The Rookie Detectorist
It’s always a pleasure to write about the success of the ‘rookie’ detectorist, the first time guy who discovers something magnificent after a few weeks – or just days – searching. I think the last one I highlighted in my scribblings was David Booth who found four Iron Age torcs in a Stirlingshire field. This was a magnificent find and even more remarkable when we realise that the hoard was found with a so-called entry-level detector, the Garrett Ace 250!
For many detectorists wielding their high-end machines costing over a Grand it can be particularly galling – especially when they have been searching for years and have yet to find their personal Holy Grail. Nevertheless, you will no doubt want to celebrate the find and the subject of this particular inspirational (albeit sad story) of another great find that I am about to relate.
Enter our hero, computer engineer Brian Kirby of Yorkshire who purchased his first detector, a Minelab 705 on New Year’s Day in 2010. If you remember, Yorkshire and indeed much of the country was covered in snow at that time so, frustratingly, Brian was unable to get out detecting.
While testing the machine in local woodland, Brian found a silver spoon. This must have been an omen! During the next few months he did go on a couple of digs as a guest and eventually secured permission to search on 12 acres of pasture. After three or four visits he amassed a pile of Victorian and pre-decimal coppers plus a few interesting partefacts. His best find was a George II halfpenny! “Nothing to get even a novice interested,” Brian ruefully told me.
One afternoon and after only four or five weeks detecting, Brian had a couple of hours to spare. He decided to ‘have a go’ over part of the pasture that had been too wet to search on previous visits. Once again he found more pre-decimal coppers.
As many beginners do, Brian was digging at almost every beep. It was getting dark and he started to dig what he thought was another poor signal. He described what happened next: “I saw the glint of gold as soon as I turned the first spade full of soil over. The dirt just fell off when I picked it up and the object looked new – as if it had just been made. The hinge moved freely!”
Brian’s eyesight was not too good and the light was fading, so he set off for home, convinced that he had found a modern cufflink or something of the sort. However, when he arrived back and had a closer look, he realised that his find was quite special! His suspicions were confirmed after he had placed his find for identification on a couple of Internet detecting forums. He had, indeed, found ‘treasure’.
What Brian had found was a small gold seal matrix of the early post-medieval period. The British Museum said that the seal was very unusual, as ‘we don’t often get them intact’. Rod Blunt of the UKDFD said the fact that the handle was hinged AND inscribed was also unusual. The matrix, which weighs just two grammes and is just over 14mm long, would have been used for sealing letters with hot wax…of course you knew that already, didn’t you?
The intaglio device is a heart pierced by an arrow, with four droplets of blood issuing from the wound, a popular kind of design for the time and likely to be given as a love token. The engraving reads, thy vertv (virtue) merits more and the style of the lettering indicates a circa 16th century date. I have seen similar on a ring, but not on a seal matrix. Would it have been tied around the neck I wonder?
FROM THE PAS DATABASE
An unusual gold Post Medieval seal matrix. The face is oval and the design is on a heart pierced by an arrow, with four drops of blood beneath. The design in inside a beaded border. The matrix has two tubes on the reverse which hold an axis bar and form a hinge with a flat tab which terminates in a single tube. The tab is rectangular with the tube projecting at one end, and a semi-circular lug opposite containing a circular hole. One face of the tab is inscribed “thy vertu merits more” in lowercase letters in a handwritten font. There is no difference between the v and the u. The matrix clearly seems to be an amatory gift, similar to posy rings of the period, but the inscription does not appear on any of the rings in the British Museum or on the PAS database. Indeed, it has not been possible to find an object quite like this on the database or by searching the British Museum Catalogue online. The style of the lettering suggests a 17th century date, but other seal matrices with a “bleeding heart” design have been attributed to either the 17th century the early 18th century.
The seal matrix, with help from the Friends and other contributors, was declared treasure and subsequently purchased by the Leeds Museum.
Of course, the story of Brian’s ‘romantic keepsake’ found its way into the local press who fantasised about the matrix and how it came to be lost. I think they have the edge when it comes to imaginative writing. I particularly liked the theories from the fertile imagination of an unknown journalist. He mused, “Was this the precious golden love token lost by a forlorn Leed’s lass when Shakespeare was alive and kicking? Or perhaps the ‘bleeding heart’ slipped out of a lovesick English Civil War soldier’s pocket.” Alas, we shall never know.
Brian has the Last Word
After only a sort time detecting and finding wonderful things, Brian had to give up the hobby because of medical problems. He told me … “In the few months I was metal detecting I had a great time and enjoyed the company of some fine people who exhibited a great passion for the hobby whilst helping to preserve our heritage.” We wish Brian well and give thanks for sharing the story of his unique find.
This updated article was originally published in the UK Searcher magazine of February 2012