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Widget Of The Week

Viking ‘Sol Invictus’ Metal Detector, 1975?

Metal detecting has always had a slightly nerdy reputation, but it’s easy to understand the appeal when (very) occasionally a lucky detectorist unearths a historic or valuable artefact or better yet, a hoard of gold coins. In reality the vast majority of amateur metal detector owners are lucky to find anything more exciting than a few ring-pulls and some loose change, but for the determined few who put in the time and effort there’s always the chance of striking it rich…

 

Nowadays it can be a very expensive business with top-end equipment selling for thousands of pounds; but back in the 1970s, when this Viking Sol Invictus model first appeared, it was an altogether more modest hobby. The 70s and 80s was one of metal detecting’s periodic golden ages, with dozens of affordably priced models coming onto the market. This was due, at least in part, to advances in electronics and rapidly falling prices thanks to the efforts of far-Eastern manufacturers. However, for once detectors from British companies, like Viking were establishing a strong presence in the market, often with high performance (though not always very pretty) designs like this one from Viking. Incidentally, the name ‘Sol Invictus’ (unconquered Sun) refers to a Roman Sun god and his likeness, along with the emperor of the day often appeared on Roman coins, and the sticky label on the front of this detector.

 

It looks deceptively simple; essentially it is a metal tube, bent at one end to form a handle, with a circular waterproof detector head, containing a pair of coils, on the other end. A plastic box houses the electronics and a battery, and this is mounted near the top of the pole. There are just two controls, one for power On/Off and Fine Tuning, the other for Course (sic) Tuning. It has a built-in loudspeaker, or if you want to avoid scaring the horses, there’s a standard jack socket for a pair of headphones. Setup takes just a few moments; after switch on the Coarse Tuning control is adjusted to compensate for ground conditions (moisture, minerals etc) by turning it to the point where the rasping tone from the speaker completely disappears. The fine tune control is then used to set it to just above the tone’s cut-off point. When the detector head passes over anything made of metal it disrupts the magnetic field between the two coils and produces a rising tone that falls off as it moves away. With practice it is possible to determine the approximate size, shape and even the depth of the metal object detected.

 

The design and construction of the hardware is relatively crude, even by the standards of the time. It looks almost hand made, the sort of thing that a hobbyist might put together in their garden shed, which may not be too far off the mark as it was almost certainly one of Viking’s earliest products. In spite of the lack of polish it is sturdily built, light, well balanced and in contrast to the rest of it, the circuit board is a professional looking item, using what was then state of the art components. 

 

I spotted this one at a large open air antiques fair in the Midlands; it was hard to miss, looking decidedly out of place underneath a trestle table groaning with lots of fancy, and expensive, glassware. It turned out to be a relic from the stallholder’s youth who, like most would-be metal detectorists, gave up on it quite early on. He clearly had no emotional attachment with it and readily accepted my counter offer of £2.00 to his initial asking price of £10. It was in a bit of a state, though, and looked like it had spent the past several decades gathering dust in his garage. The layers of grime were so thick the metal and plastic parts all looked the same dull grey colour and If I hadn’t bought it I suspect it’s final destination would have been the rubbish bin.

 

Luckily it was the sort of grime that responded well to a rub down with household detergents and a scouring sponge. The metal pole regained its shine with the application of Brasso, elbow grease and several yellow dusters. The plastic housings for the coil and electronics had done an excellent job of protecting the innards from moisture and all it needed to get it going was a few squirts of contact cleaner on the two tuning controls. It works, probably as well as the day it was made, and was able to detect a 5-pence piece at a distance of 5cm; 2cm when buried in light soil. Having comprehensively swept my back garden with metal detectors in the past I wasn’t hopeful of finding anything new but thanks to some recent weeding I found a new bare patch to explore and swiftly located a long-lost teaspoon buried at a depth of around 10cm and closer to the surface, a badly decomposed pre-decimal penny, so it’s already starting to pay its way… 

 

What Happened To It?

Metal detectors have been around for a surprisingly long time, since 1881 in fact, when Alexander Graham Bell – of telephone inventing fame -- designed a machine to locate a bullet lodged inside US President James Garfield. He had been shot in an attempted assassination but unfortunately it wasn’t found in time. Apparently Bell’s ‘Induction Balance’ apparatus was confused by the springs in the bed he was lying on and Garfield later died of an infection from the wound. The first purpose-designed portable instruments appeared in the 1930s and developments came thick and fast during and after the Second World War as they were used by the military to find and clear mines.

 

The next significant advance in the technology came in the 1950s, following the development of the transistor in 1947. This rapidly led to many new and increasingly advanced systems for locating and identifying buried metal objects, though without doubt the biggest impact of the transistor in the early days was to bring down prices and turn what was previously a highly specialised military and industrial tool into an inexpensive consumer product.

 

Viking started making metal detectors in the1970s and they’re still at it, with some smart looking and keenly priced designs, aimed at both recreational and industrial users. The story behind this Sol Invictus model is still a bit vague, at the time of writing the company had yet to respond to my enquiries regarding its official model designation, launch date and subsequent replacement but if and when I hear from them I’ll include an update.

 

Collecting vintage metal detectors has yet to take off as a hobby in its own right but there is definitely a healthy market for ex-military equipment, especially valve-based designs from WW II and subsequent conflicts. Metal detectors from the 60s onwards do not generate much, if any interest, yet they were an important part of the story of this interesting technology. Moreover, providing they work, some models, and this includes this early Viking, can still earn their keep. The lack of demand for older examples also means prices are low and its not unknown for disillusioned owners to part with relatively recent and much more advanced models at car boot sales for just a few pounds.


First Seen:                           1975?

Original Price:                     £25.00?

Value Today:                       £5.00 (0618)

Features:                             Twin-coil VLF type detector, rotary controls: On/Off & Fine Tune, Course (Coarse) Tuning, standard Jack headphone socket, 55mm speaker

Power req.                           1 x 9 volt PP3 battery

Dimensions:                         length: 860mm, search head: 165 x 20mm, main unit: 230 x 60 x 70mm

Weight:                               1kg

Made (assembled) in:          England

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest)         8



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