Another Load of Crap!

6th February 2015 — 14 Comments

Courtesy UKDFD

Alongside buttons and spindle whorls, the ubiquitous lead seal probably features amongst the commoner artefacts found by detectorists searching farmland. Did you know that some of them date from the 15th century?

An illuminating article written by Mick Cuddeford and published in a detecting magazine 25 years ago discusses lead seals and in particular those from bags of guano. There emerged a fascinating story about bird droppings from South America and how their bag seals can be so interesting for the detectorist who wasn’t in the ‘gold stater league’. Research like this into one of the more common finds proves just how much you can learn from the hobby. Here’s an extract:

From pre-historic times, the contents of farm middens had been used as a convenient source of soil enrichment, as well as ‘nightsoil’ spreading which lasted up to the 1900’s century in certain areas.

Some forms of refuse and manure had unproductive side effects on certain crops however, and from medieval times it had been realised that nitrate-rich bird droppings were a valuable source of fertiliser. It was common then for the better-off to keep dove cotes as a source of meat (if you’ve never tried pigeon pie, then you should!) and the droppings were regarded as prime material for spreading on the land.

However, it needs a lot of pigeons to make much impression on the large acreages that developed following the enclosure acts, and this led to the nitrate trade of South America. Off the coast of Peru there are islands that have been the roost of vast colonies of seabirds for centuries. This has created to a build-up of droppings, or guano, many feet thick, and towards the end of the 19th century this was mined as a commercial export for fertiliser. The Searcher Magazine

Anglo-Continental Guano Works Limited, originally Ohlendorff & Co., had been founded in 1873, and remained a German company until the First World War, when it was reconstituted under British control. It was taken over in 1937 by Fisons Ltd. and closed in 1946.

The bulla – a disc with a tunnel from side to side through which a string is passed – became a popular form of seal during the 18th century. It was found to be more versatile than the rivet-type seals hitherto used on cloth, as it could be attached to a wider range of goods, including the bags, bales and sacks in which they were distributed. The method of sealing was to pass the ends of the package’s tightened drawstring through the tunnel in the blank seal. The latter was then die-stamped to impress the design and grip the string. UKDFD

The best examples of bag seals are to be found at My friend Stuart Elton has been collecting seals – donated by detectorists – for a number of years now and the best are to be included in a book. Here are a couple of Anglo-Continental seals from his collection. Notice the trade mark of the cornucopia (horn of plenty) in the first example.


© StuE – seal found by the detectorists know as Blue Yeti


© StuE

The seal below is from James Gibb and Company of London, importers of Peruvian Guano and Nitrate of Soda, Seed Crushers, and was found by StuE near Colchester.


© StuE – Click to enlarge



In June 2012 I published a blog post that highlighted a number of metal detecting finds discovered by detectorists. Unfortunately that post was lost, but I may try and compose a new one sometime. Last week Keith Dodds of the Northern Relic Hunters forum showed me a masonic artefact [not silver or gold], but wasn’t sure what it was. Neither am I, but I do have some ideas. Have any of my readers come across anything like this before? Picture shown is about 5cm long.


Unknown masonic artefact © Keith Dodds

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14 responses to Another Load of Crap!

  1. I would have thought a tie clip. I searched through many pages of images and couldn’t find one similar.

  2. I love these little metal artifacts that revive a forgotten time in history. This one is a little crappier than most but quite interesting all the same 🙂

  3. You need to research the bat guano trade. Bats provided fertilizer that was used until chemists found nitrates that could be produced in quantity. Whole caves provided much fertilizer for agriculture for many years.

  4. Morning JW – interesting read about the bag seals, have only ever dug a few of them – might go and check the scrap lead box… Picture: If the image/artefact is only 5mm long, then the only logical conclusion is that this is a tie-clip for a Masonic Teddy Boy’s very thin bootlace tie!

  5. …an interesting article John and I learned something new from it, with regards to Guano! Never even thought about it before! The Masonic artefact is a wee beauty and I would assume it is for holding some for of cloth?

  6. Interesting article John! I have only found one Masonic artefact over the years. Originally I thought it was off of a 1920’s flappers purse. It consists of a copper alloy foliated bar attached to seven chains and seven balls. It turned to be part of the apron regalia.

  7. Is it a scarf clip John

  8. Hi John
    I,ve the exact same masonic (whatever it is) found in perthshire scotland

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