Retired fire-chief Rick Pressl first asked to do metal detection and digging in the Nature Preserve near the Ridge High School in Mendham, NJ in 2007.

The school, impressed by his goal to find evidence of Civil War history, granted him exclusive rights but suspected he was wasting his time.

The area had been a scout training camp for 45 years until 1979, and much of the surface had been turned over.

They suspected that if he found anything it would be scout related.

It's true the dig didn't start well.

In fact it went for weeks without Pressl discovering anything of interest.

If any doubts about whether he was secretly a treasure-hunter had lingered, his dedication in getting through this - and his wild excitement when he discovered a rusty old stirrup - removed them.

Pressl interrupted a board meeting at the school to gleefully show off the stirrup, as it proved that there had been an outpost there, as there was supposed to have been in 1789.

There was more to come.

The land gradually yielded up a series of 18th century pieces: bayonet tips, spikes, buckles, spoons, tongs, nails, horseshoes and so forth. This went faster after Pressl roped in a few students in at the start of the summer.

But the big find came when Pressl broadened his search onto Old Colonial Road and found the remains of a cellar.

A little brass button, the first of four, with GW stamped in the centre and "Long Live the President" around the edge appeared.

George Washington buttons

No, it wasn't from die-hard George Dubya supporters, forced to go underground, but rather in celebration of George Washington, the first President of the United States.

Pressl had found the treasure he wasn't looking for: the buttons could each sell for tens of thousands of dollars.

The cellar held several more items of more modest value, and all them are now held by the Schiff Trust, which looks after the Nature Reserve, but it hasn't yet been decided where they'll go in the long run.

Pressl gives a great example of the pride and sense of history that can come from handling collectibles - even if you have no financial stake in them. 


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