Michael A. Sawyers
FROSTBURG — During 11 years of waving a metal detector — above ground and also beneath water — Frostburg resident Steve Shaw has found 53,000 coins and 1,500 Civil War artifacts.
He has also come up with a set of gold teeth, Catholic medals and enough rings to fill several display boxes.
“I average five pieces of diamond jewelry a year,” Shaw said this past week while demonstrating his equipment and showing his booty during an interview at the Parris N. Glendening Recreation Complex.
Since retiring in 2002 as an educator and administrator with the Allegany County Board of Education, Shaw has found items ranging from a cannonball in Cresaptown to pieces of artillery ordnance on Bethany Beach, Del., to a 1904 Teddy Roosevelt watch fob to a Kelly-Springfield Tire Co. identification badge.
Shaw has boxes full of rings of all sorts. A Spanish silver cob coin he found near Oldtown was minted in Mexico City between 1700 and 1733. “It’s worth probably about $300,” he said.
Although there is value to Shaw’s finds, he only occasionally cashes in.
Finding an item is only the beginning of the fun, according to Shaw. Identifying the item and learning about it makes up the rest of the story.
“I tell people not to throw away anything they find until they know what it is. It might be valuable or significant,” he said.
Shaw could not initially determine what one item was that he found near the Civil War Battle of Folck’s Mill just east of Cumberland. Sometime later, he found out it was an artillery fuse holder.
“I have detected while walking in water up to my neck,” Shaw said, referencing ponds such as the one at New Germany State Park. That’s where he found the set of gold teeth. He carries a Pooper Scooper to retrieve items at pond bottom. He totes a small shovel when he is working terra firma.
Shaw’s first metal detector was a gift from his wife near the time of his retirement. He now has three.
“You find most items 6 to 8 inches beneath the surface,” he said. “My detector will find a quarter that is lying flat 24 inches down.”
State parks have regulations that govern metal detecting. National parks forbid the activity.
“You get caught in a national park and you will lose your equipment and get fined,” Shaw warned. “No matter where you go, get permission first.”
The Frostburg metal sleuth said he always tries to return an item to its owner if possible. He has run ads in the newspaper letting readers know he has found a ring in a certain location.
“If they can describe it, they get it,” he said. “I’ve returned nine out of the 12 class rings I’ve found.”
Shaw’s rings, bullets, coins, medals and every other item are packaged and labeled with museum-like detail. His historical knowledge has expanded because of research about his discoveries. He estimates that he devotes 300 hours yearly to metal detecting. That effort may grow beginning in August. Both of his grandchildren he cares for during the day will be school age.
Shaw has compiled a list of Hints for New Detectorists that includes:
• Go slowly, use baby steps. The detectable area of each sweep is small and if you move too fast you will miss a lot.
• You will frequently find more trash than treasure. Don’t get discouraged. The good stuff is out there.
• Recycle what you can.
• Fill in your holes and put the grass back on top.
“When in doubt, dig it out,” Shaw said.
Contact Michael A. Sawyers at firstname.lastname@example.org.