Reawakening History with the Garrett AT Max

By Eric Reed

Sunny and 68 degrees. That was the Williamsburg, Virginia, weather forecast for the next day, Veteran’s Day, December 11, 2019. 

Looking ahead a day or two on the calendar I saw a very different bone-chilling forecast of rain and a high of 38 degrees. This wasn’t a decision that required scientific calculation…tomorrow was to be a metal detecting day!

I gathered my gear together, put the batteries and headphones on charge, and ensured I had a full supply of water bottles in the backpack. I also verified that another critical piece of gear was in the backpack — my orange hat. It’s deer and turkey season in Virginia. 

Over my detecting years I’ve unexpectedly come upon hunters a few times, but fortunately never at the business-end of their weapon, and I aim to keep it that way!

For the venue, I chose a nearby wooded permission that I have periodically visited over the last year and a half and that has been very kind to me. The site has graced me with a variety of amazing finds ranging from 16th century colonial trapezoidal buckles and buttons to 19th century civil war bullets, buttons, and epaulet scales.

The week prior I discovered another portion of the site that held bits of colonial history, so as the sun was rising over the coming Veteran’s Day morning, I made a beeline to that area. I quickly began scanning the area with my trusty Garrett AT Max, and it’s 8.5″x11″ PROformance Double-D coil. Iron square nails, bits of random brass, and the occasional 00 lead buckshot pellet filled the first hour. Disappointing finds, but it was still a perfect morning in the woods for a session of what I call dirt therapy!

WWI discoveries while metal detectingThe second hour of detecting was more fulfilling with the recovery of a fired musket ball, and the reawakening of a near perfect example of a 16th century colonial brass leather horse tack adornment! This was a larger, and fully intact version of another similarly shaped colonial leather tack adornment I found on this site a year prior. The day was looking up!

Not 15 minutes later, in an area of low weeds and brush, my AT Max coil emitted a high, crisp tone that registered a solid 82 on the Max’s VDI. That type of signal wasn’t typical for this site, so I hoped for the best, while envisioning the worst…perhaps it’d be another flattened mid-20th century soda can.

Thanks to a recent rain, the rich leaf-composted soil was loose and soft. I sunk my Piranha shovel in, its serrated edges cutting through several small roots, and lifted out the clump of earth. My Garrett Pro AT (aka, Garrett Carrot) pinpointer quickly directed me to the target. Once I gained visual contact, I could see why the signal was so clear and solid. It was a slightly bent piece of flat metal, roughly an inch and a half in diameter. 

But wait…

Finding WWI artifacts while metal detecting

Metal detectorist Eric Reed found a piece of history on Veterans Day. It turned out to be a a 1917 World War I service watch fob!

Under all the caked-on dirt, the flat piece of metal appeared to be in the shape of a shield! The shield had an empty, round hole in the center, clearly where something had resided in its original form.

This is one of the times I’m thankful I keep a couple toothpicks on-hand in the field. I quickly, but carefully, began working away on the hardened surface dirt at the bottom of the “shield.” Soon I saw a couple spots of white, shiny white, almost like a glossy paint. 

“Hmm, I wonder if it’s a piece of jewelry?” I thought to myself.

More toothpick work ensued, uncovering a slightly reddish shade…or was it just oxidation? I picked and poked with the toothpick up the side of the item, eventually uncovering a small underlying section of color…this time blue. 

Oh. My. Word! It’s red, white and blue!

The toothpick picking became a little more energetic, and the full canvas slowly unfolded. The shield clearly had a red, white, and blue, probably enamel-inlaid striped background, and as I worked a toothpick along the upper edge of the shield I uncovered the words “United We Stand, Divided We Fall” and an eagle’s head! Whatever it was, it was already pretty cool!

Being a 21st century detectorist, I pulled out my portable relic research tool (i.e. my smartphone), took a picture of the item, and posed the question to my online detecting brethren and Google. The identity of my find was made clear within minutes. This was a 1917 World War I service watch fob!

The fob originally held an encased 1917 Mercury Head dime suspended freely in the middle of its now-empty round center, commemorating the 1917 entry of the United States of America into World War I. What an incredible feeling, especially as a 30+ year military service veteran myself, to find this item on Veteran’s Day — an award to another fellow veteran for military service 102 years prior!

This is exactly what metal detecting is all about for me. Reawakening history!

About Author Eric Reed

Eric Reed is an avid metal detectorist.As a career Air Force veteran, my love for history and the thrill of the hunt fuels my passion for metal detecting. I find myself fortunate to live in the relic hotbed of historic Williamsburg, Virginia, and have been equally privileged to hunt and spend time with hundreds of talented detectorists and personalities over the years.  Some of my favorite finds, such a CS buckle tongue, a solid silver colonial fancy shoe buckle, and Confederate Script and Block “I”, “C”, and “A” buttons, have even been published by world-class organizations such as Kellyco, Garrett, and American Digger Magazine.

In my spare time, I’ve helped manage and co-host a popular detecting podcast, recovered folks’ lost jewelry, and most recently founded my company, Patriot Metal Detecting.