The largest metal detector in the world stands 20 feet tall in front of a religious supply store in this hamlet of 250 people.

Paul Benjamin Marvel built it 10 years ago to advertise his then-tiny metal detector dealership. Ninety percent of the tourists who happened by did not know what a metal detector was then, much less what it was used for, he recalled.

But today, capitalizing on the biggest hobby to hit the Eastern Shore since surfing, Marvel is the biggest metal detector dealer on the entire Delmarva peninsula.

While his wife sells Bibles and candles out of one side of the store, Marvel keeps 15 to 20 detectors on hand every day for beachcombers -- including hotel managers with little to do in winter except "sand fish" and summer tourists looking for lost jewelry.

The point to both Marvel enterprises is treasure, Marvel said: "She deals in treasure in heaven and I deal in treasures on earth."

He could not be better situated.Just 15 miles east, down rolling Route 26 toward Rehoboth, is Coin Beach, a mile-long stretch of sand that has attracted curio seekers for a quarter century.

In the late 1700s and early 1800s dozens of sailing vessels, unable to navigate strong currents near Cape Henlopen, were wrecked near the beach. Then, about 25 years ago, thousands of artifacts from the old ships -- including gold coins, pottery, jewelry and shoe buckles -- began appearing on Coin Beach.

Legends abounded. Around nearby Lewes, Del., where a museum holds some of the more precious finds, it is said that children building sand castles on Coin Beach in the 1950s scooped up a gold coin with each cup of sand.

Marvel, who has combed the beaches from Ocean City to Lewes, is a legend in himself. He is the biggest antique coin collector in the Eastern Shore area. He has found 600 of them including Irish half-pennies and gold British sovereigns, and also discovered hundreds of rings, bracelets and necklaces.

But even Marvel is surprised by the sudden boom in metal detecting on Eastern Shore beaches.

In morning and evening hours on beaches up and down the peninsula dozens of figures equipped with headgear, listening devices and vacuum cleaner-like rods can be seen patiently listening for the pop-pop-pop of a sudden metallic discovery.

"It used to be I was the only one in the business in this part," Marvel said. "Now, I've got competitors all over the place."

Last Marvel loaned four detectors to Bethany Beach police after someone phoned and said a bomb was placed under the boardwalk there.

"I showed them how to work the things but they didn't find anything," he said.

The hobby has become so popular that Marvel last year started a Treasure Club, including 20 metal-detecting couples from around Delmarva. "We show off what we've found each month and we give a prize to the member who's found the most silver," he said.

Marvel said he enjoys showing off his coin collection at art shows and state fairs and is proudest of a 1777 gold coin he found several years ago.

"It's an English sovereign," he said, "a good $200 worth."