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Watch and Learn

Posted by on August 31, 2012

In my younger years, I had a few go-to answers when someone asked me, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I teetered between creative design, actor, work with animals as a veterinarian, and archeologist. I ultimately decided I really didn’t want to do anything, which is why I majored in English when I got to college. Read a poem, reflect, interpret. I can do that!

Years later I find myself doing all the things I teetered between: creative digital product development of apps and websites (creative design), professional wrestler (actor), volunteer dog walker at a local animal rescue (work with animals), and avid metal detector (archeologist). And I still maintain I haven’t quite grown up yet. As for archeologist, my metal detecting allows me to unearth items of yesteryear and, when necessary, perform digital forensics and in-depth research in the pursuit of proper identification and historical significance. This is a story about one of those journeys of continued discovery.

James and I headed back to the property that keeps on giving in Southwest NJ. This time it was only 92 degrees, humid, but at least it didn’t rain. At the end of the day, we put in a solid 7 hours of detecting and digging. Because I was pulling up so many nails and pull tabs, for the first time I focused my search in coins mode only using my Garrett Ace 350. While this setting ignores many metals, I was still getting hits and digging every 10 feet or so. And still, most was junk.

Just one week after finding an 1857 Flying Eagle penny on this same property, we were anxious to get back. There was still a lot of property to search, and our friends’ neighbor gave us carte blanche to search his property as well. Score!

We started in the front yard where I found the Flying Eagle. Much digging, much junk. After about an hour, we wandered into the neighbor’s yard. James focused near the street while I wandered over near the railroad tracks. Still, more junk. Grant is getting frustrated!

James yelled that he pulled up what might be an Indian Head penny, but wouldn’t know till after an initial cleaning. I pulled up a few pennies myself, all modern. I can tell you, after finding a Flying Eagle and some Indian Heads, every penny is a rush. And even though modern, still better than nails, twisted wire and pull tabs.

Hours passed, and we unearthed a lot of things. James found a military button, an antique makeup compact case, and some other cool things. I still had nothing to write home about.

Nearing hour 7, the sun was pounding and I was clinging to the little shaded areas I hadn’t searched yet. Still in coins mode, DING!! I get a really solid hit, ringing up as a quarter/dime. Let’s pinpoint and dig. And dig I did. The ground was very hard, compact sand, and this target was deep. Finally, my Pro Pointer picked something up. What is it? A nail!!! No!! Sigh, all that effort for a nail.

I started to re-fill the hole when I remembered to recheck the plug. DING!! Ah, she’s still there. I dug some more and my Pro Pointer started to sound again. Another nail! Grr… pulled it out of the ground and plugged the hole, patted it down all nice. Then I remembered… recheck the hole. DING!! But this time the target was pin pointed a few inches outside of my dug area.

I emptied all the refilled dirt again and then started digging sideways into the wall of the hole to get closer to the target. By now I was probably working on this hole for 15-20 minutes in the daunting sun and heat. A little more digging and my Pro Pointer finally started to signal. I was very careful digging all around the target, and then finally saw a piece of metal glaring back at me. I pulled it out with great relief, only to find myself holding a rectangular, flat piece of metal. Damn!!!

Then I flipped it over. The other side had a raised round area. I wiped some dirt away to see engraving. Woah! What is this? I didn’t want to rub too much off and scratch the surface, but this little piece was heavy and was meant for something. I poured some of my precious bottled water over it which revealed the design in full, with text – backwards text – surrounded by a decorative leaf pattern. It read:

John Mecke
Clock & Watch
& Jeweler
No 359 North 2nd St

John Mecke watch paper plate circa ~1839

John Mecke watch paper plate circa ~1839

Reversed for easier reading

Reversed for easier reading

It reminded me of an embosser I have, but on this the letters were sunken, not protruding. Engraved perhaps? And for what purpose?

The quest for answers began!

We packed up our gear along with a bucket full of metal that I still have to go through to see if anything good lurks among all the scrap junk metal. My focus was on finding out more about my unusual discovery.

An initial Google search lead me to John Mecke’s name in a Philadelphia directory from 1839 under silversmiths: Makers: 1839 Philadelphia Directory. That gave me a time period and I was pumped by the age of the piece. But more searching led me to a dead end. Luckily, there’s the forum, and I posted my find. It didn’t take long for rodgerdodger to properly ID what this item was used for:

This might give you a idea of what your find was used for. It should be right up there next to the bronze bull.
BibliOdyssey: Watch-Paper Prints

Excellent! He was dead on, and led me down the path of contacting some antique watch dealers and museums. Apparently watch papers are kind of rare, and I had an actual plate! I found the following article that gave more details on what watch papers were used for: Confessions of a Bookplate Junkie: Watch Papers

I reached out to the American Antiquarian Society, which has a national archive and large collection of antique watch papers on file. Because they are a research library, and not a museum, the asked if they could include images of the piece in their national archives. I of course agreed. I cleaned the plate with mild soap and water and took better photos.

The American Antiquity Society suggested I reach out to the Library Company of PA to see if they could provide me with more information on John Mecke. It was a great lead!

Dear Mr. Hansen:

Thank you for your query. I was able to find a bit of information about Mecke, but he is not someone for whom we had existing research.

I found a John Mecke in the 1840 census who lived in Northern Liberties, Ward 3 and who most likely is the Mecke who was chosen to represent the ward at an 1841 Whig City and County Convention according to a local newspaper report. John Mecke appeared in another article, which I have attached and which describes a robbery at his watchmaker shop in 1843.

I thought you may also be interested in the below, which links to an 1863 directory entry listing a John Mecke watchmaker, as well as other Meckes who I think are probably relatives based on the link which follows it. The second link provides access to a digital record for an advertisement we hold of George Mecke, cabinetmaker. His business was a few doors down from John Mecke’s shop address and I cannot imagine that was a coincidence.

I am sorry I could not be of more help, but hopefully have given you a few leads.



Philadelphia City Directory 1863

Philadelphia Directory for … containing the names of the inhabitants … – MacElroy – Google Books

This is the advertisement for his relative, perhaps brother, George Mecke, and a description:

George Mecke advertisement

George Mecke advertisement

Advertisement showing the four-story storefront, with decorative masonry, for “George Mecke’s Northern Cabinet Ware-Rooms and Furniture Ware Rooms” on Second Street between Noble and Green streets (i.e., 500 block). At the ground floor, a couple enters one of the two entranceways of the building. Furniture, including a side table, chaise lounge, armoire, and rocker are visible at the entrances, display window, and within the store. A woman, in a shawl, and holding a parasol approaches the chairs displayed at the second entrance. She stands across from two clerks retrieving a chair from the cellar to be loaded onto a “G. Mecke No. 355” horse-drawn cart parked in the street. The cart already contains a chest of drawers. Additional cabinetry, including chairs and a bed frame, and a worker are seen in the upper floor windows. Also shows partial views of the adjacent businesses of “Dubois & Son’s Confectionary” (357) and P.

And here are more links about them:…ewer&pid=65173…_library=GEN01

Mecke article - Public Ledger 2-2-1843

Mecke article - Public Ledger 2-2-1843

And here’s an article about John Mecke’s shop getting robbed… low quality, good luck reading! Click the image to enlarge!

A week or so after reaching out to them, I got a return call from National Watch & Clock Museum in PA, who asked if I’d mind donating the plate to the museum to be part of their jewelry store display. My first museum piece! And I hope not the last.

While this piece has some monetary value, and I can sell it – or I can keep it for myself –  I believe it’s best preserved in a museum where it can be enjoyed by many.

This has been a thrilling experience for me. I unearthed something cool; something historical. Even better, thanks to my discovery, John Mecke, a watch and clock maker from the 1800s, perhaps forgotten altogether, will now live on amongst his peers as a distinguished part of his craft’s history.

Tick tock… the clock counts down to my next search. I can’t wait!

Here’s a  modern snapshot of the area where John Mecke made his watches. I can only imagine how different it was then!

Modern Day view of John Mecke's address

Modern Day view of John Mecke's address

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