I Have All My Bases Covered
By: Sid Witherington
The title of this article relates to one of the organizations to which I belong, the Metal Detecting Club of Memphis. I have been a member for more than ten years and have enjoyed it thoroughly. We meet each month and everyone shares their love of the hobby and their finds from the last meeting. We also have a competition each month for the best relic, coin, and jewelry item. I do pretty well in the relic category since I have been a Civil War relic hunter since 1989. I am also a history teacher at Germantown High School in Germantown, Tennessee, where I share my finds with my classes each year. To date I have recovered 10,000 Civil War bullets, more than 1,200 buttons, and 117 belt plates. This article is a brief account of what I have found in the last year.
During 2013 I not only found great relics but also came up with some good coins and really nice jewelry. In the jewelry category, which I do not usually concentrate on, I found four gold rings in the last 12 months. The first was a diamond ring that I found for a friend whose daughter had lost it in their backyard. The second was the best jewelry item I have ever found on an old home site, a 1+ carat diamond on a gold wedding band worth $6-8,000. I also found a child's rose gold ring and a man's 14K wedding band in Cape San Blas, Florida while on vacation, when the beach was eroded by the first named tropical storm of 2013.
I also dug two Mercury dimes, an 1892 Barber dime, an 1853 Seated Liberty dime, a large cent, an 1859 Canadian penny, some Indian Head cents and "V" nickels, and a couple of tokens- one for a free 5¢ cigar.
As usual, some of my best finds last year were in the relic arena. I found an eagle breastplate, half of a U.S. box plate, and the hooks off an 1839 U.S. belt plate. I also found two belt buckles of interest, one with "Pickwick Camp" on the front and the other with a bulldog and "Mississippi A&M," which is what Mississippi State University was called from 1880 to 1932. Other major Civil War artifacts included a 6 lb. cannonball from the Battle of Beaver Creek and a 3" Confederate Read artillery shell fired at the Battle of Collierville, Tennessee. In the last year I also unearthed 166 Civil War bullets and 26 buttons- including my best find.
One of the buttons that I found this year was a naval button that at first did not draw my attention until I saw the star over the anchor. I then thought "Texas," pulled out my button reference books, and eagerly checked to see if I had a Republic of Texas naval button worth more than $1,500. On closer inspection, however, I realized that was not the case. No, instead I had an ultra-rare Republic of Texas Marine button! Astounded, I called every expert I knew, and all of them said the same thing: none are ever found, so it is hard to estimate the value. One very respected specialist suggested a value of $10,000, and the most knowledgeable Texas expert said that I could name my price!
I love metal detecting because even after more than 20 years of pursuing this hobby, it can still surprise you. Thousands of artifacts are saved today because hundreds of relic hunters explored sites where archaeologists would never think of looking. Now I share these historic artifacts with young people like my students at Germantown High School and instill in them a love for the history of our country- a privilege and responsibility that each of us should treasure.