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A History of Lost Treasure
By André Hinds
Editor, Lost Treasure magazine 1983-1987, 1995-1997
This magazine began as True Treasure, first published as a quarterly magazine in the fall of 1966. It was published by a man named John H. Latham, who preferred to be called "Long John." Latham, a long-time writer of adventure stories, had been published in many of the popular men's magazines of the 1950s, which included titles such as Argosy, True, Saga and Swank. True Treasure wasn't the first magazine Latham had started. More than a decade before starting True Treasure, he had started offshore, a magazine for the offshore oil industry, which is still being published today.
As the fictional tales in these magazines became unfashionable in the 1960s and the magazines began failing, there were fewer places for true stories related to Treasure hunting. Latham took a cue from Hugh Hefner (who started Playboy magazine in the 1950s by purchasing the rights to a naked photo of Marilyn Monroe) and purchased the rights to stories by famed Texas author J. Frank Dobie to anchor his initial issues of True Treasure.
The name True Treasure was no fluke. Latham wanted to distance the stories in the magazine from the western fiction that he and others had been writing for many years. By including the work of Dobie and Tom Penfield, both established treasure hunting historians, Latham felt the authors would give his publication the authenticity it needed to be taken seriously.
Coincidentally, the first issue of True Treasure contained a story about treasure hunter Mel Fisher, who had just begun his quest to find the Spanish galleon Nuestra Senora de Atocha. Fisher would finally find the wreck and become a multi-millionaire 20 years later, an event that was covered in an entire issue of Lost Treasure in 1987.
The first decade of issues of Latham's treasure magazines were illustrated by Florida artist and sculptor Eugene Shortridge, whose expressive work in oil, watercolor and charcoal gave those early issues a very distinctive look.
Latham found success with True Treasure, moving it from quarterly to bi-monthly publication in 1968. A few months later, he purchased Treasure World magazine, which had been more of a pamplet than a magazine, and began publishing it on a bi-monthly basis during the months when True Treasure was not published.
Latham rapidly expanded his publishing empire, adding magazines such as Rockhound, Collector World, Western Fiction Magazine and many other short-lived titles to his stable, as well as paperback books on treasure hunting. In addition, he began opening dude ranches across the U.S. Southwest specifically designed for the treasure hunter. He even outlined plans for a treasure hunting museum, which were never realized.
In 1976, Latham combined True Treasure and Treasure World into a single monthly publication, and renamed the magazine Lost Treasure. Although his magazines continued to be successful throughout the 1970s, Latham found he was more successful franchising his treasure ranches. It was obvious he was losing interest in the magazine business, as issues of Lost Treasure often contained several reprints of articles originally published years earlier. Finally, he decided to sell his magazine company.
National Reporter Publications, Inc., of Bixby, Okla. (later renamed NatCom, Inc.) purchased Latham's magazine company in 1979, but continued publishing only Lost Treasure and Rockhound. Rockhound continued for only a few issues before it was discontinued.
Nearly everything about Lost Treasure changed after National Reporter purchased it. While the magazine continued running historical stories about lost mines, sunken galleons and hidden caches, National Reporter added an equal amount of coverage on coin shooting, a growing hobby in which people used metal detectors to find coins, rings and other metallic valuables. Along with the change in editorial content came a drastic change in design. The look of the magazine was modernized, with photographs and line drawings replacing the painterly look that Shortridge had given the publication.
This "new look" Lost Treasure became very popular. A more vigorous approach to selling subscriptions, as well as a wider distribution of magazines to newsstands resulted in more readers than ever. Advertisers, particularly metal detector manufacturers, were attracted by the wider base of readers, along with the introduction of in-depth reviews of their products.
The most popular new feature of Lost Treasure during this period was the monthly state treasure tales story, written by Midwest author Michael Paul Henson. Henson introduced attribution to the pages of Lost Treasure for the first time, publishing the magazine and newspaper sources where he found the information for his stories. The series of state treasure tales became the most anticipated feature in the magazine, with readers often expressing anxiety about when their state would be featured. The first state to be featured was Henson's home state of Indiana. The state treasure tales series continues to be one of the magazine's most popular features today.
Another popular feature that began during that period was a monthly metal detector review. Long-time California gold prospector Jim Martin was the first person writing for a treasure hunting magazine to take a Consumer Reports-style approach to reviewing metal detectors. That feature, too, still exists in today's issues of the magazine.
Unfortunately, although Lost Treasure became more successful, this success did not result in the creation of additional treasure hunting properties at National Reporter. The company moved on to purchase or create additional magazines, including Pro Bass (now BASSIN'), Racquetball (later renamed Total Fitness), Golf Illustrated and Income Opportunities. As Lost Treasure became more maginalized in the company, so did the resources devoted to creating it.
In order to cut costs, Lost Treasure stopped using original art in 1986, opting for the growing store of clip art that had become available for computer-based publishing. In fact, Lost Treasure was one of the first non-computer consumer magazines to move entirely to low-cost desktop publishing methods in 1987.
A short-lived attempt to change the magazine to include more action-adventure content was tried in early 1987, but came to a halt when the magazine was sold later that year. The purchaser was Lee Harris, who had served as the advertising director for all of National Reporter Publications' magazines for several years. Harris continued on as advertising director at National Reporter for a few months before he left the company entirely to publish Lost Treasure full time.
For Harris, Lost Treasure was a family affair, with several members of his family contributing to the creation, marketing and publication of the magazine. He moved magazine operations to the resort community of Grove, Okla., where it still exists today.
Rather than diversifying to unrelated publications, as National Reporter had done, Harris chose to remain true to treasure hunting. He conducted a national treasure hunt convention in Tulsa, Okla., in 1988, and has sponsored many more in the years since.
In 1991, he split the editorial content of Lost Treasure in two, moving the coinshooting how-to-find-it stories to a new magazine called Treasure Facts and leaving the historical where-to-find-it stories in Lost Treasure. In 1993 he created a "coffee table" annual called Treasure Cache, in which he moved all the advertising to the back of the magazine. Treasure Facts was eventually combined back into Lost Treasure in 1997, but later split out again to the Treasure Cache annual.
The most important change to Lost Treasure under Harris has been the introduction in June 1996 of Lost Treasure OnLine, the Lost Treasure website. As Lost Treasure had been an innovator in desktop publishing in the 1980s, it was an innovator again in the World Wide Web in the 1990s.
It was an ambitious project, with the site introducing features that still exist today, such as a daily treasure tale gleaned from the wealth of stories the magazine had published during the previous years, a daily treasure tip, a monthly treasure tale from each state, featured stories from the current issue of Lost Treasure and a monthly metal detector giveaway. The site has since added features such as an archival search of old magazines, marketplace and a service to help treasure hunters get together. By entering the Internet age early, Lost Treasure was able to buck the trend of magazines and newspapers not able to keep up with and profit from the latest publishing technologies.
Current publisher Lee Harris has now led Lost Treasure longer than both of the previous publishers combined. Under his leadership, the magazine commands universal respect from both treasure hunting enthusiasts and the commercial treasure-finding equipment industry. As a former editor of the magazine, I have been fortunate enough to get to know all three publishers of the magazine. In my discussions with the former publishers, they have both expressed genuine regret in ever giving up Lost Treasure, a real testament to the magazine's success and longevity.
The magazine is available in both traditional printed-on-paper, magazine format and digital PDF format, allowing worldwide distribution and the ability to use computer search techniques to quickly find information inside each issue, a further aid to people wanting to find treasures on their own. An enthusiastic roster of writers regularly contribute articles, with each issue containing vibrant tales of a historical nature and educational tips on the latest methods and equipment to find lost treasures of all types.
In a way, the name of the flagship magazine is ironic. Lost Treasure is very much a found treasure, enriching the lives of all the people who publish it, who depend upon its publication to market their wares and especially the people who have looked forward to its arrival every month for decades to inform and entertain.