Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Combed His Hair With A...

  Wagon wheel. At least that's what I think it is. I found it beside an old school-house foundation I plan to hunt soon. The detector was picking it up from six feet away. It's about four feet in diameter and weighs about 30 pounds--very well constructed. I assume it was some kind of tread-ring around a wagon wheel. It looks like garden-art to me.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Two Wheaties

  Stopped at an old grange hall on the way to work for a few minutes. The place appears to have been built in the 1800's, but a few quick digs and an examination of the foundation made it readily obvious that the place had been renovated in the thirties or forties. In a short amount of time I found two wheat-pennies, a 1942 and a 1930, respectively; which leads me to believe there will be more old coins there somewhere.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Garden Next Door

  Last week I got permission to hunt my neighbor's rather large garden, which sits in the center of an enormous lawn; and this lawn was once part of the nineteenth-century farm that included both the neighbor's house and my own. Well, the ground finally thawed enough to get a spade in sometime late Sunday afternoon and I spent an hour or so pacing back and forth across last year's furrows while my fiance worked on a paper for school.
  I found mostly the usual unrecognizable rusty pieces of old farm junk and lead bullets (which makes me think it is a good idea to metal detect all gardens to avoid food contamination). However, I was happy to find a small copper buckle, probably from a shoe or boot and another spoon to add to my found spoon collection. I don't know what it is, but I find these spoons everywhere I go. I suspect that nineteenth-century Mainers just carried spoons around with them in their pockets, in case they came across some soup or something in the woods. Anyway, I love the damn spoons. I am fascinated by the shapes they adopt while buried inside the earth.

  Currently, my spoon collection is being used in a large plant pot in our living room, stuck into the potting soil upright to prevent our crazy cat, Howard, from using it as a litter box.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Locked Eternally

 I found this in our yard last Fall. I am posting it now because it sits on a shelf in our home and has, over the Winter, become one of my favorite finds. And because the ground here is still frozen--despite the fact that it is almost April--and I am having a difficult time digging up anything new. I cannot express how ready I am for this cold weather to break...

Friday, March 25, 2011

It's Still Cold

 Here is the thermometer scale referred to in the last post. It is copper and I just noticed the script along the side that says things like "blood heat" next to 99 and "freezing" beside 31. When I dug it up, it was curled up into a little roll and I almost discarded it without looking closer. The experts always say to take all you suspect trash home with you, so it can be cleaned and examined more carefully.

Cogsley Cogs

 This came out of Union Commons, probably part of an old clock. I have recognized in the eastern part of the park an indentation in the earth which appears to be the site of an old foundation. I am certain some old-timer will come along who can tell me what was there. Anyway, I have been finding the more "domestic" items (such as the key, this cog, a thermometer, etc...) near this indentation.

The Old Battle Axe

 I found this in the yard the other day while I was waiting for Laura to put her shoes on. I have four others and I plan on soaking them in used motor oil to remove the rust. A few of them are sharp enough to use as wedges for splitting large stones.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Kitchen Table Koinshooting

  After receiving an unwanted 6 inches of snow on the first day of Spring, I decided to do a little of what renowned treasure hunter Karl von Mueller called "kitchen table koinshooting". Mueller is also the man who actually coined the term "coinshooting", which he originally spelled with a "k". Dan Hughes' book The Metal Detecting Manual has a number of interesting anecdotal stories about this mythological treasure seeker that are worth checking out.
  Anyway, kitchen table coinshooting is basically the act of purchasing rolls of coins from the bank and then searching them for rarities. I have done this before, sometimes with a little luck and sometimes with more. This time I went into the bank and asked for half-dollars, which many banks never seem to have. "How many would you like?" asked the teller.
  "As many as you have," I replied. "Forty or fifty dollars worth."
  "Ok. It will just be a few minutes." She looked entirely unmoved and I was surprised, as tellers often look at me with one eye or shock and fear, as if I had just handed them a note demanding bags of hundred dollar bills. "Hoping to find some good coins?" she asked.
  "Yes," I said. "You know, most tellers get really weird when I ask for coins."
  She laughed. "Oh, we get people in here all the time buying these things. One guy comes in and asks for a whole box at a time."
  "How much is a box?" I asked.
  "Three hundred dollars." My mind reeled at the thought, and here I felt weird about fifty dollars. I mean, there is nothing to be lost. It's like playing a lottery, except if you don't win, you just return your tickets and get your money back.
  I didn't win much. I came out with a 1969, which is at least 40% silver. All of the half dollars from '64 back are silver, I believe, and '65 through '70 are 40%, which are worth just under six dollars, which is more than 50 cents. Next time, maybe I'll get a whole box...

Sunday, March 20, 2011

20 Pence Please

  I was surprised to find this 1982 heptagonal 20 pence piece on that same old farm in Union I have been hunting. I cleaned it off and laughed just as J.J., one of the two brothers who run it, walked over. "What you got?"
  "Well," I said. "You will probably be surprised to know that I just found a 1982 20 pence piece."
  "Actually, I am not surprised at all," he replied. "I can tell you exactly where that coin came from."
  "Please do."
  "You see, my Aunt married a guy from Holland and he was a big world traveler. He was always showin' up with money from all over the place. I bet he dropped that coin right there where you found it."
  I often ask homeowners if they have any interest in some the more personal items I find on their property and I did the same with J.J.

  "Now what would I do with that?" he asked.

Back To The Farm

 I stopped by the old farm in Union again yesterday and swung my coil for a bit. I didn't turn up any old silver like I did the other day, unfortunately, but I did find a few interesting farm relics. I believe the ring is an old bull ring, as I pulled it out of the pasture, and I seem to find them often on these old farms. The bell is brass, as is the small hat-shaped thingy, which has me kind of stumped. I assumed it was some kind of old bottle-stopper, as it still has remnants of a rubber gasket inside, but I cannot find any matching stoppers on the web. Any clues as to what this is would be extremely helpful.

Friday, March 18, 2011

First Silver Of The Year

  Stopped at a friends farm on the way home yesterday. I got out the detector while he was exchanging St. Patrick's Day greetings and scanned the side yard. I was there for only a few minutes and I dug up a 1964 silver quarter, a 1926 Standing Liberty quarter, a 1906 Indian Head (my second of the year), and a 1911 wheatback penny (a very early year, when you consider they started making them only 2 years earlier in 1909). The farm has been in operation for well-over a hundred years and they graciously said I could come back and hunt whenever I wanted.
  (Also, note the scratches on both the Washington and The IH. Both I believe to be the result of my having over-sharpened my digging trowel. A lesson in digging tools, for sure.)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Dan Hughes' New Book

  Yesterday I received my copy of Dan Hughes' new book, The Metal Detecting Manual, and I haven't been able to put it down. Filled to the covers with tales of treasures lost and found, tips on where and how to hunt, personal anecdotes, and useful historical information; this book is a wonderful reference volume for any metal detecting enthusiast. The book can be ordered from the website listed in my links-list, and don't forget to check out his md podcast.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Yesterday's Ring

 Found this in someone's yard in Union. The gold plating has long since worn off and the jewels disappeared into the earth, but it was still a good find. My second ring of the year. I don't know who she was, but she had some enormous sausage fingers. I can wear this thing on my thumb.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Back To The Park

  I returned to the park where I found the wheat penny yesterday morning. I was fairly depressed, the sky gray and drizzling, on my way to work on a Sunday, and I just needed some time to sit with my feelings before encountering any other humans. The park was quiet, but for the occasional musical forays of the downtown church bells and I plodded along with my metal detector in the shadow of the Civil War monument that watches over the park. Someone stopped and pointed out that the Union military statues are always facing south, just in case.
   The ground was fully thawed and the digging was easy. I left a while later with 1.07 in clad coinage, an unreadable wheat penny, an 1864 Indian Head penny, a costume ring, a heavily corroded belt buckle, a deeply buried fishing weight, and a beautiful brass skeleton key. It didn't solve my problems, but it took my mind off of them for an hour or two.

Saturday, March 12, 2011


  It rained all day and washed much of the snow away. The downpour let up for a little while and I hit one of these old downtown parks. I didn't have much time and there was not much to be found--about five cents in pennies--but I did come out with a 1928 wheatie. Not terribly exciting, but it felt good to be digging in dirt again. I have found a number of Indian Head pennies in that particular park and I thought I had another when I found the wheat-back, as covered as it was with its thick green copper-corroded shell of age. I soaked it when I got home and discovered otherwise.
  It's strange that I feel excitement over digging up a wheat penny. I mean, I can receive one as change at the grocery store and it doesn't thrill me at all. But there is something in the act of seeking, unearthing, and holding in your hands an object that has been lost to human eyes for nearly a hundred years; something inexplicable, undefinable, unquestionably dorky, and just downright enjoyable. However, don't try explaining it to anyone.

Thursday, March 10, 2011


  This is one of my favorite finds of last year.  It is small--about one and a half inches--and composed of a brass/copper alloy. There are two small nails protruding from the rear, so I imagine it was some sort of house number, circa late 1800's. I found it near a cellar hole on an old abandoned farm on North Haven. Were there addresses in the 1800's?

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Stubborn Union

Take these two links
still conjoined
there were probably hundreds of them
pulled apart, broken, crushed, lost
dissolved by time
but these two held fast
through punishing adversity
against the withering forces
that ultimately destroy all things
defying Universal Laws
and sense
for no other reason
than belonging together.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Keepers and Weepers

  I just finished Finders Keepers, the new book by Craig Childs, and I feel like a child who has just been reprimanded for stealing a pack of gum from a grocery store. I don't mean to say that it was a bad read--as a piece of journalism, it is fairly well-written--it's just that his opinions are so highly critical. The whole gist of Child's book rests on the concept that people do not have the right to keep found artifacts and relics of the past, but that they should be left to remain where they are. As a lifelong "finder" and "keeper", I cannot help but disagree.
  Childs is correct in believing that sacred spaces, such as burial grounds and holy sites, should never be tampered with. That concept is as old as humankind and should be instinctual in anyone with even a hint of conscience. I would never, for instance, go metal detecting in a cemetery, or take the jewelry off an excavated corpse; but he goes so far as to conclude his work with the notion that even arrowheads found in fields should be left alone. He mentions at one point visiting a location where there had previously been a large archeological dig and feeling as if the land itself had been stripped of its belongings, which really feels to me like nothing more than over-sentimentalized rubbish. I get it. I understand what he is saying and I respect his respect for the past; but a shrine to the dead is one thing, and a spear-head in the dirt is another.
  The discovery of lost objects, whether they are relics of primitive civilizations or Civil War belt buckles or Tom Mix pocketknives dropped by children in the 1940's, has always been an act of magical importance and connection to the world for me. The idea that something leaves the hand of another, travels through time and tribulation, for a hundred or even a thousand years, and ultimately ends up resurfacing to land in the hand of another establishes an otherworldly bond with the past that I don't think can be replicated. Anyone who has experienced this knows exactly what I mean. It is the reason I metal detect, the reason I walk the beach looking for sea-glass, the reason I walk freshly plowed fields for arrowhead, or why I go to auctions and thrift stores. It is the hope of finding something beautiful, the hope of finding "treasure".
  Aside from that, Finders Keepers has a great deal to offer in the way of entertainment and information. There are harrowing stories of archaeological plunder by heedless criminals and fascinating tales of discovery by relic hunters who truly believed in what they were doing. I was really intrigued by the harsh reality of the methods by which some of the world's most respected museums acquire there contents--a sordid world of thievery, black markets, murder, and general dishonesty. All in all, it's an interesting read for anyone who has every enjoyed searching for objects of antiquity, whether you are a "keeper" or not.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Lunch Break

  It can be very difficult to find time for metal detecting. I cannot justify taking time off of work in the middle of the day and the hours that I spend with my fiance on the weekend--which is often only a day--are so precious few as it is.  I suppose that is why I spend so much time metal detecting in the rain or in the dark or in the rainy dark.
  Anyway, if I get the chance on a lunch break, I will often walk down to the beach for a half hour or so and swing the stick. Many of these small, remote Maine beaches--if you can find one that isn't entire composed of rock--seem to have a wealth of old treasure to offer up, from antique jewelry to old coins sitting on the hard-pack just below the upper strata of sand. The key seems to be finding those beaches or parts of beaches that are being affected by erosion.  That is, where the ocean has temporarily moved deep sand away from an area, making that hard-pack beneath more accessible, and the booty it contains.
  I hit this beach briefly the other day at lunch. I didn't find much: a fishing weight, .89 cents in change, and a fascinating old ring. The ring wasn't valuable, but it was beautiful in its worn and battered state and I marveled at its delicate condition as I carried it back to my truck. It was literally about to fall apart in my hand. How incredible that it withstood the movements of the sea water and the stony sand for so long and ended up ultimately in my palm so near its point of destruction? I would guess it is almost a hundred years old. I brought it home to the woman I love, who I knew would care for it and appreciate its beauty as much I do, if not more.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Buckle

  I had pretty good luck hunting last year, as I spent the summer working on North Haven, a small island off the coast of Maine. The place seemed relatively untouched and I left in the fall with a small box full of trinkets and coins with dates as early as 1775. The most exciting find, however, was a Civil War-era buckle I unearthed from the backside of an old stone wall. I had followed the toppled structure through a field and into a stand of new-growth trees, where my detector started giving off multiple strong signals.
  I excavated a couple of caps still attached to some broken nineteenth century liquor bottles, followed by a silver-plated salt shaker and the sound-board from a harmonica.  I was immediately struck by how close to the surface these items were, as I am every time I hunt on North Haven. You see, a hundred years ago, there wasn't a tree standing on the whole island and the ones there now haven't been there long. Therefore, there has not been a lot of organic waste--such as branches and leaves--to decompose and turn into soil; that coupled with the fact that most of the island's sub-soil consists of ledge just inches below the surface, which prevents small objects from sinking and makes farming an impressive feat.
  A  few moments later I dug what appeared to be a small buckle, about three inches in diameter, with a wreath-like design around it. Wonderful, I thought, an old brass buckle. It was at least five minutes later and ten feet away before I found the other half, emblazoned with the unmistakable Naval symbol of the "fouled anchor", or the rope-encircled anchor. There was still a small strip of wizened leather attached to the end of one side. I put the two together and marveled at what I had just found. I knew it was military, but I had no idea of its age or origin.
  I did some research when I got to a computer and found that the buckle was known as a tongue and wreath buckle and was popular in style during and just after the Civil War. I searched the internet diligently and found many similar buckles, but was ultimately unable to come up with a match. I took it to antique dealers and even a Maritime Museum, but no one could give me any more information. Over the winter, I listed it on ebay and it sold for 500.00 to a man in Barbados who was very happy to find it. He wrote me back later and said he thought it was British.