The past in the post

There are some pleasures to an MP’s life, to offset the personal attacks that come with the job. One of them for me is the opportunity to meet Wokingham and West Berkshire people who do interesting things that they wish to share with the local community. There are wells of talent, streams of hard work and rivers of good will out there to be tapped.

When I was visiting the Post Office before Christmas to say “thank you ” to the postal staff on their big efforts to get us the Crhistmas mail, I met Jeff Nelson. In his spare time he takes a metal detector to local fields and finds our past beneath his feet. At his suggestion I popped in to the Post office this morning to see some of his finds.

He has discovered a stunning array of metal coins, tokens, buckles, parts of harnesses, thimbles and other items from clothing and work that tell us more about the era they came from. The pre decimal coinage looks so big and from another world. He has found coins many hundreds of years old, a great deal of Victorian bric a brac, bullets, shot, and some of the copper tokens that were produced to make up for a shortage of small change in the late eighteenth century. He has cleaned and researched his finds, and set them out with their story.

Clearly our ancestors did not have the same will to recycle or the same efficient dustbin service as we enjoy today. Their losses are our gains, as we peer into the past through this window opened by Jeff.

Expect him to find more, and expect him to show these finds to the local community. Wokingham histiorians and archaeologists should be ready to weave Jeff’s discoveries into their story.


  1. Frugal Dougal
    February 6, 2010

    Brilliant! Will you be posting pics of his finds?

  2. Dan H.
    February 8, 2010

    Actually, you’d be amazed at what can turn up from metal detector use. For one example, in the aftermath of World War 1, a lot of old military uniforms got recycled as “shoddy”. All the uniforms were organic fibres, since man-made non-biodegradeables hadn’t been invented and these shredded uniforms were regarded as useful organic fertiliser. Most of the buttons were cut off, but some weren’t and metal detectorists do find a low level of World War 1 military buttons all over the place from this practice.

    Roman coinage is another rich source of finds. Roman coinage is a text-book example of how to mis-manage a currency; the coins that were used were all intrinsic-value coins, so the silver denarius you had in your pocket was valuable because it was silver, not really because the Government said it was. However, progressive emperors had a recurring habit of gathering as much coinage of the previous emperor as they could find, melting it down and debasing it, then re-issuing their own coins which were supposedly as good as the previous ones, but were not actually as good. People even went to the extremes of acid-etching coins to make them look more silvery and better than they actually were.

    This meant that over time, old Roman coins stayed in circulation because they were more valuable than the later ones, and hoarding of coin was commonplace. At one point the Emperor Nero even tried to legally prop up the debased value of his coinage, but got forced to back down on this foolery.

    An interesting contrast to this rampant stupidity is the behaviour of the early English kings, who had a longstanding policy of maintaining silver content of their coins and who also tended to call in old coinage to melt it down, but always made the re-issued coins a shade heavier than the old ones. This strongly discouraged hoarding, since a new silver penny was actually more valuable than an old one, hence hoards lost value over time.

    Finally, the last great source of metal detector finds is rubbish. People have always been messy, and rubbish is everywhere; a pest to some, a valuable archaeological resource to others, and if you happen on a good early Victorian bottle dump you can actually make quite nice money for good unbroken early examples.

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