You never know what you might find while metal detecting. That's one reason Bill Johnson enjoys it so much.
Gold jewelry and silver coins are nice, and Johnson has found both, but it's often the smaller pieces that really tell the story of a place, he explained. Things like a 1906 French 10 franc piece that might have been carried home in the pocket of a WWI soldier, a silver thimble used to protect fingers while sewing, base metal suspender clasps, old gaming pieces, or the pewter buckles from a 19th century pair of shoes. Or, you might find a 30 year old note and 70 assorted pennies in a plastic bubble, urging whoever finds the makeshift time capsule to "display them in a museum."
That last item is exactly what Johnson found during a recent metal detecting trip to Mason County. He didn't know what it was at first, he explained, because water had seeped into the plastic toy container over the years, obscuring the clarity. A photo on his phone of the object as it was when he pulled it from the ground showed that the normally clear container was completely opaque and a black-brown peat moss color. Amazingly, however, though some of the coins had started to develop the green patina of old and corroded copper, the note inside the container was still intact and legible.
It read, in a neat printed hand:
Angie Ashcraft age 11
October 14, 1988
Mason County, Kentucky
Note: To who ever finds this, this is a container of pennies. Please display them in a museum if they are worth anything. I go to Mason Co. school. This is Pyles Property. This is not a joke.
Angela B. Ashcraft
Johnson said he'd like to find Ashcraft and return the coins and note to her if she'd like them back. Though the coins didn't end up in a museum as she intended, he thought she would enjoy seeing the memento of her youth.
It wouldn't be the first time he'd reunited an owner with lost goods. He related one tale of finding an old silver baby spoon while metal detecting on a farm with the property owner's permission. The spoon, it turned out, had been used to feed the property owner when he was a baby. He returned that spoon to the man who jokingly said to Johnson he wished he could find another, because he had twin grandchildren on the way and he'd like to have one for each. A few short minutes later, he said, he found the matching fork and returned it to the owner as well.
He also said it's probably a good thing that he found it when he did, even if Ashcraft meant for it to be found in the much more distant future. If the container had stayed in the ground, he explained, continued moisture seepage would have eventually destroyed the note.
It was a treat to know the provenance of this particular find, he explained. That isn't always the case. He's been able to identify some of the items in his collection as old buttons from military uniforms worn in the War of 1812 and the Civil War, and other odd medallions as watch fob ornaments. One piece of ornately cast sterling silver turned out to be the back of a horse brush. But other items are harder to identify.
"Some things, you'll never know what they are," he said.
If anyone knows Ashcraft, Johnson said, she can reach him through the Dig it All metal detecting and treasure hunting club, based out of Ashland, through their Facebook page. He added that anyone who needs assistance finding lost rings or other jewelry can also contact the club for assistance.
"We've helped a lot of folks get lost rings back," he said.
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