Metal Detector Reunites Owners With Lost Items, As Well As Unearthing Surprises

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For lifelong East Hampton resident and treasure hunter Ron King, life is far from a game of “finders keepers.”The landscaper-by-trade runs a side business helping uncover lost valuables on the beach to return them to their rightful owners. He charges a flat rate of $25 for a half-hour search with a metal detector, then takes a cut of 10 percent of the value of the item if it is found.

“I’ve been doing it for about 40 years,” he said in a phone interview last week. “I love to be able to give something back to the owner.”

Most recently, Mr. King helped Janet Vitebsky, a Brooklyn woman visiting friends in Montauk for a weekend, find her two favorite rings after she had misplaced them at the beach.

“I was literally pep-talking myself, saying, ‘It’s just stuff, it’s just stuff,’” she said in a phone interview. “They weren’t super-valuable, or even emotionally that valuable. But I’d had these two rings for, like, 10 years, and it’s the kind of thing where my hands felt so wrong for the next two days without them.”

Ms. Vitebsky said after realizing her rings were not on her hands hours after leaving the beach, she and her friend returned to Kirk Park Beach to search but had no luck. “I went back really early the next morning hoping that maybe they’d been overturned in the sand,” she said. “While I was down there, I happened to see somebody with a metal detector, so I went running over to ask for his help.”

Mr. King said after Ms. Vitebsky approached him, he spent 45 minutes searching the sand with his metal detector but couldn’t uncover the rings. The two exchanged contact information on the outside chance that Mr. King was able to locate the jewelry later, but Ms. Vitebsky said she had very little hope.

“I didn’t find the rings that day,” Mr. King said. “I had bought a new metal detector that I was using that day, and for some reason it wasn’t picking it up.”

Determined to help Ms. Vitebsky, Mr. King returned the following day with his old metal detector. “Janet was such a nice person,” he said. “I decided I had to go back and do another search.”

“The most amazing part was that he felt bad,” said Ms. Vitebsky. “It just, like, touched my heart—this person that didn’t even know me went back there to look just because he truly felt bad I’d lost something.”

Just weeks before finding Ms. Vitebsky’s rings, Mr. King said he was contacted by a man in Amagansett who had lost his wedding ring. “He took me down the beach to where he thought he’d lost it, I made a couple of sweeps and had it within less than 30 seconds,” said Mr. King. “The guy was totally amazed.”

Over the years, Mr. King has found a Rolex watch, hundreds of silver coins from the 1600s through the 1960s, including a New England sixpence from 1652, and a $50,000 ring from the Eastman family, among others.

“Back in 1991, my wife found this rare coin that we wound up auctioning off through Sotheby’s,” he said. “We got more than $35,000. The guy who bought it from us just auctioned it off a few years ago for $400,000.”

Mr. King explained that his love for the hunt stemmed from an experience he had as a teenager while working as a carpenter in East Hampton.

In the early 1970s, Mr. King said he was working on a house from the 1700s in East Hampton that had been built on locust posts. While ripping up the floorboards, he found a bag of old coins.

“I said to my boss, ‘Wouldn’t it be neat if they had some kind of machine that would find coins?’—and he gave me this Popular Mechanics catalog, and they had an ad for metal detectors. That’s where it all started.”

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