Metal detecting just got sexier . . .

. . . thanks to Agnes, Mabel and Beckie

Today I highlight a relatively common American find, which I first discussed in 2012. My friend Dick Stout, who has led a very sheltered life, had never even seen one in umpteen years of searching parks, tot-lots and abandoned homesteads. So, I travelled (metaphorically) across to the States to find the really bizarre. For the new detectorist’s elucidation and Dick’s continuing education I remind you of the 3 Merry Widows, Agnes, Mabel and Beckie.

Sometimes even the smallest objects can be the most interesting. Grant Hull, an American detectorist, has allowed me to show you the little tin canister he found. At first he figured it was some kind of ‘milk lid’ or ‘lotion tin’. When he found out what it really contained, he ruefully commented, “Well, I was kinda right on both counts!” This is what he found:

 © Thanks to Grant Hull for allowing me to publish his find. 3 Merry Widows was a popular brand of rubber (and, therefore, reusable) condoms. The use of condoms as a method of family planning was illegal in many countries during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

The ‘3 Merry Widows’ was a popular brand of American condom in the early 20th century and the tin probably dates to the 1920s or 1930s. I understand that the three ladies were the owners of the business and it was named after a long-standing slang term for condoms that implied a certain illicit pleasure. So, there you go.

As Sold on eBay containing 3 condoms and advertised as REUSABLE . . . Perhaps this was referring to the tin . . . 🙂

You may find it hard to believe, but it’s true. In 1873 any form of contraception was illegal in the United States, punishable as a misdemeanour with a six-month minimum prison sentence. The act was designed to prevent the sale of obscene literature and pornography. You can read more about this and a history of the American condom by clicking HERE.

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A Case of Mistaken Identity


Sometimes even the ‘experts’ in the archeological world can be wrong in their assessment of metal objects. Such mis-identifications makes one realise that often the person with the real edge on determining the past use of a find is the detectorist with years of experience. The moral of this tale is that we mustn’t take for granted that everyone in the archaeological world (or indeed the hobby) knows everything about everything. If in doubt, seek a second opinion.

I was reminded of this fact in a book read recently, A Personal Memoir of Aylesbury in the 1920’s by WR Mead, who had spent an idle day with friends during the summer holidays excavating in the garden for ‘likely treasure trove.’ The childhood incident had stuck in his mind but, in fairness, I think the details are of doubtful authenticity and may have been embellished in the retelling.

Mead says: “Nothing materialised during the morning dig save for some inconsequential oyster shells (there were many others in our own New Street garden). However, during the lunchtime, absence of the principal digger enabled a broken spearhead from some nearby railings to be concealed at the bottom of the excavation.

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Trench Art is commonly defined as any decorative item made by soldiers or prisoners of war, where the manufacture is directly linked to armed conflict or its consequences. The most common example found by the detectorist is a decorated shell or bullet casing from the First World War. The term is also used to describe souvenirs made by soldiers during WW2, but is much more uncommon.

The term trench art conjures up a mud-spattered soldier in a soggy trench crafting a souvenir for ab loved one at home while dodging bullets and artillery shells. I think that image is far from the truth. The origins can be quite diverse and can include mementoes of war made by convalescent soldiers, souvenirs made by prisoners of war in exchange for food, cigarettes or money and so on. The lighter, fashioned from a cartwheel coin, was supplied by Mr Miyagi.

Art objects from the trenches of WW1 were generally created during pauses in battle, which could last weeks or months. These extended periods of time offered the soldiers’ ample time to carve or etch scrap metal into souvenirs. A soldier certainly needed a hobby to occupy his mind during these seemingly endless periods of inaction. The spent shell casings were plentiful so they became his material of choice.

The cynics will even tell you that enterprising French and Belgian citizens in the 1920s made such artefacts. Today, commercial firms offer ‘trench style art’ to those tourists touring the European battlefields.

The origins of trench art lie in the so-called ‘Prisoner of War Work’, in existence from the Napoleonic wars, and probably earlier. This work is characterised by its exquisitely intricate nature – impossibly labour- intensive, conjuring up images of months and years in captivity with little or no activity but that which you made for yourself.

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