by Jim Bailey
17th and 18th Century New England Metal Detecting Finds: First 6 Months with my Deus Metal Detector
I live in Southern New England, which was settled far back in the 1630’s and today offers fantastic opportunities for the determined detectorist searching out colonial-period treasure in the form of coins and other finds. I focus nearly all of my metal detecting efforts on colonial-period sites as it’s my passion. The recovery of exceptional colonial-period finds does not come easy. There are some requirements to be met: Unless you’re content with the recovery of one or two lucky finds, research is an absolute must. Plus you’ll need to put in a good deal of time (a lot of digging). You’ll need a quality machine. And finally, you’ll need to stay positive while striving for your goal of that certain coin or relic.
“With only six months experience with the Deus, I still consider myself a beginner, yet my searching with it has yielded a remarkable score of artifacts from several sites, most of which I have diligently searched over the years.” Jim Baily, Author and Deus Metal Detector User
I’ve been very conservative in the purchase of detectors over many years, having purchased only two machines in nearly 20 years. I put a good deal of stock into my research and still do today. I made the jump and purchased a new XP Deus metal detector in June of 2013. Over the previous year, I had a good deal of success in recovering finds of greater quantity and quality, so I decided to really go for it with the purchase of an XP Deus. It’s now the start of 2014. Six months have passed since I took up the XP Deus, and its purchase was the best decision I ever made in my pursuit of the hobby. I won’t detail all of the features and qualities that make the Deus such a remarkable, standout machine; I’d rather write about what I found with the Deus and specifically how the Deus made it possible.
With only six months experience with the Deus, I still consider myself a beginner, yet my searching with it has yielded a remarkable score of artifacts from several sites, most of which I have diligently searched over the years. I took my Deus on a trial run back in late June to a large property where two colonial-period houses once stood. One house site dates back to the mid-18th Century, and the other dates back even further to the mid-17th Century. Both houses were razed long ago; nothing remains but unremarkable hayfields that offer no clues as to what remains hidden below the surface for the past 250+ years. My first trip out with my Deus to the older house site produced a few early coppers and buttons, including a tombac (brass alloy) nipple button that dates back to the mid-17th Century. I also dug a fair amount of ferrous material and hot rocks, as I had to contend with the learning curve that comes with a new detector. I was encouraged by these results, as I found more in less time and with less experience in handling my Deus than I had on past visits to the site with my old detectors.
I returned to the site only a week later with some new settings for my Deus, which largely eliminated any further digging of ferrous targets and hot rocks. I only had a few hours to search and hoped for an exciting find. I would not be disappointed with the outcome. After recovering a few buttons and bits of lead, I dug at a promising signal and spotted a shiny, delicate object in the bottom of an overturned plug of hay grass. It appeared to be some form of jewelry, which I hardly expected to recover on a colonial-period site. It was a completely intact silver cufflink dating to around 1750! I had seen many fine examples of 18th Century silver cufflinks found by other detectorists, but the stunning appearance of what I found was unlike all the rest. It was in perfect condition and consisted of clear stones that were set in silver and joined by an S-shaped link. Each stone had a strange gold-colored center. After taking a few photos and a short video, I excitedly continued my search, and the finds kept coming – a musket ball, another early tombac nipple button, brass furniture tacks, a decorative pewter button
with a wedge-shaped, drilled shank dating from 1700-1765, and a trifid spoon handle end dating to the late 17th Century. As expected, I also recovered mashed up bits of brass and lead, but I ended my hunt with the recovery of one more piece of old colonial-period silver in the form of a large sewing needle, also known as a bodkin. It was used for threading ribbons and cords, while fancier examples were also used as a hair pin. Bodkins, especially whole specimens, are rarely found even on archaeological excavations; and nearly all the examples found by detectorists that I saw online were recovered in England. As the Deus had led me from one target to the next, I wondered how so much could have gone undetected in the past.
The number of high-toned targets that I encountered on my first big search was more than surprising; it was a revelation. I knew the field had lots of potential based on my research and past finds (early coppers, spur buckles, seal spoon fragments, etc.), but nothing exceptional had been found until now. After thoroughly searching the property for years, I had reasoned that my lack of quality finds simply reflected the early occupants’
social status; they were dirt poor, having only possessions of the most basic and meager sort. I couldn’t have been more wrong! A considerable amount of colonial-period material was waiting to be found. I only needed better technology to recover it, which the Deus provided. The Deus is extremely sensitive, hitting on bird shot and other minuscule targets at impressive depths, but I believe that the capability of the Deus in regards to target separation is what made all the difference. This target separation is made possible by advancements in recovery time with the XP Deus, setting it far apart from all other metal detectors. While a few of my finds were deeply buried, most finds were at a moderate or surprisingly shallow depth. In comparison to producing a single stray copper coin or button from the field with my old detector, the experience with the Deus in recovering numerous targets felt like an opening of the floodgates.
The cufflink was later identified as a fine example of Stuart Crystal jewelry, which was popular from about the mid-17th Century through the end of the 18th Century in the styling of rings, pendants, and, of course, cufflinks. While some Stuart Crystal jewelry was fashioned with glass or paste stones, my find was made from carved rock of crystal quartz, and the strange gold center was a delicate arrangement of fine, twisted gold wire; it’s a marvelous example of the craftsmanship practiced by jewelers back in England during the mid-18th Century, and I found it in a hay field with an XP Deus.
I kept up the search with my Deus over the next several months and recovered better finds that far exceeded my long-held expectations about what was out there. I revisited a few sites that I had not searched in years after writing them off as non-productive and likely hunted out long before I first arrived. I now went back to search one such spot with one of my detecting partners, who is also a new Deus owner. We did not yet fully understand target separation, and expected a dismal hunt of an hour or so before leaving the field to seek our
fortunes elsewhere; however, we were happily surprised to encounter numerous high-toned targets. I recovered a few shoe buckle fragments, small lead shot, a thimble, and buttons, including an early tombac nipple button. Indeterminate bits of brass and melted lead slowed my progress, but I steadily dug away and recovered a 1776 Spanish one real coin.
I searched a new field that offered up very few finds, but I managed to come up with an 1856 Liberty Seated quarter while walking back to my car. Despite my fast pace, the recovery time provided by my Deus managed to hit on the coin loud and clear, as I hastily swept the search coil side-to-side.
I had a setback during the fall season, when I was denied permission to continue my search of the field that produced the Stuart Crystal silver cufflink. A contractor for one of the residential homes on the property suddenly showed up while I was searching the field on my first return trip since finding the cufflink three months prior. Although I had been searching the property with permission for several years, the contractor promptly kicked me off the field.
Despite the unfortunate turn of events, all was not lost, as I still had permission to search a field at the opposite end of the property where another colonial-period house once stood. I had found Spanish silver coins in this field the previous year, so I stopped by in the late afternoon hoping to save the day with a good find. My hopes would soon be answered.
I only had an hour or so to search before dusk arrived. While firing up the settings on my Deus, I ran over to the approximate area that produced the Spanish silver coins from last year. Although this field had lots of potential for terrific finds, my thoughts kept drifting back to the other field and the finds from early summer – the Stuart Crystal cufflink, the bodkin, and other finds. I thought most of all about the possible finds that would be left behind and remain undiscovered. While trying to stifle these thoughts, I took only a few steps at the second site, and my Deus hit on a solid target. I
quickly removed a cut plug of hay grass and saw the unmistakable flash of gold. Out of all the possibilities, I had found another cufflink – a gold cufflink! Like the silver cufflink, it was in superb condition and completely intact. The cufflink was octagonal in shape and engraved. After taking a few pictures and a short video, I continued my search and recovered a 1782 Spanish one real coin, a complete knee buckle, a copper, and one musket ball. I had intensely searched this exact area with my old detector last year after finding the Spanish silver coins, so the recovery of the latest finds with my new Deus was remarkable. A day-long return trip to the field on the following week did not produce any further gold or Spanish silver coins, but I did recover three coppers, two knee buckles, a few buttons, and other finds. One of the coppers is a 1722 Hibernia half-pence coin. It’s in exceptional condition for a dug coin from a plowed field.
The octagonal shape of the gold cufflink was popular through most of the 18th century until falling out of fashion by the 1780’s. I had a local jeweler test the cufflink. It’s made of 22k gold. The hand engraved design on the gold cufflink shows a splashing whale’s tail. This design makes perfect sense, as the site of my search is located in close proximity to a seaport town that took up whaling back in the 1740’s. Examples of cufflinks similar to what I recovered appear to be nearly non-existent, as a search of the internet (Google images, etc.) only produced a single obscure image of an octagonal gold cufflink from the same period.
I was eager to include one more site during the break-in period for my Deus. It was another colonial-period house site that vanished from the landscape years ago. It now only exists in the form of material remains scattered across a farm field. It’s my favorite place to detect, as it offered up my best find to date – a rare Oak Tree shilling, back in 2006. I’ve continued to pound this field hard over the past six years hoping for another such coin, while steadily thinning out most signals that read above iron. But now I was on it with the Deus! I found nothing that could compare with the 18th Century gold cufflink; that’s a tough act to follow. However, my search with the Deus produced a few good coin recoveries. Along with a couple of unidentifiable coppers, I found an 1847 Liberty Seated half-dime with sharp detail and a Spanish half real cob coin. The worn cob cannot be precisely dated, but it likely dates from the late-17th Century to early 18th Century. Along with the coins, I recovered musket balls, leather mounts, a spur fragment, a four-inch trifid spoon handle fragment [see see example Met Museum-external site], and an early tombac nipple. Most of these finds dated back to the 17th Century. The finds recovered with the Deus had certainly exceeded what I had found on past searches of the field with my old metal detector; moreover, a leather mount and the trifid spoon handle was recovered in the immediate area of where I had found the Oak Tree shilling, even though this area had been subject to intensive searching over the years for obvious reasons.
Software upgrades, an innovative lightweight design, and wireless technology are some of the features that are unique to the Deus, but its target separation is what I value most. The advantage of target separation is clearly evident to me. On multiple occasions while digging for a target, I’ve removed one or even two ferrous (iron) objects with the aid of my pinpointer before locating the source of the high-toned signal given by my Deus, i.e., a coin, button, or buckle fragment.
A singular focus on detection depth is a misguided half measure, as target separation is equally important. Detectorists searching a colonial-period house site face much difficulty in locating a few coins and other select finds from a proportionally vast amount of ferrous targets. How much ferrous material is out there on such a site? Detailed reports on full-scale archaeological excavations of colonial-period house sites provide sobering figures of over 8,000 nails being recovered from a single colonial period house site by means of sifting. In addition to
thousands of nails, a detectorist can expect to encounter much more ferrous material in the form of lost and discarded farm equipment, hand tools, door hardware, cooking/fireplace accessories, ox shoes, etc. A detectorist faces a daunting challenge in seeing through an enormous amount of ferrous material, and blind faith in a detector’s discrimination settings is not the end-all solution. Discrimination is too often viewed in terms of the time and effort saved digging junk targets, while no consideration is given to its occasional costs, i.e., the loss of select targets that are choked away with the nulling of abundant ferrous targets. A detector’s capabilities in regards to discrimination is only as good as the detector’s recovery time in providing separate signals for two different targets even when they are located in extremely close proximity to each other. All these considerations come
down to target separation, and only the Deus offers a level of target separation equal to the task, as seen with my Deus in locating numerous quality finds that went unseen over many long hunts with other high-end detectors I’ve used.
While riding out the current winter season, I’ll be compiling a long list of sites to search with my Deus, including a considerable number of old sites that require a second look. If my finds over the past six months offer some indication of what to expect in the future, 2014 will hopefully provide big finds and lots of excitement.