So,  Bob bought his first metal detector. “You know it’s something I always wanted to do as a kid; you know, you watch Indiana Jones; you wanna be that guy that finds the temple of doom and saves the day”. Sorry – no Indiana Jones, but his first big find at the old house was this:

Courtesy Bob Bitner

Bob unearthed this Civil War Union Naval officer’s brass belt buckle; buried under 6 inches of dirt. He has no idea how it wound up in Darrington.

Courtesy Bob Bitner

The past few years, on his expeditions up and down the Sound, Bob has found a couple of silver and gold rings, an opal ring, coins, can and bottle tops, old square nails – lots of nails – and even more trash – which he bags and carts away. Now – about that Spanish coin – the prize of his collection.

Courtesy Bob Bitner

Bob and his son were running the metal detector over the sand under the old wooden Edmonds ferry pilings. They had already dug up a handful of Kennedy 50-cent pieces, when they got another hit; “it rang real hard on the finder,” Bob told me. When they uncovered it, the coin was so green from oxidation, Bob knew it wasn’t a half dollar. He said it took them a half hour to find it online — a Spanish coin, minted during the reign of King Alfonso XII – 1874-1886.

Courtesy Bob Bitner

On one side, “you can still see the shield and the wheat,” said Bob, and on the other side “his neck and nose; it’s just hard to believe that something from 1877 or ’79 could be sitting here at the old pilings in Edmonds.”

When he searched its value, Bob found “It’s not worth anything,” but added “that’s not the whole point of this. I don’t really care how much it was worth, a million or nothing.” The point, for Bob Bitner, is that this beachcomber, dreamer, treasure hunter, has discovered the joy of digging up history and bringing a little of it back to life. If you want to hear some great stories, you can often find him, on his lunch hour, searching for what’s right under our feet.

— By Bob Throndsen



  1. Buckley Bad Dog & ‍♀️ I Are sending our: THANK YOU BOB❣️For helping pick up some of all the trash many individuals throw away & leave in our waters & on our beaches‼️And we want to invite everyone to join us in this effort, inland as well as all the beaches. I assure you there is plenty of trash out there for everyone‼️‍♀️

  2. Good job Bob. We too hope you will find many more treasures and the joy of the process. We also have a metal detector but we use it for a different purpose. So we understand the excitement of finding something. We are currently working with a couple of people researching all of the Civil War Veterans who are buried in Washington.
    We currently have a list of over 7,000 vets. We are still looking so it could be as high as 10,000. So for us it is not surprising he was able to find such a relic. The fact he was able to find something belonging to a naval officer is interesting being most of the vets were enlisted Army personnel. If we had more information we could try to search for naval officers who lived in the Darrington area from 1865-1950.
    Please stay safe and healthy during these trying times.

  3. As a history teacher I always enjoy reading about undiscovered historical artifacts. I appreciate all the long hours that Bob puts in.

  4. Enjoyed reading this piece! I love beach combing, the thought of a metal detector peaks my interest more!

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