Sunday, January 07, 2007


What do you do with the scrap metal you find? Throw it in the hedge or down rabbit holes? You’ve taken the time and trouble to dig it up so why not collect it and sell it?

I recently sold the scrap metal I had collected over the past couple of years:
13kg Aluminium £6.50
27kg Mixed Brass £19.00
35kg Lead £10.50
TOTAL £36.00
And metal prices are increasing.
There’s two other reasons for not throwing scrap away:
You might throw something historically or intrinsically valuable away - gold torcs have been mistaken for bits of brass bedsteads and thrown in hedges.
You might end up having to dig it all up again.
A couple of detectorist friends found a scattered hoard of gold Staters and asked me to go with them and see if we could locate anymore. There was a hedge-bank a few yards from where the coins were found and I suggested we ought to search there as earth banks were one of the favourite hiding places in the past. The origin of BANKING in fact. They looked at me a bit sheepish. When I started searching the bank it was full of metallic rubbish – they had thrown all their scrap there.

Keep anything that might turn out be something worthwhile – any man-made shape but also bronze lumps. The British Museum are now analysing such lumps to see how they relate to axes etc.

Basically you can sort scrap into Aluminium, Mixed Brass and Lead

You might also want to do copper and nickel coin (an old penny is now worth over twice its face value in scrap), stainless steel, pewter and zinc although you will find much smaller quantities.

Wash it as you collect it or collect it dirty and wash the lot before you take it to the scrap yard.

I find the best way to wash the scrap is to put it in a plastic garden riddle and douse it with water. Keep removing the clean metal and washing the remaining dirty metal.

If you want to mechanise the operation put the dirty scrap in a cement mixer with a bucket of water and a couple of kilos of sharp sand and run for about 10 minutes.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Beaches and Tidal Rivers

Now I theoretically have more time for metal detecting I have discovered that there is quite a chunk of the year where there is little or no land available for detecting so I’m trying to do something about that as I’d like to be able to go out detecting all through the year. The areas I’m keen to look at are beaches and tidal rivers, which are not only available every day of the year but are technically replenished daily. What’s more, in most cases where there is public access, you won’t need permission and won’t have to share your finds with anyone. Digging is also relatively easy. I’ve got my little spots on a nearby beach where I regularly find Iron Age, Roman, Saxon and medieval coins and artefacts. Research has shown up a beach where they used to take horses and carts out to unload the ships and barges, so there is definitely old stuff out there. Over a few searches I found a Russian lead bag seal dated 1777 and a complete crotal bell as well as modern gold rings, decimal and pre-decimal coins, including some silver. Simon, who’s a bit of a demon with his Minelab Explorer metal detector, found a complete 16th century latten spoon on the same beach and it wasn’t even bent! A few weeks later, on another beach he dug up a Stephen penny in really good condition.
As I now have to drive to Strood to the club meeting I thought I would take a look at a river site on the way. There is a little riverside town, which is quite historically interesting, it had a castle, a medieval market and the wool staple for a while. I arrived at low tide and looked at the creek first – although it looked stony and firm on the bottom where a trickle of water was running, there were mountains of mud to cross to get there and I thought NO, not on my own. However at the mouth of the creek there is a bit of a beach on the river so I thought I would give that a go. I had only seen it with the tide in before but with the tide out it wasn’t very picturesque unless you like car tyres, batteries, cans, bottles and bike frames. Oh my God I thought but went for it anyway. Well it was just nondescript bits of scrap for a while and then I found a coin – a George III halfpenny. So I concentrated searching around where I found the halfpenny and found 3 x £1 coins and then a roman bronze with a clear head – Constantine AE3. I found another 2 x £1 coins and a few decimal coppers so it didn’t turn out so badly after all.
So, if you can get to a beach or tidal river foreshore, do a bit of research and give it a go. Do be careful though as beaches and river foreshores can be dangerous. Always familiarise yourself with tide times and any local hazards; for example the tide in Morecambe Bay comes in as fast as a horse at the gallop. A few years ago 21 Chinese cockle pickers lost their lives because they were unaware of that fact! Walk out slowly and carefully, if you start to sink, back-up. Carry a whistle and don’t venture out onto desolate foreshores without a suitable partner.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Metal Detecting, Genealogy and Family History

I have two great hobbies: Metal Detecting and Family History. You may think there is little connection between the two since you would have great difficulty in finding any metal objects relating to your own family with a metal detector unless you happened to know where something had been lost. Other detectorists however, are regularly finding personalised metal artefacts as I call them, which would be of considerable interest to anyone researching the families to which they relate. There is an army of family historians throughout the world eagerly searching for any scrap of information about their ancestors, especially the tangible proof of their existence that artefacts can provide. For us detectorists this can bring interesting stories about the individuals associated with our finds; a possible market for finds, some of which are being consigned to the scrap box and potentially another sector of the public looking on our hobby in a favourable light.
From the family historian’s point of view there is considerable difficulty in discovering what artefacts even existed let alone what has been lost or discarded and where. For instance I only know of one missing metal artefact from my family and that is my grandfather’s long service award gold wristwatch, inscribed to Frank Jones, which was stolen from his Birmingham home some 40 years ago. What has happened to it since is anyone’s guess. Clearly there are difficulties on both sides of the fence since generally the family historian doesn’t know what’s been found and by whom and the detectorist doesn’t know who may be interested in his or her finds. But before we try and resolve that one, let’s take a look at the sort of objects we’re finding that have family history connections, and some of the publications which can help trace their origins.
Military Medals
From at least the time of the Napoleonic Wars, military medals have been inscribed with the name of the recipient and usually other details such as rank, regiment and number. The medals that turn up are usually from the First World War but I do know of at least one Falklands War medal found. Also presented to the next of kin of men and women killed in active service during WWI were the almost five-inch diameter bronze plaques often dubbed ‘death or dead men’s pennies’ which were sometimes thrown away in disgust. These plaques have a design on one side only, which shows Britannia standing with a lion, the deceased’s name in a tablet and the legend: ‘He (or she) died for freedom and honour’. Plaques inscribed with women’s names are very rare.
Civilian Medals
Medals have been issued for all sorts of reasons and events of which sport undoubtedly accounts for a large proportion. Among perhaps the less energetic pursuits, which attracted awards in the past, was school attendance. I have inherited a bronze medal awarded to my grandmother for four years excellent attendance when she was 11 years old, inscribed Hilda Brotherton 1908 around the edge and I found a similar Sunday School attendance medal in Devon, although this unfortunately had no legible inscription. An interesting gilded silver medal I found in Kent was awarded to J M WARDEN in 1929 for services to Esperanto, the universal language invented by Dr. L. L. Zamenhof in 1898. This medal also shows maker’s details: ANDRIEU FECIT DE PUYMAURIN DI, which also may be of some interest to a family historian.
Buttons are probably the most common metal detecting find largely as a result of the former use of old clothing, called shoddy, which was used as an agricultural mulch and eventually was ploughed into the land. Buttons can provide a wealth of information in three main areas. The first is that on most of the more elaborate buttons, the maker put his name and often his address. A List of button makers can be found in Alan and Gillian Meredith, Michael J Cuddeford, Identifying Buttons, (Mount Publications, 1997) but this list is far from complete. Secondly and particularly interesting among buttons are 18th- 20th century livery buttons which are usually large (about 25mm diameter) and embossed with a family crest. These would generally have been sewn onto the uniforms of staff and servants of the family whose crest is displayed. James Fairburn, Fairburn’s Crests of the Families of Great Britain and Ireland, (London, 1986) is the standard and very comprehensive work on family crests. Finally there is the much scorned group of buttons, which nevertheless have great potential for family historians, colloquially known as fly buttons from one of their uses on men’s trousers during the 19th century up until about 40 years ago. I have to confess to being old enough to remember trousers with buttons and know such buttons were also used to fasten braces and adjust waistbands, I suspect they were also used on undergarments as well as overalls. It was only recently that my detecting friend, Brian, handed me one of these buttons and asked if I’d seen one like it before. "Hundreds!" Was my immediate answer until prompted to take a closer look when I read Oliver Gold Chilham embossed on the front of the button. Knowing Chilham to be a small Kent village not likely to support button making, I was puzzled and went off to look Oliver up on the 1881 census, which is freely available in most libraries and record offices. It turns out he was the village tailor and must have had his details stamped on the buttons he used as a form of advertising. Brian and I went through some of our buttons found in Kent and around 10% carried tailors’ inscriptions from places near and far.
I haven’t discovered any tailors, button makers or British aristocrats in my own ancestry but I have a link to Dent’s, the glove manufacturers, who also used metal buttons, for, in 1837, my great-great grand aunt Sarah Davis Bennett (nee Northwood) married Jeremiah Macklin Allcroft, one of the firm’s partners.
Bachelor brothers, John and William Dent, founded the firm known then as J & W Dent & Co. in Worcester in 1777, soon gaining additional premises in London. In 1801 Jeremiah Macklin Allcroft was apprenticed to John Dent and by 1822 had become a partner in the firm which became known as Dent, Allcroft & Co. in 1855. By this time Jeremiah and the Dent brothers had retired and John Derby Allcroft, Jeremiah’s son by his first wife, was running the show. Under John Derby’s management, annual production quadrupled to over 12 million pairs in 1884 and Dents became the premier glove producer in the world. Over a hundred years later Dents are still very much in business based in Warminster, Wiltshire; the London and Worcester factories having closed.
It’s not often that you come face to face with your own family history out in the field but about once every thirty years it seems to happen. I was taking part in a local metal detecting rally when out of the blue a stranger showed me the female half of a press-stud engraved with the words: DENT’S MAKE he had dug up, asking me if I knew what it was. Why he asked me, I don’t know, although he probably wished he hadn’t by the time I’d related the complete history of Dent’s the glove-makers. The enquirer escaped before I had chance to make an offer for the best find of the rally as far as I was concerned and I thought I would have to try and corner the guy later. As it happened I didn’t need to, for about an hour later I found a complete Dent’s glove button myself. Both the button, which quite recently went out of use, and the press-stud, still in use today, were used for fastening leather gloves at the wrist, by the way.
Maker’s Plates and Marks
There are a considerable variety of manufactured items, which bear some details of their maker. In the case of jewellery, watches, cutlery and bells the makers’ mark was stamped somewhere on the metal object itself. Other larger and less metallic items, such as saddles often had a metal plate attached, carrying the makers’ name. There are a few books around which can help trace some of these manufacturers. Most books on hallmarks, for example, Judith Banister, Ed, English Silver Hall-marks, (Foulsham, 1983) contain a list of precious metal workers and their marks. E R Matheau-Raven, The Identification and Dating of Sheffield Electroplated Wares 1843-1943, (Foulsham, 1977) lists 700 makers of Sheffield plate and there is a list of bell founders in Gordon Bailey, Detector Finds, (Greenlight Publishing, 1992). A further point concerning some items such as watches, jewellery and cutlery is they may be further personalised with their owner’s name or initials.
Since medieval times substitutes for the coin of the realm have been produced to either satisfy a shortage of small change or provide for a more specific and often local function. Today the token still exists in a fairly uninspired form mainly to feed slot machines of various types but in the past there were two major periods of trade token issuing in response to severe shortages of regal currency. The most recent, during the late eighteenth century to early nineteenth century, was started in 1787 by Thomas Williams, owner of the Parys Mines Company in Anglesey who produced the well-known druid’s head copper halfpennies and pennies on coin presses, he also owned, in Birmingham. The butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker followed suit issuing tokens spasmodically until after the Napoleonic wars which were partly the reason for shortages of coin. The standard reference works are: R Dalton & S Hamer, The Provincial Token-Coinage of the 18th Century, (1910-1918, 1977, 1990, 1996); W J Davis, The Nineteenth Century Token Coinage of Great Britain, Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, (London, 1904, 1969) and Michael Mitchiner, Jetons, Medalets and Tokens, Volume 3, British Isles, (London, 1998). Other more general but nevertheless useful books are: Peter Seaby and Monica Busssell, British Tokens and Their Values (London, 1970 & 1984); Edward Fletcher, Tokens & Tallies Through the Ages, (Greenlight Publishing, 2003) and Edward Fletcher, Tokens & Tallies 1850-1950, (Greenlight Publishing, 2004)
More than a century earlier the civil war had produced a currency crisis, which started the issuing of base metal trade tokens in mainly farthing and halfpenny denominations. The typical token displays forename, surname, place of occupation and trade of the issuer; initial letter of spouse’s forename and an image, commonly a shield, related to the trade or the family. For example a token I have is inscribed ‘Edward Crayford in: Canterbury Grocer’, one side shows a black boy smoking; the other has the initials E C B which stand for Edward Crayford and his wife who was probably named Bess. The first catalogue of 17th century tokens was compiled by William Boyne, Tokens Issued in the Seventeenth Century in England, Wales and Ireland by Corporations, Merchants, tradesmen Etc., (London, 1858) and subsequently revised by George C. Williamson (1967) and Michael Dickinson, Seventeenth Century Tokens Of The British Isles And Their Values, (London, 2004).
Heraldic Mounts and Pendants
During the 13th to 15th centuries heraldic mounts were popularly fitted to portable equipment as a means of identification and pendants were suspended from horse harnesses by way of decoration. These pieces only relate to ancestors who bore arms and there are often difficulties in interpreting them because the enamels used tend to disappear or change colour in the ground and the heraldry itself may be less than accurate. I have, for instance, a mount found on the site of Shillingheld manor in Kent, which depicts arms so similar to Shillingheld that it is highly unlikely to be from a different family, however the facing and the extent of the beasts portrayed is incorrect. Details of some of these mounts and pendants have been published in a number of places but there is no catalogue as such, however, Joseph Foster, The Dictionary of Heraldry (London 1989) is very useful for identifying what arms were awarded to whom.
Seal Matrices
The device that makes the impression, usually in molten wax, is called a seal matrix and these matrices were in use from the twelfth century until largely replaced by the rubber stamp in recent times. Illiteracy was rife until the twentieth century so, for those who could afford it, the sealing of documents was an effective way of distinguishing between signatories and consequently seal matrices were produced in considerable numbers in either ‘stock’ or personally commissioned designs. The personalised matrices will be of particular interest although attribution to a particular person is often difficult for a number of reasons. The earliest designs, usually made in lead tended to be typically inscribed in Latin: ‘Seal of Forename son/daughter of Forename’ so, unless you can find a document with the very same seal applied it is very difficult to identify the former owner. Similarly later designs, usually made in bronze, often take the form: ‘Seal of Forename of Place Name’ and even matrices bearing a surname are often misspelled or contracted. Despite the difficulties an ancestral seal matrix would make a wonderful family treasure. Although there are sections on seal matrices in several of the general metal detecting finds publications, the only comprehensive work I have come across is: P D A Harvey & Andrew McGuinness, A Guide to British Medieval Seals (London, 1996).
Contacting Family Historians
With the ever increasing popularity of both Family History and Metal Detecting hobbies it probably won’t be long before someone starts an index of personalised metal objects with the aim of bringing finds and families together. Meanwhile there are four monthly magazines: Family Tree Magazine and Practical Family History, both published by ABM Publishing, 61 Great Whyte, Ramsey, Huntingdon, PE26 1HJ (; Ancestors, published by the National Archives, PO Box 38, Richmond, TW9 4AJ ( and Family History Monthly, published by Diamond Publishing, 45 St Mary’s Road, Ealing W5 5RQ. The first two magazines mentioned would be my choice for trying to make contact with relevant families through their reader’s letters, interests or small ads pages. Alternatively or additionally, as there is a network of family history societies covering all counties, you could contact individual societies in the area where your find originated. The Federation of Family History Societies, PO Box 2425, Coventry CV5 6YX ( will be able to direct you to the appropriate society.
The DIY Route
Family history research is a vast subject and, although it is quite an easy task to carry out, it would require a complete article or two just to outline the basics. If you want to try your hand at researching people associated with your finds or your own family history for that matter, the best advice I can give you, other than to check out your local library, is to contact The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints ( Members of the LDS Church are encouraged to trace their ancestors and Family History Centres have been set up in most major towns. As a gesture of goodwill these excellent research facilities are open to the general public for free and with absolutely no expectation or pressure for you to join their congregation.

For more information please visit:

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Living With the Treasure Act

Other than having a good quality metal detector there are three factors which keep good finds coming my way: frequent searches, site research and dowsing. The more times I go out metal detecting the more I find; site research keeps me looking in productive areas and dowsing helps me put my metal detector searchcoil in the right place more often. But it’s not all beer and skittles, the snag is I am frequently being caught in the Treasure Act – seven times so far!

At present, treasure is defined, under the Act, as any object other than a coin, at least 300 years old when found, which has a metallic content, of which at least 10% by weight is gold or silver. And all coins that contain at least 10% by weight gold or silver that come from the same find consisting of at least two coins, at least 300 years old. And all coins that contain less than 10% by weight gold or silver that come from the same find consisting of at least ten coins at least 300 years old. And any associated objects, except unworked natural objects (e.g. a pot or other container), found in the same place as treasure objects. And any objects or coin hoards less than 300 years old, made substantially of gold and silver that have been deliberately hidden with the intention of recovery and for which the owner is unknown. It is further planned to extend the definition of treasure on prehistoric (i.e. up to the end of the Iron Age) finds to include all multiple artefacts found together and single artefacts deliberately containing any quantity of precious metal.

The Act applies to objects found anywhere in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, including in or on land, in buildings (whether occupied or ruined), in rivers and lakes and on beaches above mean low water, providing the object does not come from a wreck. If the object has come from a wreck it will be subject to the salvage regime under the Merchant Shipping Act 1995 and must be reported to the Receiver of Wreck via Customs and Excise.

There is little wrong with the Treasure Act itself but problems can arise when the Code of Practice isn’t followed. My major concern is the lack of confidentiality promised regarding the findspot, for it seems that a number of Coroners have given away fairly precise details of findspots to the Press. For the benefit of novices the implication is that if metal detecting thieves, usually called ‘Nighthawks’, learn the location of your site they may raid it in the hope of finding more treasure and may cause serious damage to the landowner’s crops or other property in the process. You wouldn’t blame the landowner if he then banned you from his land with his neighbours probably following suit. Painting the blackest picture, you could loose access to vast tracts of land and countless other treasures.

You are probably thinking if that is what could happen when you comply with the law you’ll keep quiet when you find treasure. Unfortunately the penalty for not reporting is far greater, for if you get caught; you may be fined up to £5000 and be imprisoned for three months. You are then branded a criminal, which could seriously ruin your life.

But things are not as bad as they may look, mostly good things come from your honesty, like access to the next metal detecting site and your next treasure find. The problems can be overcome if you know how so here are my unofficial suggestions for protecting yourself and your landowner friends when you find potential treasure:

  • The National Council for Metal Detecting will willingly advise in the process of reporting treasure and it is well worth involving them from the start when you have possible treasure to report.
  • Your only legal obligation is to report the finding of potential treasure to the Coroner within fourteen days of becoming aware that it is possibly treasure.
  • Discuss the matter with the landowner as soon as possible.
  • Do the reporting yourself. The legal responsibility for reporting rests with the finder and no one will look after your interests as well as you.
  • Bear in mind, especially if you want to keep the coin, that the first coin found of a scattered hoard may not be treasure, if it was the only coin found on that occasion and there was sufficient time to sell the coin before the finding of the second coin.
  • Report your find to the Coroner in writing within 14 days and keep a copy of the letter. In the first instance only report the findspot as the name of the parish in which the find was made. If it is not clear which Coroner needs to be informed, write to the most likely and ask for your letter to be passed on, as necessary.
  • Always take photographs or have photographs taken of all possible views of all objects, before you hand the objects over. You will at least have something to show an independent valuer and, if you want to publish, you won’t get stung with hefty copyright fees.
  • There is no time limit for handing over the find and you should be allowed a reasonable amount of time for such things as photographing, valuing, showing it to the landowner, displaying it at a metal detecting club meeting etc. Bear in mind, however, that you are responsible for the security of the find until you hand it over.
  • Finds Liason Officers (FLOs) are increasingly taking on the role of collecting and dealing with treasure finds. If there is no FLO in your area, you will probably be asked to take your find to a museum, at your own expense, to hand your find in. If you can arrange this without too much inconvenience then in the interest of good relationships it is best to comply. However, you are under no legal obligation to take your find anywhere and perfectly within your rights to politely suggest the Coroner arrange collection from you.
  • Insist on being given the Treasure Receipt, (filled out in your presence) in exchange for your find.
  • The Treasure Act Code of Practice requires that the precise find spot must be established and should be kept confidential. You can insist on the confidentiality requirement when the Treasure Receipt is completed and have the precise findspot kept separately.
  • Only enter vague details of the findspot on the Treasure Receipt such as name of Parish, four-figure map reference or a nondescript name for the site such as ‘Field A’.
  • If a museum is interested in acquiring the find, a Coroner’s Inquest will be arranged. You should be invited to attend the Inquest for which you can claim expenses and I suggest you should attend if you possibly can – you will at least know who was there and what was said. The press may be there, so be careful not to reveal findspot information if they are.
    Following an Inquest the Press will probably want to speak to you. Whether you speak to them is up to you but you can at least appeal for some confidentiality and perhaps avoid them uncovering, or making up, more than you would like revealed.
  • The final stumbling block is the valuation, which will be given via the Department for Culture Media and Sport some weeks after the Inquest. You need to know if the valuation given is indeed ‘A Fair Market Value’ so that you can decide whether to accept it. Fair market value is an attempt to arrive at the price you should expect to get if selling your find on the open market and the Treasure Valuation Committee try to arrive at the ‘hammer’ price without auctioneers deductions. I suggest you look at the advertisements in Treasure Hunting and pick out a couple of dealers specialising in coins or objects similar to yours. Ask the dealers to give you their buying-in price for your find (you’ll probably have to send photographs). I am sure they will oblige for little or no charge (I wouldn’t pay more than say £5-£10 unless there is a lot of work involved or the treasure is very valuable). You will find that they will only give you a ballpark figure without seeing the actual finds, which you don’t have. If the treasure is very rare it should be possible to arrange viewing for independent appraisal. You should be offered two opportunities to contest the valuation, one before the valuation committee meets and one after. I would accept the valuation if it falls within or above your dealers’ ballpark figures and contest it if it falls below. If you are going to contest the valuation, get in before the committee meets if you can. There is a slight possibility that the museum involved may contest the valuation and succeed in getting it reduced – if this happens, unless there is clear justification, you could appeal against it all the way to the Secretary of State, if necessary.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Metal Detectors

In the case of recovering metallic treasures there is an overwhelming array of metal detectors to choose from. If you already own a metal detector, then you have probably made a good choice and frankly any metal detector worth its name will perform the task reasonably well. For those of you who are not already in the metal detecting hobby I will make a few suggestions but the final choice of what to buy must be yours. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard the question: "Which metal detector is best?" The question should really be: "Which metal detector is best for me?" For the answer depends very much on you and your requirements. How fit are you? Do you want to search beaches, rivers, farmland, underwater?
The vast majority of metal detectors are designed for finding coins, jewellery and similar sized artefacts in the top few inches of ground on inland sites while discriminating out the undesirable contaminants: iron and aluminium foil, for that is what most participants of the metal detecting hobby want. Iron is a major contaminant on farmland and aluminium foil abounds on beaches and recreational areas. Most popular machines work on a Very Low Frequency, Transmit/Receive system, discriminate audibly and/or visually and use the motion system of ground cancelling. Ground cancelling nulls effects from minerals in the ground and the motion system requires the machine to be kept moving otherwise desirable objects are also cancelled out. The system actually works a lot better than might be imagined. To pinpoint a target there is usually a selectable non-motion all metal mode although it is easy enough to pinpoint in motion mode by passing the head over the target in a cross pattern. Machines at the lower end of the market may be non-motion and may have little or no discrimination although by nature, these types are fairly insensitive to iron but very sensitive to aluminium foil.
Within the motion detector range there are choices to be made regarding the desired amount of user control over the machines electronic operation. Manufacturer’s are clearly split between simple ‘switch on and go’ and fully programmable detectors; some manufacturer’s making only one type and some making both types. Logically the computer controlled programmable type will be better able to maximise depth and sort out the trash from the cash but you could spend a great deal of time messing about with the settings trying to achieve perfection instead of getting on with the searching. My own view is that if you are getting at all involved with dowsing then that will more than make up for any advantages of the computer control without the complexities but at the end of the day the choice between simplicity or bells and whistles is entirely yours. White’s have been the traditional UK choice for programmable types but Garrett, C-Scope and Minelab also offer programmable models.
A less popular type of hobby metal detector works on a principle known as pulse induction which is a non-motion deep seeking system. These machines are notoriously sensitive to iron and very few discriminate between ferrous and non-ferrous metals (those that do discriminate tend to reject some desirable objects.) Pulse machines are firm favourites among beachcombers and underwater treasure hunters because of their ability to reach greater depths on most targets, typically twice that of many VLF machines, and to cut through severe mineralisation such as black sand.
There are two types of very specialised machines generally available one being underwater detectors, which are sealed to keep out water and constructed to withstand the pressures encountered in deep water. The other speciality is the so-called hoard hunters, which are usually some sort of ‘two-box’ design, carried like a suitcase, rather than a forearm extension as with conventional detectors. Hoard hunters are designed to find only large objects, the size of a pint (565ml) pot upwards. They do not discriminate between ferrous and non-ferrous metals as treasure may be buried in an iron container (detectors cannot detect through metal) and they are very deep seeking capable of probing several feet into the ground.
The standard coil size fitted to the majority of detectors is eight-inch diameter, which is a compromise to enable the detector to perform reasonably well under a variety of conditions. Most manufacturers produce a range of optional coil sizes typically from 3.5" (89mm) up to 15" (380mm) diameter and these can be employed to improve performance under certain conditions. As a rule of thumb the larger the coil the deeper it will detect but they have their disadvantages too: less sensitivity to smaller targets, more difficult to use on heavily mineralised or iron contaminated ground and less accurate pinpointing. Larger coils are also heavier and more cumbersome to use although the weight can be compensated for by hip mounting the detector control box if the machine has that facility.
In addition to size variation there are two different types of coil construction: concentric and 2D or widescan. Concentric coils, usually fitted to metal detectors as standard, have an inverted cone detection pattern, which achieves maximum depth only at the centre of the coil. Widescan coils have a pudding basin shaped detection pattern and while they don’t achieve as great a depth as the same size concentric coil they do take in a larger volume of ground per sweep. If it’s fast ground coverage you are after, the widescan coil is better and if it’s depth you are after the concentric coil is better. If you have any choice in the matter, widescan is better for typical metal detector searching and concentric is better for locating dowsed targets.
The choice of machine is very much dependent on what you want to do with it. If you just want a basic machine then go for one of the lower priced ones from your own Country. They are better value for money and probably more suitable for your conditions. Typically if you buy an American machine in Britain you pay pound on the dollar and the conditions and even the artefacts which are looked for are quite different in the two Countries. Amongst the higher priced detectors, foreign technology may be superior to your Country’s and there may be less advantage in going for the home produced model. Foreign detectors made in Britain or for the British market have a large following. Laser and Whites particularly with Minelab gaining ground.
If you are serious about the metal detecting hobby then I would suggest you go for a detector in the middle to top price bracket. You can always buy second-hand to keep the cost down and detectors can keep going, or be kept going, for many years. I have a fifteen-year old Tesoro that is still in regular use. If you expect to search mainly inland then a VLF machine will be more suitable. If you want to search beaches then a pulse machine will probably be more suitable but bearing in mind the lack of discrimination on Pulse Induction machines it may be preferable to go for a VLF machine with a good reputation on beaches such as Whites or Minelab.
Anyone who spends a lot of time detecting usually has more than one metal detector. I personally have three – a Laser B1 Hi-Power as my main inland machine, a Minelab Sovereign XS2aPro, which I use mainly for the beach as well as a back-up inland and a Pulsepower Goldscan II for beaches and deepseeking work. I also have a selection of coils for the Laser – 3.5", 8" conventional, 8.5" widescan, 11" conventional, 11" widescan. I use the Laser with the 8.5" widescan coil most of the time. I fit one of the 11" coils for pasture or rolled arable and occasionally use the 3.5" for badly contaminated ground. The Pulse Induction Goldscan, which has an 11", coil I use for beaches and although the general advice is Pulse machines are not suitable inland, I use mine on some fields in conjunction with dowsing which eliminates most of the problems and capitalises on the Pulses depth capabilities. I wouldn’t suggest for one minute that my selection represents the absolute best in metal detecting technology but, in conjunction with dowsing, it does allow me to perform well over a wide variety of sites and conditions.
C-SCOPE UK VLF £130-£600
C-SCOPE UK PULSE £360-£650
FISHER USA VLF £239-£899
TESORO USA VLF £229-£695
VIKING UK VLF £75-£249
WHITE’S USA/UK VLF £185-£849