Thursday, 26 June 2014

In praise of metal detecting. 9. PR matters

Grandma's ring
photo: Pat David
I have been defending metal detecting, collecting and dealing in old coins and artifacts and independent archaeology for almost twenty years. The term "amateur" can carry negative connotations for some, but it really means someone who does something just for the love of it. A professional might do something for the love of it, too, but they also make a living by it. Neither of these terms address skill levels so you can have a professional who is far less knowledgeable than an amatuer and vice versa.

Some years ago, my next door neighbour lost her engagement ring (she thought) in the snow outside her house. It was an heirloom ring and she was very upset. I had an idea, and contacted the local metal detecting club. That very morning, a metal detectorist came out to her house and found the ring in just a few minutes. She offered him a reward, but he refused, telling her that she could make a small donation to the club, if she liked, and he gave her the details. I have also noticed that members of the club have aided the police in looking for criminal evidence in large search areas. These are not unusual activities for metal detecting clubs.

I was in the shop of my friend Robert Kokotailo (Calgary Coin Gallery) when a farmer came in with his wife. They had a few coins to sell. Most of them were Canadian silver coins that were being sold for the silver content as they were very common and not in the best condition, but they also had a few base metal coins like small change from holidays abroad and things found in the back of some drawer. Robert noticed two Alberta tradesmen tokens, the sort of thing that used to be issued by local dairies or bakers -- good for one loaf, or a pint of milk. That sort of thing. He knew that these two tokens were not listed in the current catalogue and he also knew a major collector of them. He made a quick phone call to the collector, calculated a small  profit for himself (about 20%) and offered the couple $200 for the tokens alone. These unimportant-looking tokens were the most valuable things the couple had brought with them. They were amazed.

The above deeds get you very good PR, and word of mouth is about the best advertising you can get. But there is much more to know:  some people have, as their raison d'être, web sites and blogs where they will criticize all of the things I have been defending. In all of the years I have been doing this, not one of these people have ever modified their views. It stands to reason, thus, that you can waste an awful lot of time trying to convince them otherwise. Some of them might not even publish your response unless they think that they can "one up you" in some manner. You will also notice just about the whole catalogue of logical fallacies in what they write. Don't think, for an instant, that they are just misinformed about a few things and you can set things right -- they have probably heard it all before and will have their stock answers all ready for you. For their other reader's benefit, they will also know ways to make you look uninformed, instead. They might even then attack your relatives, lift pictures from your web site to attack you with, and so on. For most people, this is such an unpleasant experience that they will stop trying to set the record straight. Remember, these hate-mongers identity is all wrapped up in what they do, and they are not looking for solutions. If that actually happened, what on earth would they do then? I'm not saying that it is always a waste of time replying to them. If you are good enough, you can slip a few things into the reply that you know that they will not pick up on, but some of their reader's might. Just be aware of the difficulty of the task and the sort of things that could then happen.

If you are being libelled, if they are taking images without permission, then you can launch legal proceedings against them if you wish. If the court finds in your favor, then whatever company hosts their site or blog, will then take it down and prevent them from just starting a new one. You usually will need a court decision, but some companies might just help you without one. Some of us hold such actions in abeyance if we think that what they are doing is actually harming them more. A method that I have used in the past on other sorts of matters is to lure someone into doing something actionable, and then nail them for it at that point. My wife used to say I was very good at "poking people with sticks". When we had our company, difficult client's phone calls were often transferred to me. After a while, some of these (especially "project managers") would change their tune as soon as my wife told them "I should let you speak to John about that". One of my employees once suggested placing a "Beware of John" sign on the front gate.

Metal detecting clubs (and individuals) can do much more to get the public behind them. I (along with many other people) have spoken at schools. Once, I took some of my collection to my daughter's class, giving them a talk about what I do and passing things around fro them to handle. For weeks afterward, kids that I didn't know would say "Good morning Mr Hooker", as they passed me on the street.

A number of teachers, collectors, and dealers contribute in different ways to the Ancient Coins for Education (ACE) organization. (one rabid anti-collecting archaeologist compared them to "drug-pushers" which must have been very funny to most people who heard that!

There are many other things that metal detectorists can do as individuals or clubs. If you have no local museum, why not start one? I don't mean start up another Guggenheim, perhaps it might take the form of a display case at a local school or community or church hall where local finds can be displayed with descriptions. You could get a bit more ambitious, but if it involves dealing with bureaucracy, then the following video should be seen first. It is an excerpt from a one man play series that starts with "Letter from Wingfield Farm" about a stockbroker turned farmer. In this episode segment, Walt Wingfield wants to start a local museum, and is hoping for some council money. It's also a great example of Canadian humor and Rod Beattie's acting is incomparable as he transforms himself into each of the characters:

Tomorrow's episode will be the last in this series.


  1. "not one of these people have ever modified their views. It stands to reason, thus, that you can waste an awful lot of time trying to convince them otherwise. Some of them might not even publish your response unless they think that they can "one up you" in some manner"
    hi john,what you say is true but you can easily be describing metal detectorists,some of them are just as bad if not worse! i recently made a comment on a blog run by a metal detector[[he did post on another blog this"kyri your welcome to comment on my blog"]] pointing out some basic facts over how another detectorists who is very vocal in this debate had done a U turn on the bill leading to the foundation of the PAS .nothing rude,just pointing out the fact that he was against any legislation saying "this bill will bring about the end of metal detecting" now he can be found singing its praises and wanting to export "the bill that smacks of eastern european politics" to the rest of the world.i have no axe to grind although i do have an opinion.i have had comments not published by both sides in this debate and its water of a ducks back to me.for me this is a hobby and with 3 children 4 cats and a dog to worry about there are far more important things on my mind.i was saddend by the earlier post about your wife john.faceless bureacrats are the worst,i have had many problems hear in the uk just trying to earn an honest pound.

  2. Hi Kyri,

    It's a shame that these things can descend into such mud-slinging, but that is more a symptom of such long-running disputes, and the subjects rarely matter at all in such things.

    You do give a good example of a detectorist modifying his views over time, research is all about such a thing. Many of my own views have changed about various things, sometimes humorously so: I once dismissed any great interest in the Gundestrup cauldron!

    I object to situations where a view is never modified, such situations, by definition, are sterile.

    Talking to a bureaucrat seems like trying to communicate with an unthinking and emotionless system which has a human-like appendage.