Sunday, September 18, 2011

So, what are you looking for, anyway?

On of the most common questions I receive while out detecting would have to be – “What are you looking for, anyway?”  Well, the answer isn’t quite as simple as the question.  I suppose the best answer would be “I don’t know yet, but I’ll know it when I see it!”  You see, not knowing what you’re going to find is a huge part of the appeal of metal detecting.  Depending on the nature of the site, there are some items which are more common to find (and others that are ubiquitous to every site).  In this post I intend to introduce you to some of the more common finds I run across.


            Buttons are common at many old sites, but their style will be different based on your location.  One of my favorite locations has given up a dozen and a half flat buttons with brazed shanks common to the 1800-1850 timeframe.  At an old school, a detecting partner of mine has collected over forty uniform buttons from 1850-1890 (I have several of these buttons as well, which I will detail in a later post).  Military uniform buttons can be found both at battle/camp sites as well as the homes of returning veterans.

            Bullets and casings are another common find, although they tend to be found most often in fields and woods where hunters frequent.  Brass shotgun headshells can be quite collectible, and a rare headstamp is always a pleasure to find.  Some of the more common older brands of shotgun shells typically found in this area are UMC Co., Rem-UMC, Peters, and Winchester.  Lead round balls can be difficult to date, but other projectiles and casing marks can be a good indicator of the age of a site.

            Many old homesites can often turn up other similar finds.  One of my favorite finds at old homes is the harmonica reed.  These are also found quite often at civil war camp sites.  Other instrument reeds, like squeezeboxes and pump organs, are also not terribly uncommon, and they are all a good indicator that you’ve found an old site.  Have you ever lost your keys?  People have been losing keys ever since they started making them, and locks and keys are relatively common finds.  A lock or a key in good excavated condition will display nicely and can have some value to collectors.
Coins are found everywhere, and sometimes in surprising places!  Two of my detecting friends accompanied me to the middle of a cattle field where we thought we might run across some civil war relics, though the site gave no indication of much human activity.  We were pleasantly surprised to find a section of the field which produced 10 coins dating from 1904-1920, including Wheat and Indian Head pennies, a Buffalo Nickel, a 1907 Liberty or V Nickel, and a 1917 Mercury dime.  Most often they are found around homes, parks, or other public gather places.  And they are usually mixed in with several decades of dropped modern copper and zinc coins.
It’s pretty easy to lose track of time, which may be why detectorists often find broken or whole pocket watches.  These are always fun to recover, though they are much more difficult to find in good shape unless they are plated in gold or silver.  Speaking of gold and silver, we do find the occasional piece of jewelry – rings, and pins being more common for me at old sites than chains, pendants, or earrings.  Many times they are simply brass or plated with gold and silver, but the occasional real gold or silver jewelry piece does turn up if you search long enough.  I’ll tell you about one of my favorite gold rings in an upcoming blog.

Buckles may not be common to lose today, but they are often found at old sites.  Not just belt buckles, but rare colonial knee and shoe buckles, 19th century suspender buckles, and much more common horse tack buckles to name a few.  Other parts of horse tack, including shoes, bridle rosettes, bits, and saddle shields can also be found at a variety of older farms and houses.

            These are just some of the items many detectorists can expect to recover from a variety of sites, but the most interesting are the ones you simply can’t predict.  The unique finds, the oddball recoveries, and the one that make you say “How the heck did this get here??”  These are the sorts of finds I will be featuring in many future blogs.  I will also be taking a more in-depth look at some of these more common finds, to discuss how they can be used to date a location and what to look for in the common finds that might make some more special than others.
Thanks for reading, and I hope you’ll join me again when I answer another commonly asked question about detecting, and look at some of my more unique discoveries!  In the meantime, if you have any questions, comments, or topics you would like me to address, please email me or post them to our facbook group.  See you next time!

Tony Stevenson
Detecting Saxapahaw


  1. Very good post. Nice looking blog. I will certainly come back!

  2. Thanks! I checked out yours too, very nice. I especially like your photos. That's a skill I'm still working on, especially for coins.

  3. Where in Hillsborough are you allowed to dig? Any info will be appreciated. Brenda Smith

  4. Where in Hillsborough are you allowed to dig? Any info will be appreciated. Brenda Smith

  5. In this articles Buckle picture, in the bottom right are 2 with curved ends & a hoop in the middle. I found 1 of these that turned purple & green colors in a creak. What kind of buckles are these?