Updated: Jan 27
We find a lot of cool stuff when we are out metal detecting. Some finds are easier to identify than others. Sometimes you dig an item and it's impossible to tell what it is exactly. Naturally, we all want to know what the items we dig are. I think learning more about the history behind the items I dig is one of the best parts of metal detecting.
If you have absolutely no idea what an item is and want to identify it, you should start by examining the item closely. Whether you're doing the research yourself or asking for someone else's help there is some basic information about the item you'll need to gather first. The first question you should ask yourself when examining the item is, what material is it made from. Having an idea what type of metal an object is made out of can help you to determine what the item is and it's purpose or use. When examining an item and trying to determine what it is exactly you should also consider the items size, shape, and weight. You'll want to measure and weigh the item. The location where you found the item might also give you some helpful clues. Once you have identified the item's basic characteristics you could try doing a search on the internet to see if you can learn more information. Use the item's characteristics to help you narrow your search results.
You could ask other people who metal detect for help identifying an item. Practically, every metal detecting forum online has a section for identifying finds. There are quite a few ID ME sites on Facebook as well. These sites can be a useful resource. There are often a lot of knowledgeable and friendly people on these sites who have a great deal of experience identifying metal detecting finds. There also, however, are a lot of people who seem to have little to no experience as well. I say this based off of the sheer number of nonsensical ID's I have seen people make. I have posted quite a few items on various ID Me sites and honestly I always wind up feeling a little discouraged and frustrated. Every time I post on these sites I end up with a ton of totally different answers, some that are so absurd they make me question why I even asked in the first place. That may be partly due to the fact that the items I have posted are rather difficult to ID. Nevertheless though, so many people act like they are experts when they are online. They just throw out guesses like they are facts. Sure some of them may be educated guesses, but they are still just guesses. It is my opinion that if you don't know what an item is that you should refrain from commenting with an answer all together. Your comments honestly are not doing anyone any good. That is how misinformation gets spread around. If you do not have any research to support what it is you are claiming an item to be, well then you are just guessing and if you are guessing you should state that in your response. Since we do not always know the level of expertise of the people commenting, I would simply just take the responses you receive with a grain of salt. That's not to say that you won't find the answers you are looking for when you use these sites. My favorite Identification site online is called Trash or Treasure, a group on Facebook. The admins discourage people from simply making guesses, even educated ones. They also ask that when people identify any finds on the site that they post a picture showing what the item is as well.
There are several books out there that can be extremely helpful with your search to identify the different items you find metal detecting. Good reference books will provide you with lots of information about different artifacts as well as photographic examples of each item. Trusted books are a great resource. Whenever you use books to research any topic you always want to determine if it is a credible source of information. There are many ways to determine the validity and reliability of a source. Start by identifying the source of the information. Is the author reputable? Look for information about the author or organization and determine their degree of authority on the subject. Is the author an expert in the field of study? What is their depth of research on the topic? I scrutinize the preface and intro of the book to get a clearer idea of the author's perspective and to try to determine if there may be any biases in the book. When determining the credibility of a source, you should also look to see who the publisher is and if they are widely known. Ask yourself if they stand to benefit anything from the research provided in the book? If there are multiple editions of the book that's a good sign that the source is a credible one. Multiple editions indicate that a book is well regarded enough to have been through revisions.
If a variety of sources give you the same answer to your question then it's usually pretty safe to assume that they are correct and are indeed providing you with factual information. Listed below is a list of some great reference books by reputable authors.
A Guide to the Artifacts of Colonial America by Ivor Noel Hume
American Military Belt Plates by Michael J O'Donnell and J. Duncan Campbell
American Military Headgear Insignia by J. Duncan Campbell and Michael J. O'Donnell
Battle Weapons of the American Revolution by George C. Neuman
Big Book of Pocket Knives Identification and Values by Ron Stewart and Roy Ritchie
Casemates and Cannonballs, Archeological Investigations at Fort Stanwixx National Monument by Lee Hanson and Dick Ping Hsu
Collecting American Made Toy Soldiers Identification and Value Guide by Richard O'Brien
Collector's Illustrated Encyclopedia of the American Revolution by George C. Neumann and Frank J. Kravic
Dating buttons; a chronology of button types, makers, retailers and their backmarks by Warren K Tice
Discovering Virginia's Colonial Artifacts: A Comprehensive Guide to Recovery, Identification and Preservation by Bill Dancy
Early American Bottles and Flasks by Stephen Van Rensselaer
History Written With Pick and Shovel by William Louis Calver
Insignia of Independence by Don Troiani
Record of American Uniform and Historical Buttons by Alphaeus H. Albert
Socket Bayonets of the Great Powers A Collector's Guide by Robert W. Shuey
The Big Button Book by Elizabeth Hughes
The Official Red Book Series: A Guide Book of Half Cents and Large Cents by Q. David Bowers
The Official Red Book Series: A Guide Book of Flying Eagle and Indian Head Cents by Richard Snow
The Official Red Book Series: A Guide Book of United State Tokens and Medals by Katherine Jaeger
Thimble Treasury by Myrtle Lundquist
Uniform Buttons of the United States, 1776-1865 by Warren K Tice
Whitman Encyclopedia of Colonial and Early American Coins by Q David Bowers
If you have any information you would like to share or know of a good reference book that I left off the list above, please leave a comment in the section below. I hope you have a wonderful week!