For Nick Sweet, treasure hunting is is not about finding an X-marked spot on a map. It’s about the thrill of the search for what may be buried under his feet.
“You never know what it’s going to be because you can hear different sounds on the detector but you don’t know what you’re going to pull out,” Sweet said. “I’ve found gold, silver. I found a Chinese coin in my backyard from the 1700s.”
Four years ago, Sweet took up the hobby of metal detecting, finding everything from coins to Tonka toys to spoons along the way.
Other times the finds are more along the lines of cans and foil.
“We say all holes matter because you never know what it is,” he said. He also emphasizes taking the trash also. “There are some people that will dig a hole, take a coin, find a can and throw the can right back into the ground, and the next person comes around and they pull that same can out.”
One of his most recent finds was a letterpress lead engraving for a 1945 announcement for National Book Week. Sweet did some of his own research – “Google is my friend” – and found the poster appeared in the November 1945 “Boys’ Life” magazine.
Children’s Book Week was founded in 1919 by Boy Scout Librarian Franklin K. Mathiews to promote children’s literacy and “quality” children’s books.
“In 1944-1945, Frederick Melcher, then editor of ‘Publishers Weekly,’ entrusted the responsibility for Children’s Book Week to the newly-established Association of Children’s Book Editors. As this group expanded Book Week activities, it evolved into what is now known as the Children’s Book Council (CBC),” according to the CBC history.
Although Children’s Book Week is now observed in May, in 1945 it was scheduled for the fall, Nov. 11-17.
When Sweet first saw the engraving, though, he thought it was trash.
“I thought it was like an electrical plate until I got home, and I was like, ‘There’s a lady’s face in there.’ And then I decided to clean it off,” he said. All he used was soap and water and an old toothbrush to gently clean the tile.
During a break between December rainstorms, Sweet went out with his Garrett AT Pro metal detector to see what he could find from some sidewalks in downtown.
“It was actually on the corner of Rusk and Sabine, that building 212,” he said. “That one was about four inches in the ground.”
A friend and his daughter asked Sweet what it would look like with ink on it, so he tried it and was pleasantly surprised to see how well it worked, leaving a faint green print on the paper.
“When you find something like this, it’s awesome to pull out history and figure out who touched it or who used it,” he said. “I wish I could have some special power to see where it was or see the story it would tell when I touched it. I don’t know how to explain the feeling.”
Sweet’s first metal detector was a birthday gift from his wife after she noticed he was watching shows about detecting. Now, he has six detectors and has traveled to Arkansas and Maryland to search, in addition to what he does locally in Kilgore and Longview.
His children join him on some hunts and he has joined the East Texas Treasure Hunters Association in Longview to meet with others who share his passion.
People will sometimes ask how he finds the ‘cool things,’ and his response is simple: “Because I keep walking,” acknowledging it does take patience to just keep slowly walking until he gets a signal.
With multiple places to search around Kilgore, Sweet said, the park on Lantrip Street near Mobb’s Realty is his “honey hole.”
“I pulled a general service button from WWII, a Canadian nickel from 1927, a men’s silver spinning ring that actually fits me, a silver dime, a 1930s model T radiator cap. I found a 1920s pocket watch fob in that park, shower heads… It’s just amazing at the things I’ve found and just in that little park,” he said.
A native of Baltimore, Maryland, Sweet said he found a lid to an old talcum powder container produced in the 1930s in his hometown.
“It was made in Baltimore and I found it five feet from my front porch,” he said.
When people ask about the most expensive item he has found, Sweet says, they come in categories. Some items may not be worth much on the market but are priceless to him because of the stories behind the item and how he found them. When he dug up a Buffalo nickel in Kilgore City Park, though, the YouTube video he posted to his channel (“Sweet Finds with Nick Sweet”) is shaky due to the sheer excitement of the find.
“It’s addicting,” he said.
In all of his finds, Sweet ranks the Book Week engraving pretty high because it is unlike anything else he has found.
Sweet also gets a history lesson with the signals as he conducts his online research.
Although he sells some of the things he finds, his goal with the engraving is to donate it to a museum or a collector to show.
“If they just put my name under it, ‘Found by,’ and everybody walk by and see it, that’s all I would need… It’s just going to sit and collect dust, but for someone else to see it and learn and know what they did, kind of like the Broadcast museum how they show all the old stuff there. To show some little kid that this is how they used to print stuff, and not just off a scanner or a 3D printer,” he said.