Thursday, September 29, 2011

Featured Find: Can you solve the mystery of Foster’s Cafe?

Hey everyone!  Today’s featured find comes from the Webb Farm on Saxapahaw Bethlehem Church Rd. (now Victory Calls Stables), and it’s a mystery that has nagged me since I started detecting here.  It’s a small copper coin-like token, about the size of a nickel.  The back is plain, and the front read’s “Foster’s Cafe" around a letter “F” punchout.  I’ve searched, but haven’t found any reference to this token online.
Now had I just found the one token, I would probably write it off as a neat unknown find, and not give it too much more thought.  But then I found more.  Lots more.  Nearly thirty of them, all from the same farm field but spread out over several acres.  To be fair, most were found within maybe a half acre, but that’s still a sizable area.
What could they be?  It has been suggested that they were produced for the modern Foster’s Market Cafe in Chapel Hill, but I think if this were the case I would likely have found some reference to them online.  The best lead I have to go on came from the Alamance County Register of Deeds.

When the last of the Webb family, Capt. Sam Webb, died in 1929, the farm was left to his adopted son William Talbert.  William sold the property that same year to Richard Freeman Isley and his wife Vivian Foster Isley.  The land was sold in 1934 to Vivian's father, Charles Foster, owner of Foster's Hosiery Mill.  The land remained in his possession until 1947.  Could this be the “Foster” connection in “Foster’s Cafe"?
There were several periods of US history during which trade tokens saw increased usage.  These included “hard times” tokens issued during silver hoarding in the 1830’s, as well as patriotic small change tokens issued during the Civil War.  The heyday of token use in the US came from the 1870’s to early 1930’s, when a surge of small businesses in rural areas created a demand for advertising and merchandise trade tokens.  The decline of these tokens began with the Great Depression through the 1940's and 50's.  Below is an excellent example of a trade token from the Melville Drug Co. in Mebane dating to the 1920's, recovered by my friend Brad.
So it is possible that the Foster’s who owned this land from 1929-1947 were the connection to these mysterious Foster’s Cafe tokens?  Without some further evidence of either the restaurant or the tokens themselves, their origin and age will remain as mysterious as how so many became scattered across a rural Alamance County field.  But perhaps some of my readers may be able to assist – if you have any information about Foster’s Cafe of Alamance County, NC please let me know in the comments, on our facebook group, or by email.  I am in contact with a token researcher, and will keep you posted on what we find out!

Thanks for reading, and God bless!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Detecting Report: Battle of Bentonville

Yesterday I took a trip with some of my detecting friends John, Bubba, and the other Tony to a site near the Battle of Bentonville.  The battle took place over three days in March of 1865, the last major battle between General Sherman of the Union Army and General Johnston of the Confederacy.  It involved some 80,000 men with over 400 killed and 2800 wounded.  Johnston retreated from the battle, and failed in achieving a critical victory against the much larger Northern force.  He surrendered his army to General Sherman at Bennett Place near Durham just a little over a month later.
Despite some technical difficulties (my White's DFX is now in the shop for repairs), we had a great day and pulled some nice dropped bullets and worked camp lead.  Check out the video of the day.  We also had out monthly meeting of the Triangle Relic Recovery club in Raleigh after our trip.  I'm pleased to have won the "best finds" award this month for best coin (186X Nickel Three Cent) and best relic (I'll be doing a blog post on this one in the future, it's one of my best so far!).  My detecting partner Brad also won the "best display" category for the month with a truly impressive amount of historic finds including a beautiful Federal army cavalry spur, featured here.

Thanks for looking, and I hope you enjoyed!  And if you really enjoyed it, please join our fan page on Facebook!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Detecting Report: Saxapahaw and Mebane, Sept 22

Hey everyone!

I decided to head out today to a section of the Webb Farm at Victory Calls where I had found some older relics, but the ground has been so dry lately.  We finally got some rain yesterday and today, which really helps loosen up the clay and increase detection depth.  I only found a few new targets in the area, but one of them turned out to be this great 1844 large cent!

These larger pennies are nearly the size of a US half-dollar, and were the standard size before 1857.  They were replaced by the short-lived Flying Eagle cent (1856-1858) and the Indian Head penny (1859-1909), both the size of our smaller modern penny.  The change came as a result of complaints about the unwieldiness of the larger coins in volume, as well as increasing copper prices in the 1850's.  Increasing copper prices would again affect the penny in 1982 when the coin composition was changed to zinc with a thin copper coating.  The ground is not kind to copper coins around here, so I've also included a picture of what this coin ought to look like, courtesy of

Not long after finding the cent, I got a call from some of my detecting friends, Brad and Bubba, from Mebane.  They also wanted to take advantage of the rain, so we headed off to a spot in the woods near Mebane.  This site has produced numerous Bingham School uniform buttons in the past, so that was the goal for the day.  The Bingham School was a preparatory school for boys which operated near my farm in Saxapahaw from 1844-1864, and near Mebane from 1865-1891.  I will do a much more detailed post on Bingham sometime in the future, including my uniform button collection.

Again I didn't dig many targets, but I did pull a Bingham School script-letter cuff button.  It's in absolutely TERRIBLE condition, and really I could only ID it from the construction and the filigrees on the ends of the letter "B".  That said, I was still extremely happy to have one of these rare buttons, as it is my first BS cuff button with script style lettering.
Brad was called away, so Bubba and I hit one last spot, also in the woods.  We managed to check off a few of the "most common finds" from my previous post - shotgun shells, part of a pocketwatch case, the front plate from a large lock, and even a complete harmonica reed. 

Overall, this was a fabulous day of detecting, good finds and good friends.  I'll leave you with a short video of the two best finds of the day as they come out of the ground for the first time in more than a century.  Be sure to sign up for the facebook group to stay up to date on the latest finds, history, and detecting articles.  Thanks for looking, and I hope you enjoyed! 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Featured Find: A pair of 3's

Hey everyone!

I received my order of new coin cases from today, including
specialty cases for two of my most unique coin finds which I’ve decided to
share with you!  Ever needed to buy a postage stamp, and wished you had a
single coin for the purchase?  No?  Me either, but that was the unique
origin of the three-cent coin.

(Photo credit PCGS CoinFacts)
The first US three-cent coin was produced in 1851 as a result of the change
of the postage rate to three cents, and the need for more
small-denominational coins.  The three-cent silver (sometimes called a
“trime”) was the lightest of all US coins, and smallest diameter non-gold
US coin.  Original composition of the coin was 75% silver to discourage
melting for bullion (a fairly common practice recently with modern silver
coins due to high silver prices).  It was increased to 90% silver in 1854
to encourage greater circulation.  Silver three-cent coins were produced
from 1851-1873 with a total mintage of 42.7M.
(Photo credit PCGS CoinFacts)
Economic conditions during the Civil War lead to widespread hoarding of
gold and silver coins.  One of the government’s responses was to issue a
nickel-copper three-cent coin in 1865.  Intended only as a stopgap measure
until hoarding ended, nickel three-cent coins were produced from 1865 to
1889 with a total mintage of 31.3M with more than 75% of those produced
prior to 1870.
My first three-cent coin was an 1853 silver from Victory Calls (the old
Webb Farm) on Saxapahaw Bethlehem Church Rd. in February.  This month I
was lucky enough to find the nickel three-cent at another historic farm on
the same road!   From a detecting standpoint, these are very rare coins
indeed, for a variety of reasons.  First, both have very low mintage
compared to many other coins (compare: 245M seated dimes, 500M barber
dimes, 1800M quarters in 1965 alone).

Both three-cent coins also have other limitations that make them
particularly difficult to detect.  For the silver trime, the problem is
one of size.  Being both smaller than a dime and considerably thinner,
they can be very difficult for a detector to pick up.  Even more difficult
to recover is the three-cent nickel, not due to size (it is the same size
as a US dime) but metal composition.  Silver is a high conductivity
material, and gives a signal on the high end of the scale where not many
trash targets appear (White’s VDI #’s 70-95).  The copper-nickel alloy, on
the other hand, appears very low on the scale where it can mimic many
other materials and trash targets.  (This is one reason many detectorists
find so many more pennies/dimes/quarters than nickels).  Being smaller
than a US nickel, the three-cent nickel shows up even lower at the bottom
of the scale (White’s VDI #’s 13-16).  In a trashy location with many
targets, this coin would be extremely easy to miss.  I feel incredibly blessed 
to have found both types of this very rarely recovered coin.

And so, without further ado, my new coin cases:

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Featured Find: M1859 US Cavalry Spur, Hillsborough

This isn't my find, but it comes from my good friend Brad from Mebane.  I'm sure I'll be mentioning him in the future, as we metal detect together quite a lot.  He was detecting over in Hillsborough, NC at the kind of site I typically enjoy - not a lot of targets, but every one of them is old.  The best find for the day is this simply BEAUTIFUL model 1859 US cavalry spur.  The rowel (revolving disc) is missing from the neck, but on many dug examples the neck is broken off altogether.  The hooks for the fastening straps are bent inwards, but the yoke (body of the spur that goes around the heel) is quite straight.  The patina on this spur is simply lovely, and the characteristic M1859 foliate design around the neck shows nicely.  These spurs tend to be associated with production at the Allegheny Arsenal in Pennsylvania, and would have been issued to an enlisted cavalry soldier.  Overall, this is one of the better Civil War finds I have seen recovered in this area in recent months.

Congratulations, Brad, on the stellar find!

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

Welcome to Detecting Saxapahaw!

Hey there, and welcome to Detecting Saxapahaw!

This blog is dedicated to preserving the history of Saxapahaw, NC and surrounding cities and towns through the documentation of research and recovered artifacts.  My name is Tony Stevenson, Saxapahaw resident since 2008.  I had used a metal detector in the past to search for coins and jewelry on beach vacations, but it never occurred to me that it could be used to foster a connection with our history.  That realization came when my wife and I purchased Victory Calls Stables three years ago.  We purchased the property with no indication of what had been there previously (the house was built in 1970), but the sheer magnitude of the massive oak trees caught my interest.  How old were they?  What might they have seen?  Who walked under the expansive canopies?

I began my search for the past at the UNC’s North Carolina Collection reading room, where the curator retrieved a large map drafted by William Luther Spoon in 1893 (there will certainly be a future blog post on the Spoon maps of Alamance County).  It didn’t take long to locate our property, with a small black rectangle indicating a home site with the name “Miss. S. A. Webb.”

My research into the Webb family, a labor of love if there ever was one, has taken countless hours of library and internet research.  A summary of my Webb family biography, as well as a sneak peak of some of the artifacts I will be detailing on this blog, can be found at the Victory Calls website.  Webb family researchers are encouraged to contact me, as I have quite a bit more information and additional pictures which are not yet published on the internet.

I don’t remember exactly when my “ah-HA!” moment came with regards to metal detecting, but not long after I began researching I realized that I could go beyond reading about these individuals and search for an even more tangible connection.  I took my trusty Garrett GTA1000 Metal detector out into the fields around VCS, and the rest (if you’ll excuse the pun) is history.  I have since been a member of both the Triangle Relic Recovery club in Raleigh and the Old North State Detectorists club from Greensboro.  In 2010, I worked alongside professionals from the North Carolina Office of State Archeology and other volunteer detectorists in a systematic survey of the Alamance Battlegrounds historical site (I recovered the musket ball in the above photo from that battle).  I have been detecting at dozens of local historical sites, including homes, fields, churches, and even one private residence on the National Register of Historic Places.  I will be telling many of the stories of my favorite spots and most interesting finds over the coming weeks and months.

Please check back to this blog as I update with information about detecting finds and the people and places that have interacted with them (both present and past).  If you would like to learn about the art of metal detecting, let me know – I’m always looking for new hunting partners.  Some of my detecting colleagues will most certainly be featured in the future as guest bloggers or interviews.

Last but certainly not least, I can’t make exciting finds without exciting locations to find them.  If you live in central North Carolina and would like me to search for your property’s history, please contact me by email ( or through the Detecting Saxapahaw facebook group!  I look forward to hearing from you.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoy my work.
Tony Stevenson
Detecting Saxapahaw