There will come a time, if there hasn’t already, when you find something while you are metal detecting and you have no idea what it is. Perhaps it looks old and rare, really interesting, and possibly valuable – but it’s something that you have never seen before. While it may be a find that you decide to keep in your collection, it would be nice to know what it is. So, how exactly do you go about identifying it? The following are some tips you can use to figure out just what you have dug up.


Clean and Photograph the Item

Do your best to clean the item you found, removing any dirt or rust. This will help you to see identifying marks and details. Next, photograph the item from several different angles so that you can show it to others who may be able to help with identification. Always be sure to place something next to the item for scale.

Ask These Questions

As you’re examining your find, before you start any research or inquiring of others, there are some questions to ask yourself that will help you when you are describing the item in the upcoming tips.

  • Are there markings on the item? It may be useful to use a magnifying glass to examine the item, as markings can be very small.
  • Does your item fit into a specific or obvious classification? In other words, do you have an idea what it is, but don’t know exact details? For example, you know that the item is a button, but you don’t know how old it is, where it was used, etc.
  • Does your item appear to be military issued? There are many collectors of military items, so if there is a chance the item is military-related, there are experts you can consult.
  • Does your item’s design suggest anything? Does is look like something decorative or functional?
  • Do you have any thoughts about what it might be? Maybe the item looks familiar, but you just can’t place it exactly. Sometimes just having an inkling of what it might be will help in finding the right avenues to take when researching it.

Use the Internet

Using any information you have deduced, or clues to what your item is, come up with some search terms about your item, and see if you can find anything on Google Image Search and eBay. Some examples are:  

  • 18th century brass
  • 19th century silver
  • Old decorative silver knob
  • Antique brass bookend

The point is to search for possibilities of what it might be, even if you’re not sure. Often times, you can narrow down what the item is on Google, and then go to eBay to find more specific information and possible values.

Ask the Experts

If your searches don’t result in anything definitive, it’s time to ask the experts. You can do this in person at antique stores, coin dealers, local historians, jewelers, etc.; or online by emailing or posting your photos to metal detecting clubs and forums. It’s likely that you will find some sort of answer, and by getting your photos online, you may be helping someone else identify one of their finds too.