Son of the Soil


In the days of antiquity when we were full of vim and vigour Mrs John and I gave talks about the hobby to organisations like retired Unison workers, University of the Third Age, Women’s Institutes, schools and others. We subsequently wrote about the experience in a detecting magazine.

Bob Batten of Kings Norton in Birmingham was inspired to write after reading ‘John and Lynda’s great article’ on giving such a talk. Bob said that he identified with our wonderful experience of sharing the hobby with others.

He continued: “A change of career ten years ago as a gardener radically changed my life. I came to the sudden realisation that the past was to be found in the soil.”

On holiday in Majorca Bob found a seven hundred year old hammered coin of Peter IV just lying on the surface and, nearer to home, a Victorian toothpaste lid half hidden on the canal towpath. As a gardener, he was very aware and always looked out for objects when working the soil.


You may have thought that I’d talk about the hammered coin but I find the toothpaste lid more interesting. This is a white china container which contained cherry toothpaste. The top of the lid is brown and yellow with an image of a young Queen Victoria. The container shown was patented by John Gosnell of London. The company had its origins in the 17th century and the colourful lid is typical of other pots of the period. They also made perfume, soap, brushes, combs and other personal items.  Although this find has no known provenance it’s a fine example of an early 20th century product and what the Victorians threw away.

The practice of brushing the teeth for hygienic reasons began in the 18th century and became more popular in the 19th century. The pot, like many others was probably made by a Pratt from the Potteries. From the legend ‘PATRONIZED [sic] by the Queen, I guess that this item was also sold in America.


from L’Oréal Paris . . .

Pot lids, which are mostly very colourful, are also rich in social history and very collectable. It was Felix Edward Pratt (1813-94) who spotted the commercial possibilities of using new printing technology to decorate the lids of containers for popular products such as bear’s grease, gentleman’s relish, potted shrimps and cosmetics, with sophisticated designs.
Bear’s Grease was also a 19th-century cure for baldness, sores and cowlicks.

The bear’s grease pot lid wasn’t found by Bob, but I was intrigued – what was the grease used for? American Indians were credited with the first use of the product to stiffen and style their hair. In the 19th century, people used bear’s grease to make pomades, a waxy substance similar to hair gel used to style hair and cure for cowlicks. I didn’t know either. What the hell are cowlicks? Read more HERE

To reassure the customer about the purity and authenticity of the product, the pot lid also states ‘FROM BEARS SHOT ON THE PREMISES’. WHAT? The premises are listed as Bishopsgate in London!

GIFT of the GAB

Bob readily admits that he has ‘the gift of the gab’ and on a number of occasions was invited on local radio and also to various organisations to talk about his finds.

One Christmas his wife presented him with a cardboard box with – what Bob expected to be a garden strimmer. Instead it was his first metal detector! He’s never looked back!

The local cricket pitch groundsman was befriended and persuaded to dig holes in his own pristine greensward. Using this willing navvy, Bob found many artefacts including Edward I pennies and a Georgian pewter hunting whistle in the form of a dog.

Georgian pewter hunting whistle in the form of a dog.

The Georgian pewter whistle in the form of hunting hound is a rare find, but this example is only in ‘fair’ condition. Only one picture I’m afraid – can you see the dog shape?

One time Bob spent several hours on a heap of manure searching for a lost engagement ring . . . unfortunately he later discovered that he was looking on the wrong mound! But there were success stories.

Bob tells the tale of an old lady who dropped her house keys in the garden and eventually contacted him. It was only when he raised the detector about three feet off the ground (his poor detecting technique!) that he got a signal . . . the keys were in the cleft of a leylandii tree!

And now for the coin. I have only one side and Bob’s assurance that it is a Peter IV hammered coin. A ducat, perhaps.

Now, I’m not so sure about this, and need your help in identifying this coin. Can you help? I can’t find an equivalent on the Net.

Thanks to Bob for sharing his adventures and I apologise for not having the space to include everything!

2 thoughts on “Son of the Soil

  1. A most interesting cross on that coin.. I have seen short and long crosses… but the arms are of even length in those.. The one you display looks like a real cross… no help from me I am afraid, John..

    There is a lady who goes mudlarking on the banks of the Thames.. she has a website devoted to her activities.. I check in as time permits.. some of the finds she makes are nothing short of amazing.. and the toothpaste container made me think of her.. I believe she found one similar..

    Ah yes!! We were young once.. and indestructible…. less so now I am afraid.. LOL But I would not change much in my life.. even the injuries…, All that made me who I am.. and I like me the way I am


    Liked by 1 person

Please Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.