- Associated Press - Saturday, August 15, 2015

OHIOVILLE, Pa. (AP) - Since boyhood, Perry Smyda’s been searching for buried treasures, his metal detector locating everything from rusty nails to loose change.

Now, he’s coined a new hobby. The 55-year-old Ohioville man transforms some of the quarters, dimes and silver dollars he finds into custom rings.

The results are impressively beautiful. Not only are the novel rings conversation pieces, but a way to commemorate special events - births and wedding anniversaries, for example. Since the obverse of most coins features the year they were minted, some of Smyda’s customers choose to have coins with their birth year or wedding anniversary made into rings.

Others pay homage to the state in which they were born or now reside and select a commemorative quarter from one of the U.S. Mint’s 50 State Quarters Program.

Smyda pays close attention to a coin’s detail - wording, numbers, leaves, an eagle’s talons, sheaves of wheat - to highlight when he crafts a ring.

Considering the level of perfection he’s achieved, it’s surprising that Smyda’s been at it for only two months.

Basically self-taught, he learned by watching instructional YouTube videos and old-fashioned trial and error. It helps, too, that his educational background is dental lab technology, though it’s been quite a number of years since he’s worked in that field. But he still has the fine-detail and craftsman skills.

“I’ve been coin collecting since I started metal detecting,” he said - and that goes back to 1969. “I enjoy it.”

Recently, Smyda watched a few online videos on how to make coin rings.

“I came to realize I can do that,” he said.

He invested in a few tools - nine-piece punch and die set; doming block; 1- and 6-ton arbor presses; ball bearings; ring stretcher; mandrel. “I have all the burs from dental lab when I was in college,” he said, referring to dentistry drilling bits.

Smyda’s workshop occupies the back portion of his two-stall garage, where he spends free time making coin rings, usually a couple of hours every day. But like many engrossing hobbies, sometimes he gets so absorbed that he’s at it six to eight hours.

Presently, he’s working on an order for a customer who wants copper rings made in the birth years of her children for birthday gifts.

He’s sold about 15 rings so far by word of mouth and Facebook, but also plans to sell them on eBay.

A state quarter he’ll sell for $9.99 to $12.99; silver half-dollar for $35 to $60; Morgan dollar for $125 and foreign coins from $12.99 to $30.

As a child, Smyda pored over Western and Eastern Treasures magazines. That’s where he spied an ad for a beat frequency oscillator metal detector that uses radio waves to locate buried metal.

“I was 9 years old when my mom bought me a metal detector. It was a Jetco Mustang Treasure Finder,” he said, that he got for his birthday.

“It didn’t have no more than one control,” Smyda said of the device, crude compared with ones he uses today. “I had it ‘til I was maybe 14 or 15, then I invested in another one. A White’s 2DB. I used that a lot. I found a lot of silver and gold. I used that until 1981, when I bought an upgrade.”

Parks, ballfields, farm fields, empty lots - places people congregate and likely lose coins, rings, watches and other valuables that in metal-detecting parlance are called “cache” - is where he hunts. Sometimes, he’ll dig on private property, but only with permission of the property owner.

In the 46 years he’s been metal-detecting, Smyda estimated he’s found 29,000 coins.

“The value? I don’t even know,” he said. “I sold most of the silver.”

In 2013, while hunting along a wooded area in Thompson Park in East Liverpool, Ohio, he dug about 2 inches into the ground and unearthed three silver dollars from the 1800s.

Last July, he bought a new metal detector and was testing it in a field to discern its sounds.

“I heard a real faint sound,” he said, prompting him to gouge the earth. About 6 inches deep, he uncovered a 1771 Mexican coin worth about $60, he said.

He has also found a Civil War breastplate and an 1877 Seated Liberty quarter that he made into a necklace.

He also finds a lot of class rings - 70 in the last 46 years - and said he’s been able to return all but two to their owners by searching websites such as classmates.com and school yearbooks, or listing them on Facebook posts.

“They’re thrilled,” he said, when owners get their rings back. “Some want to pay me, but no, I don’t do that.”

Sure, Smyda’s motivated by the thrill of the hunt, hoping to find that rare coin for which numismatists would fork over millions to add to their collections.

But it’s also for the “coin count,” he said. “I try to beat last year’s record. Last year, I reached over 1,200. I’m up to about 900. I’ll probably beat it.”

Smyda, a 1977 graduate of Western Beaver High School, enrolled at Columbus Technical Institute in Columbus, Ohio, but three months shy of graduating, had to drop out after suffering a stroke.

After months of rehabilitation, he would later complete an associate degree in dental lab technology at Hiram G. Andrews Center’s Commonwealth Technical Institute in Johnstown, Pa.

He worked in area dental labs making false teeth, partials and crowns - “why I’m so good in rings,” he said.

But when the steel industry collapsed in the ‘80s, Smyda said, many other area business felt the impact, too, dental labs among them. He lost his job, working various part-time and full-time jobs. For the last nine years, he’s been working at Kohl’s in Center Township.

Smyda can turn a quarter into a ring in about an hour.

“The best ring is the quarter - the uncirculated quarter,” he said. “The detail comes out real good. I try to pick up the design. What would look good. Leaves look good.”

Copper is easier to work with, he said, but often more difficult to find.

“Silver is easy to work with, but you have to watch. If you anneal it too much, you’ll melt it.”

Annealing - heating metal “red hot,” Smyda said, to make it more malleable - is one step in the ring-making process. But first, he uses a half-inch die punch to remove the coin’s center. It then undergoes a series of steps including sanding, annealing, stretching and polishing to transform a quarter that originally was 1.66 millimeters thick into a finished ring stretched to 6.56 millimeters.

“I just take my time,” he said.

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Online:

http://bit.ly/1KUZgm

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Information from: Beaver County Times, http://www.timesonline.com/

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