South Carolinians are lucky to live in a state so steeped in history. Thus, it’s not surprising that hunting for relics of the state’s past is a favorite hobby for several Columbians. Jerry Kirkland first became interested in 1975 through his brother. They did some metal detecting around Olympia high school, found some silver and old class rings, and with that and his natural love of history, he was hooked.
Dawn Corley not only seeks out rare, one-of-a-kind antiques, but she and her husband, Chuck, both also have a long family legacy in South Carolina that has passed priceless artifacts down to their hands. The anonymous collector who so graciously allowed us to photograph his collection has been all over the state for decades using metal detectors to unearth some incredibly rare finds.
“It’s a great hobby,” says Jerry. “Most of the time you find average flat buttons or Minié balls, but occasionally you find something exceptional. I love knowing that no one has held it for probably 200 years.”
From the Jerry Kirkland Collection
These buckles are militia belt plates that date from 1855 to 1865 and were mainly used in the Civil War. The large South Carolina buckle at the bottom is the rarest. This type was only made from 1861 to 1865, and not as many were crafted of this size. The United States had identical buckles with “U.S.” on them. Size: about 2 by 3 inches.
Left: These black glass ginger bottles of blown glass, used for shipping alcohol, were made from 1830 to 1850. The bottoms are pontil-marked, which is the scar where the punt was broken from the bottom. This indicates that they were blown freehand. Size: about 10 to 12 inches tall.
Right: This South Carolina Militia belt plate is extremely rare as it is the only one known of its kind. It was made between 1830 and 1835 of cast copper and is gold gilded. Due to the very dangerous smelting process which gives off toxic fumes, they started making them out of brass instead of copper after 1835. Size: 2 by 3 inches.
These two palmetto hat pins were worn on kepis during the Civil War as an insignia indicating that they were members of S.C. troops. The left one is woven of palmetto fronds. The one on the right is stamped brass and gold gilded. The difference in the two images of the palmettos shows the evolution of the design of the symbol, as the brass pin is older. The palmetto was used as a symbol as early as the 1700s, but the earliest use of it on buttons or buckles was 1810. Size: 2 by 3 inches.
From the Dawn Corley Collection
Wrought around 1700 using a native Lowcountry coconut and soft coin silver, this masterfully executed coconut cup is thought to have been used by Dawn’s ancestors to toast the naming of James Island. The satiny surface of the coconut is the result of many sandings with fine sandpaper, and the silver rim and string base were executed fully by hand. It is the only known of its kind made in America, as coconut cups were crafted in England as far back as the William and Mary period.
This tea pot was crafted nearly 300 years ago by Dawn’s ancestor, Alexander Petrie, of very fine silver and has been passed through her family for nine generations. Known as a “lighthouse tea pot,” the original wooden handle is wrought of pear wood that acts as a barrier to this extreme heat. The pear wood finial allows the lid to be pressed while pouring without burning one’s hand.
Crafted in Charleston, S.C. of coin silver, these 12 massive weight dessert spoons bear the monogram of Wade Hampton and his Charleston bride. The pattern matches the windows and pews in Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Columbia, where Hampton is now buried. These are the only known spoons with the provenance with this particular pattern assigned to their decoration and measure a little over 7 inches in length.
Known as “Jack’s Knife,” this 14-inch knife was carved from a piece of deer antler by Jack, who was a slave on the Laurance Corley plantation in Lexington, S.C. Laurance Corley fought in the battle of Eutaw Springs during the American Revolution and as payment was offered three slaves from the seized plantation of Governor Bull, the last Royal Governor of South Carolina during the Revolution. The knife’s blade is that of a carbon steel sword from the Revolution, which after the war were often shortened and used as corn cutting knives. Jack’s carved likeness was made in his later years and is a remarkable tribute to his skill. He still considered himself a British subject as there is a British Union Jack flag carved on the back of his high collared frock coat.
This lady’s desk, also made by Jack, was made of poplar for household use in the late 1790s. It stands about 4 1/2 feet high, 30 inches wide and 27 inches deep. The poplar wood, which is native to Lexington County, S.C., was stained with dye from tree bark. The desk rests on Hepplewhite legs often seen on pieces of this period in the Lowcountry of South Carolina’s fine homes and plantations.
From an anonymous collector
A Mexican Staff Officer’s sword, brought back from the Mexican-American War in the 1840s as a trophy. It was subsequently used by a South Carolina Confederate officer throughout the Civil War. His initials are engraved on the hilt (Capt. J.H.B.). It is also apparent where the end of the scabbard, called the drag, was stepped on by a soldier’s heel to keep the sword from rattling when silence was essential.
A rare City of Charleston free badge recently found in the Lowcountry of South Carolina. Only the eighth known to still be in existence, these badges were made until 1789 to denote the free status of their bearer just after the Revolutionary War. Families held on to them, as it meant freedom for the whole family, and passed them down through the generations, which is one reason so few are found today. There were only about 600 free families eligible for the badges during the time in which they were made, which also accounts for their rarity. Size: 1 1/2 inches by 1 1/4.
Early large copper City of Charleston slave hire badge found in the Lowcountry of South Carolina. Charleston was the only place in the world that made slave-hire (or free) badges and did so from 1800 to 1865. Slaves were hired out when their owner had no jobs of his own that needed tending to at the time. The hire fee was shared between the slave and master. Each badge had a number, Charleston and an occupation … in this case “Porter.” This one also has “Prince” stamped on the back which denotes the maker. They were only good for one year and were then thrown out. The large size of this one makes it even rarer as most were smaller and square. Size: 2 3/4 inches in diameter.
One of two palmetto breast plates used on the cross chest straps for cartridge boxes. Most were from around 1820, but the South Carolina Confederate troops wore them to battle as well. They wore the box on their hip where they could reach their Minié balls and powder, and the plate on the strap lay over their heart. Two of these plates were found in Columbia. Size: 2 3/4 inches in diameter.