Founder of Kellyco started metal detecting
for coins at Iwo Jima during the Korean conflict
By Brad Jones
If there’s one thing that Kellyco founder Stuart Auerbach has learned in the last eight decades or so it’s that people love finding things.
For Auerbach, his first experience in finding treasure was under the boardwalks at the beaches near New York City.
“I can remember when I was nine or 10 years old. I was raised in New York City, and every summer we used to go out to places like Rockaway Beach and Jones Beach. I remember vividly in one of the areas there was a boardwalk. I never paid attention to it until one day I saw a man under the boardwalk with something and I was curious enough to go look and ask, ‘What are you doing, Mister?’ And, he said, ‘I’m sifting for money.’ You know, as a kid when I heard the word “money,” I started asking how you are doing it. He had a box and a sifter and he kept throwing stuff in it and by golly he found some coins and it knocked me for a loop. It intrigued me, and that’s why I read books about treasure and adventure,” said Auerbach. “I think I’m the persona of what the American dream is all about.”
As the years went by, Auerbach’s zeal for finding coins and treasure hunting stayed with him.
In 1953, Stuart Auerbach enlisted in the U.S. Army. He was in stationed in Korea, where he learned how to detect landmines.
“I’m from the old school,” he said. “I actually volunteered during the Korean conflict. They still don’t call it a war.”
After basic training, Auerbach was sent to school to be a combat engineer.
“A) I saw no combat and B) I’m not an engineer,” Auerbach said. “I went to school at the old Japanese naval academy at Iwo Jima, Japan. It was actually great — good training. Among other things, I learned how to blow things up. We also used metal detectors, which were called mine detectors in those days, and the whole idea was to be able to go in and clear a minefield.”
On slow days, Auerbach would pass the time by using the “mine detectors,” to find old coins around camp.
“I found coins. They were not American coins. They were kind of strange, and my interest was piqued,” he said. “Whenever I had the opportunity, I would try to go as far out to the perimeter of our company area, and that was kind of a fun thing to do rather than just sitting around reading a book or working out in the gym.”
Back in the U.S.
After his discharge from the Army in 1955, Auerbach bought some surplus military landmine detectors and took them to a nearby beach in Miami, Fla. to see what treasure he could find.
“It was a bonanza of coins, rings, jewelry, keys and other metal objects,” he said.
It wasn’t long before Auerbach began drawing curious crowds of people at the beach. They wanted to learn more about this strange, almost magical machine worked and how it found buried treasure. The second or third time Auerbach went to the beach with his detector, he was approached by a curious young boy and his father.
“The kid was really interested, and then the Dad started getting interested. At that time, I did find some valuable rings that had precious stones in them. Dad said to me, ‘Where can I get one of those?’ and I said, ‘Well, I don’t know, I’ve got this but I don’t know where you would be able to go to buy one. So, he said, ‘Will you sell me that one? I said, ‘No, but if you’ll be here tomorrow, I’ll bring you my spare that I have and sell it to you.’ The next day, a metal detector industry had begun,” Auerbach said. “I put all three backups in the car and sure enough this gentleman came up and said, ‘Would you show me how to use it?’ So, I showed him. He asked, ‘How much is the detector?’ I said, ‘This one sells for a couple thousand dollars, but you can have it for $300. I told him I would get one out of the car, and he said, ‘No, I want the one you use.’ I had paid $50. Actually, I had paid $200 for four machines. So, I started thinking, ‘You know, that’s not a bad profit.’ From then on, I went to the beach as often as I could … That was it and now we had a business going. The dynasty had begun.”
The birth of a family and a business
Whenever anyone asked about his metal detectors, Auerbach was quick to oblige with a lesson and continued buying and selling army surplus mine detectors. As civilian metal detectors were released on the market, Auerbach expanded his business which later became known as Kellyco Metal Detectors, the largest retailer of metal detectors in the world.
By that time, Auerbach had recently married his fiancee, Carolyn, who is now his wife of more than 60 years. As a married man who would later father two children, his son, David, and daughter, Dione, his time for boyish adventures was limited.
“I had to go do what everybody does — work for a living — and I was tied up in what I was doing. On the weekends and as time went on, interest was still there. I was still into a lot of books on exploration and all different types of adventures,” he said. “I saw somebody who had a Garrett detector, and I remember it was in Miami Beach … I was really intrigued to buy it. As a matter of fact, I went over to Tampa to see what this guy had and he had some Garrett detectors. The next thing you know I would run into somebody and they would ask where they could get one. I had literature, and what I would do is tell them to pick out the one they wanted and I would sell it. I always had the list price on it.”
Later on, Auerbach met a man who was selling the early models of White’s Metal Detectors at a home show.
“They were the ones we called ‘lunch boxes,’” Auerbach said. “Since then, I’ve had them all from Coinmasters to Goldmasters, Treasuremasters — everything.”
The years passed and Auerbach dabbled in different types of work to support his family while selling metal detectors on the side.
“I moved around the country quite a bit in a lot of different areas doing different things in different industries,” he said.
The word soon spread that the place to get your metal detector was Kellyco Metal Detectors in Florida.
Auerbach knew then that metal detecting would grow into an international hobby people of all ages would enjoy.
To expand his business, he published a catalog with metal detectors, detecting accessories and books on treasure hunting. The demand kept growing and eventually Kellyco was mailing more than a million catalogs a year.
“It’s amazing the amount of gold coins and gold jewelry that have come up in our waters on the beaches and areas past the beaches,” Auerbach said. “People don’t realize there was no beach highway in those days and there was a tremendous amount of treasure. The 1715 Treasure Fleet wreck covers a huge area. People are still finding stuff.”
For the next few decades, Kellyco flourished. Auerbach established a Kellyco Metal Detectors Test Team comprised of expert detectorists. The team Kellyco worked closely with manufacturers to help them produce metal detectors with features that would appeal to both novice and experienced treasure hunters.
Kellyco also formed a company called Adventures International, which took metal detecting enthusiasts — as well as Auerbach and his team of experts to guide them — on treasure hunting trips to the islands in the Caribbean. Over the decades, Auerbach and his crew led many expeditions to many different countries. The crew researched areas around the world to hunt, and most were virgin ground to metal detectors.
“If you found something that was great, but if you didn’t find it then it wasn’t there,” Auerbach said.
In 1988, Kellyco moved into its 30,000 sq.-ft. building in Winter Springs, Fla. complete with a large showroom housing a treasure trove of finds and space for its 40-plus employees. Today, Kellyco Metal Detectors sells all the major brands of metal detectors, including Garrett, White’s, Minelab and Fisher, and accessories as well as other types of gold prospecting equipment
“We carry thousands of detectors. There are metal detectors floor to ceiling. And, the showroom is a museum. I’ve got bags of stuff,” said Auerbach, adding that he was blessed with easy access to Florida’s myriad of beaches. “There is just so much out there. We are very fortunate that we do live in this area and were able to travel many places with the detectors. We have a lot of the treasures out of the 1715 fleet. We’ve got enough Pieces of Eight and Pieces of Four coins that would cover an area two feet wide by six feet long. We’ve got some old pistols from the 1700s, we have a couple pirate pistols that are encased in coral but you can see the outline and the metalwork that is on them. We have items that are absolutely amazing and a tremendous amount of Civil War relics. We have Seminole War relics and some from the War of 1812 and the Revolutionary War. We have coins galore!”
World-renowned deep-sea treasure hunter Mel Fisher is one of Kellyco’s most famous customers.
“We sold equipment to Mel Fisher,” Auerbach said. “And there have been two big finds recently. The detectors that made those finds came out of our inventory — the Aquapulse and Aquascan metal detectors that are the Number One underwater units for treasure hunters and are considered the best in the industry.”
After a recent storm cut into the sand dunes, Auerbach and his team used side scan sonar near Fort Pierce.
“I can tell you straight out and straight up that in the sand dunes in Florida there is a fortune to be made, but there is also a jail that you can go into. One of the rules of the road: Nobody digs in the dunes!” Auerbach warned. “Nobody destroys any plant growth.”
The sand dunes act as a natural barrier which protects people’s homes from hurricanes, he explained. But, when nature does the digging for you, it’s fair game.
“When the hurricanes came, all of us wackos used to go and park in the car or get into a motel and wait for the storm,” Auerbach said.
As the winds cut away the layers of the dunes, you can actually see the coins tumbling down through the sand, said Auerbach. And, the sand dunes reveal treasure to those who dare to wait out the hurricanes and head to the beaches once the heavy winds begin to subside.
“So, if you’re smart and you have good eyesight, if you see any kind of gleam, you can find them,” he said. “You can go on the beach and you don’t even need a metal detector.”
Now in his mid-80s, Auerbach has reduced his workload to pursue his passion as a treasure hunter. And his son, David, who is now in his early 50s, took the helm of the company a few years ago. Kellyco’s showroom features pictures of the two of them hunting old fort sites on islands in the Caribbean. David grew up with a metal detector in his hand and brings years of experience to move Kellyco Metal Detectors into the future.
Though he is not as active as he once was, when asked if he still has gold fever, Auerbach answered with an unequivocal and resounding, “Yes!”
Donning a one-ounce, pear-shaped gold nugget around his neck, Auerbach said the greatest thing about gold is finding it, Auerbach said.
“The best part is the reveal, when you get a hit and dig through the dirt or sand and you see the gold. It’s the reveal. You never forget it,” he said. “The very first time I found a gold coin, it was so special. The minute you see that glint of gold it is heart-stopping. You haven’t taken a breath and you move slow and then more and more of it is revealed. It’s an awe-inspiring thing that you never forget. It’s a constant thrill.”
Stuart Auerbach found his first gold nugget with another icon of the prospecting world — none other than Charles Garrett, the founder of Garrett Metal Detectors. Like Auerbach, Garrett had served in the military during the Korean conflict, but he was in the Navy.
“I met Charles when he was first manufacturing his metal detectors,” Auerbach said. “I was in the service from 1953 to 1955. When I got out in ’55, I didn’t even think there would be any type of civilian use for detectors,” Auerbach said. “We had mine detectors and it just happened to be that they found coins and other things. It was just a lucky break that I did what I did. I had no idea that there would be anyone else in it. Charlie Garrett and I spoke about this many, many, many times. He and I spent a lot of time and did a lot of treasure hunting together out in the islands of the Caribbean. I think he got out in ’55, too. I don’t know how many years it was until he developed his detector. There really wasn’t much of anything out there. At least in my particular case, I had no idea that there was anything other than the military detectors.”
It wasn’t until years later, when he was with Charles Garrett that Auerbach would find his first gold nugget.
That was more than a half-century ago in 1961 or ’62, and, of course, Auerbach was using a Garrett detector.
“At that point, I hadn’t had much opportunity to hunt gold,” Auerbach confessed. “The closest we could get from Florida to find gold other than treasure, artifacts and coins was Dahlonega, Georgia.”
Like Hawaii, Florida has no known gold deposits, and so treasure hunters seek gold in the form of lost jewelry, coins and sunken treasure that washes up on miles of coastline.
On one particular adventure, Auerbach recalls a spectacular find on a beach in the Caribbean.
“One of the best stories ties in with Charles Garrett. On the second day of a 10-day trip, Charles was out in very shallow water and we found one or two pieces of bone with musket balls in them so we knew this was where there was a very large battle historically at the harbor inlet and the ships would anchor offshore and troops would actually come into shore in small boats. I have maps that came out of museums where I could track every single battle on a lot of these islands foot by foot, exactly where the attackers were coming, what their positions were, and where the battles were. So, these were the areas that I felt we could take people to look and see what they could find like cannonballs or musket balls,” Auerbach said. “Charles was digging and every time a wave would come in it would push the sand back in where he was working it. By then, everybody was tired of working the beach, so we were all watching Charles. The deeper he would dig, the more water that would get in and then he finally shoved his hand in there and came out with a beautiful, beautiful crucifix. He got his picture in a couple magazines and he wrote a story about it — the find of a century. Looking at that and that it would’ve had to come off an old ship, depending on who was fighting. It was an amazing find.”
But the tale doesn’t end there, Auerbach said.
“After he dug it out and was proudly showing it off to everybody else, somebody swings a metal detector over the hole and got a signal.”
Garrett dug deeper into the hole and came up with a Spanish Piece of Four.
On another trip in Monserrat, Auerbach explored an old fort site on an active volcano.
“The volcano was puffing smoke just like you see in the movies,” Auerbach said. “People who found the cannonballs wanted to keep them. So, rather than carry them down the hills, they would roll them down to the bottom of the hill, into buildings and then roll them through the airport. We didn’t have any problems back then. I found gold coins, silver coins, a lot of relics and artifacts. Most of the stuff I could not bring back. I discovered cannons in Jamaica that I couldn’t bring over. I have found stuff on just about every bloody island you can think of — from the Bahamas to Trinidad and Tobago.
Besides Charles Garrett, Auerbach also knew Gold Prospectors Association of America founder George ‘Buzzard’ Massie and other icons of the prospecting world. And over the years, Kellyco has established relationships with the GPAA as well as other prospecting and treasure hunting clubs.
“My relationship with the GPAA goes way back. The GPAA has always been there for as long as I can remember, and it’s always been a solid organization. I met George Massie — sure did,” Auerbach said.
It is simply part of human nature for people to want to find buried treasure, to uncover relics of the past and solve mysteries the earth has hidden, Auerbach said.
“It goes back to everybody is interested in finding treasure of one kind or another. You can talk to people about treasure, whether it’s sunken galleons or pirates that had buried treasure. I go back to the simplest reason why people want to buy a metal detector — they want to find things,” he said. “I have taken my detector to Italy. I’ve used it in Austria. I’ve gone to Switzerland. I have gone to so many places — and met detector dealers and people from Spain, Portugal and Turkey. Metal detecting is a worldwide thing. There were metal detectorists from Russia. I got to know people from all over the world. I’ve had people from the Philippines hunting for Japanese treasures.”
With modern advancements and pulse induction technology, metal detecting companies, such as Australian-based manufacturer, Minelab, have produced machines that can penetrate much deeper ground, several feet down.
Auerbach credits the search for gold near the small Australian town of Cue and physicist Bruce Candy of Minelab for leading the drive for metal detectors that can ‘see’ deeper.
“I do know Bruce Candy very, very well so I think if anybody was looking for the company that really went for gold detectors and somebody at the forefront it surely would have to be Bruce Candy with Minelab,” Auerbach said. “Bruce was the firebrand who was able to get Minelab to produce detectors that really went so damned deep that you couldn’t believe it!”
In fact, signals from Minelab detectors were so deep that many detectorists would quit digging targets after a foot or so, thinking that they must have picked up a false signal, Auerbach said.
“In Australia, they didn’t have any treasure galleons ... but they sure as hell have gold in the Outback and that was proven when they discovered gold in the Cue Gold Fields,” Auerbach said. “A lot of metal detectorists moved to Australia when that happened, and in that way the industry was kind of kicked off.”
The future of metal detecting
While there have been some attempts in recent years by misguided environmentalists and do-gooders to restrict metal detecting, Auerbach is confident that metal detecting will continue to be a popular hobby and American pastime.
“We have some areas in Florida that have been worked by some of the really great people … A group out of Tampa went out on the panhandle, and they said, ‘Man, we cleaned that place out.!’ Two years later, we had some guys come in here and say, ‘Oh man, we went up there and nobody had touched it. Look what we found!’ It is very rare to find a place that is absolutely out of treasure,” Auerbach said.
Areas that have already been searched are replenished by sunken treasure that continues to find its way to shore, windstorms uncover coins and jewelry on the beaches, and floodwaters carry gold downstream from lode sources into streams, rivers and even desert dry washes — all through natural erosion. So, the possibilities are endless, especially with advanced metal detecting technology making it easier to pinpoint more precise, deeper targets.
“We love what we are doing, and we think everyone should have an opportunity sharing the enjoyment we have,” Auerbach said. “So, we find people who have the same thoughts and same ideas as we do and they really want to go and find what’s in the ground — what they can’t see. We want to make it happen.”
“The equipment keeps getting better and there are different ways of tuning the detectors to find the targets. The detectors are getting better and the people making them are smarter and people taking the time to learn how to use them, they will be finding more,” Auerbach said. “There are always places to go, and it’s too bad I’m not going to be around for another 50 years to see all the good stuff because of the quality of detectors that are going to come out and the new areas and the things that people will find.”
To learn more about Kellyco Metal Detectors, go to: www KellycoDetectors.com
Brad Jones is a GPAA member, gold prospector, metal detectorist and freelance writer based in California. He can be reached at AmericanLibertyPost@gmail.com.