If you’re seeking the gift for the person who wants to find everything, consider a metal detector.
“I’d have to compare metal detecting to finding a 20 in your pocket when you do laundry,” said Kevin Barkley, of Dalzell. “It’s about the same thing. You never know what you’re going to find until you try to look for it.”
Barkley is a charter member of the Illinois Valley Historical Research and Recovery Association, which now has more than 100 members.
The club meets monthly and, when possible, holds a club hunt twice a month.
“It’s a whole world of opportunity,” said Barkley, who has has been doing metal detecting for close to 30 years.
Besides old metal toys, tags, tokens and buttons there have been plenty of coins, some dating back more than a century.
Barkley said he annually recovers about 2,000 coins. Typically each year about 70 of them are silver, but this year the number of silver coins has topped 100.
A good metal detector is the key piece of equipment. They can cost from $200 to $800 depending on their features and sensitivity to different kinds of metal.
“Discrimination is the key to all these machines,” Barkley said. Older models require tuning, but the latest models with sophisticated microprocessor are “turn on and go,” he said.
Barkley cautions against buying bargain metal detectors.
“A $50 metal detector will frustrate you beyond belief,” Barkley said. “You will dig everything — and probably still not come with anything good. Anybody interested in buying a detector should do some homework before they buy it.”
Finding a good place to explore is the other important element of metal treasure hunting.
Typically, Barkley said, when a property owner is asked they likely will give permission for their grounds to be hunted, although some will not.
“I do a lot of door knocking,” he said. “Most of the people are pretty open to allowing it.”
Public parks are another source of buried treasures, although local laws should be checked to make sure they can be explored.
“Starved Rock State Park is 100 percent off limits,” he cautioned.
One of Barkley’s personal favorite places to hunt is an old private picnic grove. It doesn’t matter that he goes every year. Weather conditions will change the positions of metal items underground. Additionally, upgraded equipment also may detect items missed in past years.
Some of what club members do is public service work. They may help find metal pins that establish land boundaries. Others will assist in locating a lost ring or keys dropped in a snowbank.
Barkley has found two class rings, one of which he was able to return to a graduate of St. Bede school, which is near his home.
A favorite find of Barkley’s was an old copper bell missing its clapper he found on a farm near Granville. He brought it to the farm owner, an elderly wheelchair-bound lady.
“She almost broke into tears,” Barkley recalled. “She said ‘That’s the bell my mom used to ring when it was time for us to come in to eat.’ "
The woman insisted Barkley keep the bell, but he refused. When she passed, a note was discovered on top of the bell instructing for it be given to him after she died.
“It is a very special piece in my collection,” Barkley said.
TO LEARN MORE ABOUT METAL DETECTING
The Illinois Valley Historical Research and Recovery Association has a web site loaded with information about metal detecting — including equipment recommendations. The club meets on the second Monday of each month in La Salle from January to November. The December meeting was a members only Christmas party. Visit ivhrra.com.