Call to Action: Are you a Historical Metal Detectorist?

Call to Action: Are you a Historical Metal Detectorist?

I had an epiphany today.   It is a simple one, but it is a very significant one for me.

You see until recently, due to a family illness, I split my time between Mississippi and Tennessee.   I am fortunate to detect in both places.    Now that we are back in Franklin, Tennessee full-time,  I brought all of my detecting finds from Mississippi up here.   And today I was showing my mother some of my favorite finds that she had not seen.  And she kept asking the same, single question.   At first it was no big deal.  Then it bothered me.  Then it got downright irritating.  Then I almost lost it.

The question was the same every time I got excited and animated over one of my favorite finds:

“But is it worth anything?”  – Mom

Seriously?   I just stared at her blankly.  Sure I have some finds that are worth a couple hundred bucks I guess, but does she see that I pulled something out of the ground that is absolutely astounding, that has a tangible link to a specific time, place in history?   In many instances can be connected to a specific family, person, war or event?   Does she realize that when I put my fingers on the item in the dirt, that was the first time it had been touched by anyone since it had been lost, fired, or discarded 50, 100, 150 years or more ago?

Does she fathom that in most instances these people and their culture are gone?   Does my mom realize that the 1900-dated Barber quarters I have found were likely worth almost a month’s pay to whomever in early 1900s rural Mississippi lost them?    Can she imagine that a family – that children may have gone without eating or without other essential needs because of their loss?  That some of the items were prized possessions?   That real people very likely cried and grieved over and searched desperately to no avail for some of the items that now sit idly in my little cardboard and glass display cases?  

“My daddy gave me that locket, and now it is gone.” – Anonymous

Are they worth anything?    “YOU ARE DAMN RIGHT THEY ARE WORTH SOMETHING”, I imagined screaming at my mom with my best Jack Nicholson-like, red-faced, A Few Good Men yell.  (But of course didn’t.)   Each of them is worth a thousand-fold more to me than anyone in their right mind would ever pay me for any of them.

Does she have any idea how much money I’ve saved up and dropped on detecting equipment?  Does she think I’d spend all my time thinking and writing about metal detecting if I didn’t eat, drink and sleep it?   That I would carefully log where each item was found.  (OK . OK, Clark now you are creeping me out – we get it.)  The reason I detect is lost on my mom.  Maybe the reason is lost on my friends and my wife and my daughter and my dog as well.   Maybe it was even lost on me until today.

I use a metal detector for exactly one reason and one reason only.   It is because when I pull something out of the ground that is historical, that is the closest that Clark Rickman will will ever come to time travel,    That feeling – that split second of awe and shock and incredulousness – that connection with history – is addictive.  That feeling drives me.   That feeling makes all of the hours I’ve detected without finding anything and wondered what in the heck I am doing worth it.  It makes every time time I’ve sweated and grown faint and scratched mosquito bites and poison ivy rashes and fell into creeks and crashed through brambles lost in the woods and got run off unfairly by someone and all the times I pulled live ticks the size of M&Ms off of my body absolutely worth it.

The epiphany was simply this:  “I’m into metal detecting solely for the history.”

I’m not criticizing those of you that rightfully supplement your income with detecting finds at all.  I respect you and I hope you aren’t thinking “F ‘365 I’m out of here.”  Thank-you so much for reading.   You, the reader, make Detecting365 possible for our staff and we are each very grateful.

But while we’re at it, I’m not a pillager.  I’m not a vandal.   You won’t find anything I found with my metal detector on eBay – ever.  I might think I am Indiana Jones, but I’m not a grave robber.   I consider myself an amateur archeologist.  I get it.   A lot of people are out there that give the hobby a bad name, but I’m not one of them.   I won’t be stereotyped, and neither will a whole bunch of people like me.

So there it is.   After today I call myself a “Historical Metal Detectorist”.    I respectfully choose to differentiate myself from others in the hobby.   I respect the sites, the property-owners, the history and especially the people, mostly long-gone, that made each of my finds possible.  I cover my holes and attempt to leave very little trace that I was there.   In memory of my mentor, I will mentor others and gladly share everything I learn with anyone who would listen.   I donate a percentage of the values of my finds and 100% of my non-historical finds to good causes, and I will gladly give any item that would be of interest to the public to a museum or similar curator.    I will return lost items to their owners where possible, and reunite significant historical items with ties to a specific family with the family  – where they belong.   I should be so lucky.   Melodramatic or not, that is my creed from today forward, and I invite you to join me.

Final Thoughts
Detecting365 will be doing something special in the coming months to support other Historical Metal Detectorists.  If you feel likewise, I invite you to join me by simply letting us know that you are like-minded.    If I don’t hear from anyone, I will assume that I need to check myself into an asylum.

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There are 23 comments for this article
  1. Suzy Mills at 9:42 am

    Great article – I can just see your mom saying that! Can I please have the piece in the picture? My birthday was last month – : )

    • Clark Rickman at 9:53 am

      Thanks, Suzy!!! Um I think they will have to pull that Quarter out of my cold dead hand! It was minted the same place you were: In New Orleans!!! It is a 1900-O in extra fine condition, found on our land in Mississippi at the homesite of Thomas Fletcher! The other piece is unknown for sure, but was found in front of an antebellum mansion and I think it is a piece of a silver tea creamer. Wish it could talk.

  2. Kimberly Wooten at 11:02 am

    Clark, great article! I too think of myself the same way. People often lookat the things that I’ve pulled from the ground and say to me ‘oh that’s just a pile of scrap metal’. To me, its a pile of interesting-ness. Here in New England, there are tons of interesting places to hunt and I’m lucky enough to be in a place that is so rich with history!

    • Clark Rickman at 11:15 am

      Kimberly: Thank you so much! I wish I was on the east coast. You guys (and gals) find 1700s items like its “just a thang”. Also thanks: you officially saved me from the asylum! It is nice to know like-minded others are out there! Thanks so much for for reading!!!

  3. Pamela Heyer at 1:50 pm

    Enjoyed the article. I had no idea you had been detecting that long. I always wanted a detector so when the big guy lost a screw or something I could find it for him.

  4. Jess at 1:23 am

    I will join you in the call to action. I love to imagine what time was like when the item recovered was dropped. Great article! I so agree with you!

  5. Brock at 6:48 am

    Excellent article! Although I started metal detecting a little over a year ago with the hopes of finding something with monetary value, I soon found that the history I began uncovering was worth so much more. The more items I found, the more I wanted to know about the people who lost them and the history of the families who lived there.
    I think the fact that I detect for the appreciation of history gains alot of respect from the families who’s history I might uncover. And that means something to me as well. Even better if I can recover something to present to a member of the family.
    Again, great article!
    From a fellow detectorist/amateur historian

  6. Scott Patterson at 12:29 pm

    Hey Clark! Great article and that is exactly how I feel about detecting. I have been doing it since our move from MS. Several times a year I have the oportunity to detect around old homes, etc when folks are building new homes or buildings. Just a few weeks ago I found two .58 cal drops and one smashed unknown cal. over in the Bellemeade area.

    • Clark Rickman at 12:33 pm

      Cool, Scott. Very cool. Your business is definitely an enviable opportunity to obtain new places to hunt! We should definitely hunt together sometime soon!!! I’ll message you on FB. Thanks!

  7. Tim Draband at 12:28 am

    Great article! I can relate very, very much. Luckily my mum enjoys the history! Sometimes I hunt the beach but for me it just can’t compete with the woods&fields ( history 😀 ).

  8. Tony Mantia at 4:31 pm

    Very nice article I feel the same as well thinking about that inspired this poem.

    What Is It You Have Found?

    What is that sound that broach my ear
    The ring of coin so crystal clear
    Is it silver or pray be gold
    Of a time long past of days of old
    It is more than that if truth be said
    Payment for sustenance for a family’s bread
    A daily wage earned by sweat of brow
    Lost and gone until discovered now
    So when you grasp that coin in hand
    Think not just of your treasure grand
    For what we find for what we gain
    Was for another mournful pain
    So think not of just what be found
    What we saved from earthly ground
    But think of whom and what and when
    For what for them that might have been
    It is not just treasure that for us that gleams
    You’re holding in your hands another’s dream

    © Tony Mantia

  9. Steve in Indianapolis at 7:23 pm

    And I thought that I was the only one! When I hold a piece in my hand, I can feel it’s history & how it was lost!

    I found a silver sugar bowl beside a small creek in an old park here in INDY. It didn’t take much imagination to mentally visually see that this was from a picnic at the turn of the century. No paper plates here!

    The lady probably wore a high collared blouse with a cameo at the throat an a Gibson Girl hairstyle.
    Her suitor wore canvas spats and a straw boater hat!

    The rumble of thunder. The first splatters of large rain drops. The table cloth is snatched. China dishes maybe broken. The mad dash for the buggy with the silver sugar bowl rolling unnoticed down the knoll, to be covered over time until I unearth it many decades later. Am I the only one who “goes back” when something significant is dug?

  10. Ray Zielewski at 11:58 am

    People always ask. What’s it worth? Even if a coin is over a hundred years old. I don’t know of anyone getting rich with a detector in this country. Maybe overseas. I guess you have to be a detectorist to appreciate an old coin. I think it’s neat to find something old.

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