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Finding Buried Treasure at a Historic House

Remember when the TOH TV team headed north to renovate a pre-Revolutionary War home in Bedford, Massachusetts. See what valuable historical finds were unearthed from the nearly 300-year-old property

Hidden Treasures

Photo by Courtesy of Bob Phillips

As the This Old House TV team renovated the nearly 300-year-old Nathaniel Page homestead, owned by Joe and Becky Titlow, mechanical engineer and metal-detecting maven Bob Phillips took his hobby to the grounds of the Bedford, Massachusetts, project. Phillips, 50, has been treasure hunting at various sites in New England for 10 years. Whether he donates his finds to his local historical society or to homeowners, or keeps them for himself, "the true value," he says, "is in the historical context of the items." Check out some of the things he unearthed from the pre-Revolutionary War–era site of this TOH TV project.

Brooch Back

Photo by Courtesy of Bob Phillips

This silver-plated pin was most likely made in the 1800s.

Trinkets and Bells

Photo by Courtesy of Bob Phillips

The round sleigh bell on the right was probably attached to a horse's harness. While bells of this sort date back to the 16th century, the silvery metal points to a 19th-century date because older bells were made of brass. The brass bell on the left is thought to be newer and may have been a Christmas decoration.

Faucet Tap

Photo by Courtesy of Bob Phillips

This piece is probably from the mid 20th century, as all its parts are intact. If polished, it could be decoratively displayed in a garden.

Engine Part

Photo by Courtesy of Bob Phillips

This piece, from the Stover Manufacturing & Engine Company, in Freeport, Illinois, is likely a part from a stationary engine used to pump water or drive machinery. The company was in business from the early 1860s until 1942.

Ox Shoes

Photo by Courtesy of Bob Phillips

These iron shoes could be from as early as 1700. Oxen were common harness animals during that time, used for tasks such as pulling plows and moving stones and wood.

Chisel

Photo by Courtesy of Bob Phillips

This standard wood chisel was made and used in the 19th century.

Ax Head

Photo by Courtesy of Bob Phillips

Before the mid 19th century, ax heads were often made by folding a sheet of iron in half and hammering it against an anvil. A seam down the back of this ax head continues partially into the blade, an indication that it was produced this way, likely in the 1700s or earlier.

Spoon Bowl

Photo by Courtesy of Bob Phillips

Probably used for stirring tea or scooping sugar, this small pewter spoon dates to the late 1700s.

Clothes Buttons

Photo by Courtesy of Bob Phillips

Women's clothing was generally fastened with laces and ties during colonial times, so these 18th-century buttons probably came from menswear. They're made of brass and copper, and could have come from vests, waistcoats, or frocks.

Harmonica and Penknife

Photo by Courtesy of Bob Phillips

The wood and brass harmonica likely dates from the late 18th to early 19th century. The penknife, a tool for whittling, is much newer, probably from the 1940s or 1950s.

Barrel Tap

Photo by Courtesy of Bob Phillips

This 18th-century device is made of brass. It was hammered into the bottom of a wood barrel so that the liquid it contained would run free for dispensing and drinking.

Ox Knobs

Photo by Courtesy of Bob Phillips

To protect people and other animals from oxen's sharp horns, these brass rings from the 18th century were screwed onto the horns, and then the sharp tips were filed down or cut off.

Harness or Saddle Buckles

Photo by Courtesy of Bob Phillips

These are made from iron or brass. Dating these pieces is difficult because the utilitarian models didn't change significantly over time.

Musket Balls

Photo by Courtesy of Bob Phillips

While it is probable these were used for hunting, it is also possible they were fired during the Revolutionary War. Musket balls were generally homemade, created by pouring molten lead into a mold.

Shoe Buckle

Photo by Courtesy of Bob Phillips

The square shape of this brass buckle points to an early-18th-century production date. The curvature of the buckle indicates it was from a shoe.

Harness Rosettes

Photo by Courtesy of Bob Phillips

These early-19th-century decorative pieces were attached to a horse's harness and are made of iron with a brass overlay.