The Rookie Detectorist and The Gold Seal Matrix

18th December 2016 — 15 Comments


It’s always a pleasure to write about the success of the ‘rookie’ detectorist, the first time guy who discovers something magnificent after a few weeks – or just days – searching. I think the last one I highlighted in my scribblings was David Booth who found four Iron Age torcs in a Stirlingshire field. This was a magnificent find and even more remarkable when we realise that the hoard was found with a so-called entry-level detector, the Garrett Ace 250!


© Brian Kirby

For many detectorists wielding their high-end machines costing over a Grand it can be particularly galling – especially when they have been searching for years and have yet to find their personal Holy Grail. Nevertheless, you will no doubt want to celebrate the find and the subject of this particular inspirational (albeit sad story) of another great find that I am about to relate.

Enter our hero, computer engineer Brian Kirby of Yorkshire who purchased his first detector, a Minelab 705 on New Year’s Day in 2010. If you remember, Yorkshire and indeed much of the country was covered in snow at that time so, frustratingly, Brian was unable to get out detecting.

While testing the machine in local woodland, Brian found a silver spoon. This must have been an omen! During the next few months he did go on a couple of digs as a guest and eventually secured permission to search on 12 acres of pasture. After three or four visits he amassed a pile of Victorian and pre-decimal coppers plus a few interesting partefacts. His best find was a George II halfpenny! “Nothing to get even a novice interested,” Brian ruefully told me.


One afternoon and after only four or five weeks detecting, Brian had a couple of hours to spare. He decided to ‘have a go’ over part of the pasture that had been too wet to search on previous visits. Once again he found more pre-decimal coppers.

As many beginners do, Brian was digging at almost every beep. It was getting dark and he started to dig what he thought was another poor signal. He described what happened next: “I saw the glint of gold as soon as I turned the first spade full of soil over. The dirt just fell off when I picked it up and the object looked new – as if it had just been made. The hinge moved freely!”

Brian’s eyesight was not too good and as the light was fading, so he set off for home, convinced that he had found a modern cufflink or something of the sort. However, when he arrived back and had a closer look, he realised that his find was quite special! His suspicions were confirmed after he had placed his find for identification on a couple of Internet detecting forums. He had, indeed, found ‘treasure’.


What Brian had found was a small gold seal matrix of the early post-medieval period. The British Museum said that the seal was very unusual, as ‘we don’t often get them intact’. Rod Blunt of the UKDFD said the fact that the handle was hinged AND inscribed was also unusual.  The matrix, which weighs just two grammes and is just over 14mm long, would have been used for sealing letters with hot wax…of course you knew that already, didn’t you?


Picture courtesy Brian Kirby – UKDFD 23805

1267099249C-1The intaglio device is a heart pierced by an arrow, with four droplets of blood issuing from the wound, a popular kind of design for the time. The engraving reads, thy vertv merits more and the style of the lettering indicates a circa 16th century date. I have seen similar on a ring, but not on a seal matrix. Would it have been tied around the neck I wonder?

MEDIA MUSINGS – Wakefield Coroner, David Hinchcliffe, recorded the find as Treasure and as such it is to go through the usual channels. At the time of the original article – 2011 – Leeds Museum had already expressed an interest in purchasing this rather unique find.


Picture courtesy Brian Kirby and UKDFD

Of course, the story of Brian’s ‘romantic keepsake’ found its way into the local press who fantasised about the matrix and how it came to be lost. I think they have the edge when it comes to imaginative writing. I particularly liked the theories from the fertile imagination of an unknown journalist. He mused, “Was this the precious golden love token lost by a forlorn Leed’s lass when Shakespeare was alive and kicking? Or perhaps the ‘bleeding heart’ slipped out of a lovesick English Civil War soldier’s pocket.” Alas, we shall never know.

The seal has also been recorded on the PAS database. You can see the record HERE. The record states that the seal was declared treasure and acquired by the Leeds Museum Service.

Thanks to Rod Blunt and the UKDFD for help with this blogpost, a version of which was originally published in the UK Searcher magazine. Thanks also to Brian for both the images and a great story!

Originally published in the UK Searcher magazine


Still Lucky?

During the next four or five months Brian’s luck continued and he found more ‘nice pieces’. For a comparative novice no one can deny that he did rather well.

Silver Roman, hammered coins, cartwheel pennies, Saxon pin head, a medieval key and the usual spindle whorls, thimbles and musket balls. He was rather pleased with all finds and especially the cast copper-alloy pouring spout with a zoomorphic terminal in the form of a dog’s head.

So, with all this success you must by now be wondering where the sad part of the story mentioned in the second paragraph will make its appearance. I will let Brian tell you in his own words. “I have had to give up detecting because of a frozen shoulder and arthritic knees. But I can say that in the few short months I had as a detectorist, I had a great time and enjoyed the company of some fine people who care passionately about our heritage. I was also a very lucky novice!”

Brian, you are an inspiration to all of us and we wish you well. Many thanks for sharing your story with us!


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15 responses to The Rookie Detectorist and The Gold Seal Matrix

  1. ‘His best find was a George II halfpenny! “Nothing to get even a novice interested,” Brian ruefully told me’

    Such high standards when even that coin could not elicit a more exuberant response John..LOL

    But what a unique find.. I wonder what the museum would have paid for that?

    Many thanks my friend

  2. Would the Data base show info on the seal and if it has finished the treasure process?

    • I’m trying to get an update and have contacted Brian via email – if it still works. The forum we both belonged to is now defunct, but he used to go under the name of ‘Mr. Bojangles’, or sometimes ‘Fenix’. Hope to make an update soon.

      The information you ask is in the body of my blog post – the seal is now with the Leeds Museum Service.

  3. A very different form of seal matrix and a great find. An arrow through the heart and especially with dripping blood is supposed to represent someone who is “wounded in love.” Who did this represent the owner of the seal or someone else?

  4. great read john and a lovely seal

  5. Thanks John for this great post about such a marvelous find, I must have missed it in “The Searcher”.

  6. Hi John,
    Pretty sure the finders award was £750 if my memory is correct.

  7. Nice read and a very beautiful find !

  8. Great find, £750 not very much for such a valuable piece of history. At least it was saved for future generations,well done Brian.

  9. I think thats what makes a future detectorist ,if they went out and found chuff all after a few go,s ,they would prob give it up,and sell the machine ,but if they go out and find someting ,then they pro will take the hobby up .he was just lucky to walk over it

  10. think on the open market this would be worth so much more but to those that think metal detecting is done to steal from our heritage this is a great way to reply, because like the vast majority who metal detect money gains are not the reason why we metal detect .

  11. John from Ontario (AKA Geobound) 12th August 2017 at 8:15 PM

    What a great way to start a detecting hobby.

    My first hunt was a few modern pennies and a bunch of ring pulls…….I still enjoy it as much today as the first time I went out.

    Great story.

  12. All the very best Brian, we would all hope that, at some time in the future you will be able to get back into the hobby you so clearly love. Whilst detecting, you have indeed been fortunate, we can only hope that in life your fortunes may improve.
    In the meantime, thank you.

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