An Extremely Rare Event

By Jim Murphy

When the alarm clock rang at 5 o'clock on a November Sunday morning, it really was touch and go as to whether I staggered out of bed or turned over and went back to sleep. After 20 years in the hobby the initial enthusiasm we all have for detecting at every opportunity and in all types of weather, had recently begun to wane. I'm not for a moment suggesting that if I were to be offered a potentially productive Celtic or Roman site to detect upon, my interest would fail to be immediately rekindled. However, these days I do tend to take a more leisurely approach to the hobby. I swear old age has nothing to do with it. Being the Chairman of a successful club, together with bringing up a young family, has considerably reduced the amount of time I have available for detecting. As they say, you can't always have your cake and eat it.

I pulled back the bedroom curtains. It looked cold outside. I really did not want to go detecting, but Norman had my £10 deposit. Norman Oliver, known as "Storming Norman" to both friends and enemies alike, had gone to a great deal of trouble to arrange a coach for a trip to one of our club sites and to pull out at the last moment would have been more than my life was worth. So far as Norman was concerned, 29 members had signed up for the trip and unless either a doctor's or death certificate could be produced, 29 bodies would be on the coach when it departed. Whether I liked it or not, my mind had already been made up for me.

As I ate my breakfast my brain slowly began to come to terms with the weather forecast. It predicted fog with very icy patches to begin with, but otherwise a bright day. At least it wouldn't be raining. I was beginning to feel happier. It also reminded me that the weather like today, dry with lots of sunshine, had always been a feature whenever we had visited this particular site in the past. In fact, they were perfect conditions for a day's detecting.

Trinovantian gold stater 45-40 BC.

A knock on the door gave me a start. When I opened it, there stood Dave. He still retains the enthusiasm that I lack these days, and always arrives with a big grin on his face. He loaded my detector into the car and 20 minutes later we arrived at the departure point. It was almost eerie as small groups appeared like zombies out of the darkness to await the arrival of the coach.

Norman was there, with his clipboard, organising the troops and ensuring he had his full quota of bodies. When the coach arrived, however, everyone had to concede that on this occasion Norman had excelled himself. One look told us that, if nothing else, we would at least be travelling to and from the site in style. Initially, he had booked a 21-seater coach but somehow had managed to obtain one with 49 seats for the same amount of money. Nobody was sure how he had achieved this, but suffice to say his previous employment as a debt collector and salesman possibly had something to do with it! With detectors loaded, and a final head count, we began our journey.

I sat next to Norman and we were soon having an in depth discussion about various aspects of the hobby. Eventually we touched upon the subject of rare coins. I had to admit that despite 20 years of detecting, I had yet to find a coin that could be described as rare. By way of contrast however, Norman had recovered a rare coin and went on to describe the unique feeling associated with such a discovery. I was very impressed. It was a conversation that continued at great length and made the journey appear a lot shorter than it actually was. After a brief stopover, and a couple of wrong turns, we eventually arrived at our destination.

In the past we had normally parked in the farmyard but on this occasion the coach was unable to negotiate the sharp angle required to enter the farm gates. This was probably a blessing in disguise. I particularly didn't want to scare the life out of the landowner who, at first sight and unaware that there were only 29 of us, would probably have welcomed a full 49 seater coach with the same enthusiasm as a large group of Viking raiders! Fortunately there was a second entrance on the opposite side of the farm, which was used by heavy vehicles to load and unload produce. It was here that we finally parked the coach. It didn't take long to unload and prepare ourselves. We had a number of new members with us who had not visited the site before, and they were particularly keen to get on with the business of digging up a hoard or two.

After providing a brief description of the farm boundaries and a reminder to fill in all holes, it wasn't long before I was standing alone with just the coach driver for company. He had never experienced anything quite like metal detecting before and was convinced we should all be certified! My next duty was to visit the landowner to deliver a small festive thank you from the club. The farm house was some distance away from where we had parked, and I was seriously beginning to believe that I would be fortunate to manage even a couple of hours of detecting once everything had been dealt with. Still, I thought as I made my way along the track, at least it wasn't raining and the sun had indeed begun to shine.

It took a few minutes for the landowner to answer the door. "Hello, Jim, what have you got there - a bag of gold coins?" "Not quite" I replied. The chance would be a fine thing, I thought, as I handed over our gift and wished him a happy Christmas and prosperous New Year. "You have a few more people with you this time" he said. For a moment I was lost for words. How did he know? He then went on to explain that he had a security camera linked to the far entrance and had monitored our arrival. Once I assured him that there were 29 and not 49 bodies roaming around his land, he appeared quite relieved.

Walking away from the farmhouse, I weighed up my options. It was now 10.30 and I had to be back at the coach by 12.15 to organise the free raffle. There was little point in travelling too far, so I decided to head for the small field opposite the farmhouse. It was only 20 acres, but had produced some interesting finds in the past including the occasional hammered coin. Convinced that I was the only one this far from the coach, I fully expected to be alone on the field. I was wrong! As I entered the field, Dave (the grin), Bob, Edward, Martin and Richard had all broken the existing land speed record to lay claim to the most productive area. I estimated they had a head start of at least an hour.

As I moved across the field there appeared to be quite a few signals. A Georgian penny, a livery button and a piece of lead took care of the first three, and these seemed to set the pattern for the next hour or so. Slowly, the fragments of copper dross and lead began to far outweigh the worthwhile signals. Although it was clear that the field had experienced plenty of activity, it just did not seem to be particularly productive for me. A quick check with the others confirmed this. However, both Edward and Bob each had a hammered coin. These were both single finds from different areas of the field. Dave, Richard and Martin also had a number of interesting bits and pieces, including crotal bells, musket balls and numerous buttons. A glance at my watch made me realise that I needed to start making my way back to the coach for the free draw. If I couldn't find anything worthwhile, perhaps I might just be able to win a bottle of Scotch and drown my sorrows.

Jim Murphy and daughter Melissa with unique celtic gold stater, and "Storming Norman" Norman Oliver

The main track way was flanked by fields, all of which were in a detectable condition. As I made my way back I appeared to be making better time than I had originally anticipated, and estimated that I actually had 25 minutes to spare. I could still do a bit more detecting and be back at the coach on time. The field nearest to me looked to be the most interesting and I made a beeline for what I believed might be a productive area. Short stubble hindered my progress, but at least one or two pieces of lead had started to appear; as always, I looked upon this as a good sign. It became hard going, however, and I soon decided to make life easier by concentrating on a small freshly ploughed strip running along the side of the track way. I checked my watch and found that I had just 10 minutes remaining. By now I was just going through the motions. My mind was beginning to wander. Then came another signal, and it was a positive one. I assumed that it was probably another cartridge case; I had recovered quite a few since starting to work the strip.

I carefully dug down. I knew from past experience that no matter how many cartridge cases were on a site, there was always the possibility that amongst them could be a worthwhile find. This always appeared when you least expected it, and a trowel through the middle could damage what might possibly be the find of a lifetime. For a moment the signal disappeared. I knelt down and started to remove handfuls of soil from the hole passing each one over the coil of my Laser B 1. What should have been a simple exercise was now becoming a bit of a task. Time was running out. Suddenly there was a positive signal. I had at last found what I fully expected to be yet another cartridge case.

As I placed the handful of soil on the ground, I caught sight of gold. Surely not! I had recovered a fair amount of modern rubbish along the strip, including a couple of foil bottletops. Was this another one? Holding my breath, I slowly moved the soil to one side and pulled from it a gold disc. It couldn't be! Not with the luck I had been experiencing. But it was. I now held in my hand a beautiful Celtic gold stater!

For a moment I was stunned; I paused and for some reason looked upwards in gratitude towards a clear blue sky with the sun shining down as brightly as the coin I had discovered. Gently, I removed the remaining soil appeared on the reverse. The coin seemed to be well struck and in good condition. The obverse was blank. Or so I thought, until I began to study the coin more closely. In doing so, I noticed what appeared to be two reversed SS separated by a ridge. This was unlike any other Celtic coin I had ever seen before. Could this one be special? I had no way of knowing until I could consult my coin book, which was stored on the coach.

Norman (who else?) was detecting close by. Calling him over, I showed him the coin. "What a lucky person you are!" (or words to that effect!), was his reaction. It was now his turn to be impressed. Placing the coin safely in my pocket, we made our way along the track towards the coach. We were the last to arrive. The natives were certainly restless, and I had to immediately put the coin out of my mind and quickly organise the draw. Once Jenna had claimed another first prize for the Parker family and the draw had been completed, I at last had a quiet moment to gather my thoughts and take in everything that had happened.

Pulling the coin from my pocket I sat down and opened my coin book. The reversed SS made it relatively simple to identify. However, as I began to read the description I realised that not only had I recovered a Celtic gold stater - which, as most experienced detectorists will testify is not an easy thing to do - but in the process had also discovered an extremely rare coin. To say that I was more than pleased would surely have been a classic understatement. The feeling was incredible. It was like discovering the coin for the second time.

A methodical search of the area surrounding the find spot failed to produce any more coins. The remainder of the day was uneventful and passed by quite quickly. By the time the coach was ready to depart even the coach driver was prepared to concede we weren't as certifiable as he had first thought and there "might be something in this detecting lark after all". Three head counts later and with Norman convinced he finally had all his bodies, the coach driver was given the all clear to begin the journey home. As we sped down the motorway, I remembered initially not wanting to go on the dig. I also remembered the long conversation about never having found a particularly rare coin before, and finally the farmer's joke about the "bag of gold coins". Was this coincidence or fate? From past experience I can say that one can never be certain with a hobby such as metal detecting!

In conclusion I would like to add a special thank you to "Storming Norman" for making me pay my £10 in advance! My thanks also go to the Parker family for taking the photographs included with this article.

Details of the coin have been passed onto Philip de Jersey to be registered with the Celtic Coin Index. He has informed me that although my coin is only the fourth of its type to be recorded, it has been struck from a different die (as have all the others) and is therefore unique. My thanks go to Philip for his assistance, and for providing me with the information confirming that my find was indeed special. It has turned what initially was an extremely rare event into a unique one.