This Partefact had us all Stumpt

WHAT IS IT?

“At the time I was one of the administrators on an online forum so I posted a picture and awaited identification. Nothing. Not a sausage …”

© JW

About fourteen years ago whilst digging in a Buckinghamshire field as a guest of Weekend Wanderers, I found something I wasn’t able to identify. It was clearly a puzzling partefact. What could it be?

At the time I was one of the administrators on an online forum so I posted a picture and awaited identification. Nothing! Not a sausage. I showed Richard Evans of Central Searchers who placed it in full view on the counter of his chuck wagon. He took the opportunity to ask seasoned detectorists, savvy bacon butty experts and curry connoisseurs for an opinion. Again we drew a blank. I remember around 2005/6 asking on another detecting forum, but to no avail. The enigmatic piece was largely forgotten and, as far as I know, is still in Richard’s possession. Fortunately I had taken a series of pictures; they were to become in very useful.

© JW

Patience, the American Digger and a solution

And this is when the story is given a kick-start. In early 2015 The Searcher magazine formed an alliance with an overseas magazine run by Butch and Anita Holcombe, called the American Digger – nothing to do with the television programme with the same  name. The magazine was founded in 2005 and is published bi-monthly. We have a reciprocal arrangement for sharing copies of each magazine; I found Butch’s last two editions most interesting.

In a regular feature entitled Stumpt, Butch publishes pictures of puzzling artefacts (artifacts) unable to be identified by resident photographer and consultant Charles F. Harris. ‘We don’t know what they are. Charlie doesn’t know what they are. Do you know what they are?’ Readers were then invited to send in their guesses, facts and theories.

Featured in the May-June edition of 2015 there was a small picture of an item dug by Rick Qualls that had everybody scratching their heads. The ‘coils’ were described as ‘looking similar to a roll of toy gun paper caps.’ Although I recognised the partefact, I didn’t know what it was, but decided to contact our ‘Sister in the States’, supply a picture and tell them that similar unidentified objects were also found in the UK. The information was eventually published in the 2015 July-August edition of American Digger.

FEEDBACK

Partefact interlude

Please allow me to go off on a tangent for a moment. Take another look at that feedback. You will notice something quite unusual in that America seems keen to adopt a word coined by the Brits. Well, the late Jim Pattison actually (aka Old Yellowbelly), who used to write for this magazine. Cough, cough, Jim was originally a Canadian!

I have mentioned what follows on a previous occasion in one of my regular Retrospect columns, but I’ll briefly discuss it again. Jim coined the new word many years ago, but it wasn’t until 1997 he explained how it came about.

He said: ‘I felt the description ‘fragment’ was unsatisfactory … on mature reflection I have to concede I did not make a good choice, and one or two people have told me that they ‘hate’ the word. I invite readers to send me a handy word that will describe a broken artefact, and if I like it I’d be happy to use it in future with full credit. OK?’

I can only assume that the challenge went unheeded. The word Jim coined has entered the detectorist lexicon and is often used. Can we now say ‘universally’ used and understood? I can’t think of any better! It’s good to know that American Digger is to adopt and use the word in future publications.

Back on track … literally!

In July 2015 Beau Ouimette from the States posted a YouTube video in which he said: ‘I found this strange object while metal detecting … and wonder if anyone knows what it might be. It was near a railroad and may be related to trains. Any guesses would be welcome as it may just connect to, and fire up, a long dormant memory.’

Beau’s excellent video asking for help can be seen here:

Still from video . . . courtesy of Beau Ouimette

The clue turned out to be ‘railroad’, and the object was identified within half an hour! Adrian Oates saw a reference to American Digger and me in the video and remembered my question on the forum all those years ago. He left a comment: ‘This is great! I’m in the UK and for years I’ve been finding fragments of this in an area of a farm and now the great mystery is cleared up … I know John Winter … not sure if he ever found out what this was, but I think I’ll point this out to him.’ And so he did.

‘Hello John – you may or may not remember me, used to be on UKDN & detectorist.co.uk as Adrian, and bumped into you a few times at Weekend Wanderers. Like you I had a mystery object – a lead item with circular coiled pieces inset. My FLO did not know what it was and he even showed me the item you submitted to your FLO … don’t know if you ever found out what it was but you might want to take a look at (the video). This might be old news but I’m so glad to find out after all these years what it is and to have my suspicion confirmed!’

So, what is it exactly? 

The artefact is part of a (partefact) chloride accumulator cell from a lighting battery. The part plates are known as ‘Manchester Positives’ and have the active material in the form of corrugated buttons, which are held in a thick grid.

1922 illustration of plates, as seen in The Automobile Storage Battery; Its Care And Repair, by 0.A. Witte.

Adrian says: ‘I subscribe to a couple of US detectorists on YouTube and couldn’t believe it when this came up!  There’s a patch on a farm I go to where I always find fragments. I feel I can now move on with my life now that I know it’s a Manchester Positive Plate

Isn’t it great when it all falls into place? I never thought that I’d be re-opening a cold case all these years later. Thanks to the American Digger magazine, Beau Ouimette and all his followers who identified the item and, of course, Adrian Oates, for remembering and contacting me.

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  1. Well, well, well, me thinks that I have a bit of that stuff somewhere in my puzzle bucket. You know, the sort of stuff that you just can’t figure out?

    Must go and dig it out.

    Many thanks for the education John. 🙂

  2. Blimey! A Partifact like that could easily become Saxon with the ID’s you get today!
    Not saying that I wouldn’t be fooled myself mind you. I think it looks beautiful in its own way.
    Thanks John.

  3. What a wonderful tale on the eventual identification of a unique object John.

    I would never have guessed what it was. My thoughts turned to decorative.

    This is one of the best aspects of our hobby….. The research

    Micheal

  4. It’s funny how these things can turn up identified, when you’ve all but forgot you had the partifact.

    I do like that word Partifact though, I think I need to use that going forward as well. LOL….

  5. Hi John – great article, glad I could help. The internet is a crazy place at times but the flip side is that it’s great for this sort of collaborative detective work!

    All the best,

    Adrian.