Learning Great Things About New Jersey Through Found Relics

Every time you take a step, you may be walking over something cool. Something interesting. Something you never knew existed. This is what I love about relic hunting. While most of what I unearth is garbage (sometimes old garbage is still garbage today!) treasure rest quietly between the junk, just waiting to be saved.

I also enjoy learning history through relic hunting. Each artifact was once someone’s personal possession and has a story to tell. Most often, I can only imagine the story, in part or in whole. But very often I am able to learn something through my discovery, and relate it to New Jersey history. Below are some examples of items that were not just saved from New Jersey soil, but also have a story to tell relating to our wonderful state.

I found a little metal “tin” in Northern New Jersey and didn’t really know what it was at first, but I knew it was interesting. Luckily, it was in great condition and I could make out all the lettering. It reads:


How about that? All kinds? They must really love potatoes! After some research, I learned that The Aspinwall Manufacturing Company, although Michigan based, held its first product demo of a potato manufacturing machine in Red Bank, NJ, in the late 1800s. As NJ was, and still is, plush with farmland, it must’ve made for an ideal place to demo. The item is actually a matchstick case that doubled as a stamp holder. A travel from North Jersey to Red Bank during the late 1800s must not have been easy, and somehow the metal box made its way north, only to be lost for over 100 years until I dug it up. While there’s some damage that prevents me from sliding out the match container, the lid still functions, and when opened, reads, “PLACE STAMPS HERE.” This is definitely one of my coolest finds.


I was out digging on a cold, winter’s day and not having much luck. I decided to scan around some hedges near the home I was searching, and got a good signal. Upon retrieving the target, I looked at it curiously, not knowing what I had. It wasn’t until I got home and cleaned it off that I was able to read the words that were imprinted on it: PURITY BODY FLAVOR. Each word was on its own ring, which together made a pattern.
Thanks to the words still being legible, a Google search led me to the Ballantine Beer company, and I learned that what I had was a token! Most tokens I’ve found are round like corns, or hexagonal. But this one was patterned after the company’s logo! Through some simple research, I learned a little bit about this company’s history and it’s journey to New Jersey. Founded in Scotland in 1791, it’s founder, Peter Ballantine emigrated to the United States and brought his beer company with him. In 1840 he set up his operation in Newark, ballantine-beer-tokenNJ. By the late 1800s, Ballantine Brewery was the 5th largest brewery in the United States.
And how’s this for a story I learned on ballantinebeer.com: “According to legend, Peter Ballantine notices the condensation rings left by beer glasses on a table, and is inspired to use the interlocking “Borromean Rings” as his brewery’s symbol, along with the iconic words: Purity, Body, Flavor.”

After surviving prohibition, buying other breweries and then merging with Pabst, Ballantine is now seeing a resurgence in the North East. Next time I’ve got the opportunity, I’m going to grab a six pack and experience this beer for myself.


My final story for this month’s article is something my good friend James found in central NJ while searching a property owned by a church in his neighborhood (will full permission of course!). It’s not uncommon for us to find old buttons, but we get especially excited when we see an eagle motif. This motif was commonly used on civilian and turn-of-the-century standard-issue military buttons, and this one this one looked a little different—the eagle was more refined that what we’re used to.
After a delicate cleaning, the full image on the button’s front shined through: a right-facing eagle bearing a shield with a “C” emblazoned on it and clutching arrows in her talons. The backmark was even more telling—“Scovill Mfg. Co.” Quick research, factoring in the “C” in the shield combined with the maker, yielded an easy identification: a Civil War cavalry officer’s coat button. This was a rarer find for these parts considering that New Jersey isn’t exactly a haven for Civil War relics. That fact only added to his excitement.

Before the church acquired the property, several generations of the same family lived there. Through research, James learned that four men with that family name served in the Civil War with New Jersey regiments. And, to make matters even more interesting, only one of the four served in the cavalry (the others in the infantry). While his research is still ongoing, all he has to do now is connect that dot to this property and he will have likely identified the button’s original owner. If he’s successful, he will then seek to locate a descendent with the hope of keeping it in the family. Such is one of the joys of this hobby—not just reclaiming history in a tangible sense, but the occasional chance to give back. I’ll keep you posted on how he makes out!


189545_5088892111_2071_nGrant Hansen is an avid relic hunter, and focuses most of his efforts in his home state of New Jersey. He and his detecting partner James run http://relic-hunters.com and work with local and national historical societies and museums to preserve lost history. Some of the best finds Grant has made is the people he’s met and befriended along the way. It’s the kindness and generosity of property owners that makes it possible for him to pursue his passion. These articles are dedicated to these special people.

SociBook del.icio.us Digg Facebook Google Yahoo Buzz StumbleUpon
This entry was posted in Enjoy New Jersey News. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.