Invention of the Metal Detector

At the end of September 2021, Dave Sadler of The Archaeology and Metal Detecting Magazine explored this subject. I was intrigued. In the past I have explored this several times, the first in a rather whimsical way.

World’s First 

 I enjoy looking at old magazines. In a copy of a publication devoted to metal detecting and published over 30 years ago, the following report attracted my attention. The title of the short item was The World’s First Metal Detector? The author’s name is unknown. He (or she) told how the old, faded and partly insect-eaten illustration had come into their possession. The friend who had given it had guessed that it would ‘interest me’. Here’s the picture:

Searcher Magazine – August 1989

We learn that  the magazine in which the picture was first published appeared in London in the 1890′s and had a title something like Occupations in the Capital. Unfortunately the picture had been snipped from its context with no accompanying caption so the writer remained completely in the dark about what ‘the man at work’ was up to.

And so do we, I guess. I have scoured copies of The Illustrated London NewsThe Strand and other magazines of the period searching for a similar device, but to no avail. The guy seems to be operating some sort of detecting machine with the wire running from its ‘search head’ to a shoulder-strapped control box.

The shadow lines suggest that the operator is holding the apparatus a few inches above the road surface. Is he looking intently at a meter or a dial in that box? The writer is given to flights of fancy and says:

“I have imagined that he must have been an eccentric Victorian inventor who possessed sufficient electrical knowledge to construct a crude BFO machine. He then set out to show that the streets of London were indeed paved with gold in the shape of half-sovereigns and other delights lost in the cobblestone cracks. Do you have a better suggestion?”


Or did Vincent Van Gogh paint one of the earliest pictures showing the use of a detector?

Van Gogh produced his painting Lane With Poplars in 1885. I know that he suffered from bouts of mental illness, but he was a very influential artist with a special talent for capturing the subtleties of light and shadow.

Could this depict the use of one of the first metal detectors?  Or perhaps is it just another example of the ridiculous research expected in this blog? 


My mate, referring to the Van Gogh says, “The oddball thing to look at is the fact that the character is wearing what looks like a blue cagoule and I don’t think a blue of that colour would have been freely available in 1885.

The person may be holding the first metal detector but I am shocked by the image of the Grim Reaper who has just passed the detectorist!

Making my way back to the car – no longer out-standing

3 thoughts on “Invention of the Metal Detector

  1. Pretty cool topic John.. The first mention of a detector was, that I can remember at least, was to find a bullet in the US president, James Garfield… This was inverted by Alexander Graham Bell [although if memory serves, it did not work because of the metal bed.

    It does make one wonder if that is indeed a detector in the gentleman’s hands though



  2. The chap with the box is using the first iPhone with an attached walking stick which works the same as a navigator following the path home.


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