Tuesday, January 5, 2016

When did Communion tokens start?

The origin of the Communion token is a matter of some conjecture. There is a standard belief that the Communion token begins with John Calvin, reformer and father of the Reformed family of churches.

In a letter to the Council of Geneva, dated 1560, Calvin wrote, “…[Il] serait bon que pour éviter le danger de ceux qui profanent la cène, lesquels on ne peut tout connaître, il serait bon de faire des marreaux et que, advenant le jour de la cène, chacun allât prendre des marreaux pour ceux de sa maison qui seraient instruits et les étrangers qui viennent ayant rendu témoignage de leur foi en pourront aussi prendre et ce qui n’en auront point n’y seront pas admis.”

Translation: “It would be good, to avoid the danger of those who profane the Lord’s Supper, of which one cannot know everyone, it would be good to make tokens and when the day of the Lord’s Supper comes, each [member] would go and get tokens for those in their households that have received instruction, and the strangers who come, having given witness to their faith, would receive them as well, and that those who have no token should not be admitted to the Supper.”

The reference to the tokens (marreaux) is the earliest written record, and as such has been regarded as the beginning of the Communion token.

Certainly there have been signs (the Latin word for token is ‘signum’, from which we get our word ‘sign’) and tokens used in the church prior to 1560. An early sign was in the days of persecution of the church. A Christian meeting someone whose faith was in doubt would make a curved sign in the dirt and the other, if a Christian also, would know to make a corresponding curved sign completing the simple picture of a fish. Why a fish? Because in Greek the first letter of the words for “Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Saviour” ΙΧΘΥΣ is the word ‘fish’.

Tokens were used for special purposes in the middle ages. I have an example of a centuries old clay token of the True Cross. These tokens were made of clay which held shavings purportedly from the true cross of Jesus and distributed to crowds when the true cross was paraded for all to see. Some say that the vast number of tokens made would have whittled the cross to a very small size.

The Communion token, however, was a later addition to the exonumia of the church. Did it begin with Calvin, or did he simply mention a practice that had already begun in some congregations?

I tend to prefer the latter explanation, specifically because of a token I have that is dated 1553. I bought this token many years ago in an auction in Canada. It was simply listed as a French Communion token dated 1553. The cross radiate on one side and the chalice and dove on the other make this almost certain. To be certain, I have had the token viewed by Museums in both Britain and France that have large collections of Communion tokens, and they agreed with the original designation: a French Communion token. Neither said anything about the date.

So the question is this: Is the date 1553 accurate or is the token antedated to the founding of the issuing congregation?

There is a single clue. As a former collector of Scottish coinage and having seen corresponding French coinage, I know that a regular feature of coins of both countries from the 1550’s is the use of annulets (circles or haloes) over the royal initials and dates. This is a feature of this token as well, suggesting to me that the date is accurate.

Unfortunately, the congregation is not named and the exact origin of the token must remain uncertain, but it remains for me a piece of evidence that the use of the token preceded Calvin’s letter, at least to a limited degree.
The token measures 37.3 x 32 mm, is 3.4 mm thick, and weighs 17.6 grams.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Auction Announcement: Merchant Collection of Communion Tokens (Part 6)

Auction Announcement:

Featuring the Bob Merchant collection of Communion Tokens, Part 6.

SIMMONS GALLERY - MAILBID 74 - Closing Wednesday 14 January 2016

The sixth part of the Bob Merchant collection of communion tokens is set to be auctioned on 14 January 2016 by Simmons Gallery. The PDF catalogs (and images of all tokens) are ready for download at the Simmons Gallery web site:


For additional information:

EMAIL: info@simmonsgallery.co.uk
WEB: http://www.simmonsgallery.co.uk

Friday, September 25, 2015

Many great CTs are coming on the Market but I have a Mistress

CTs for sale at the Baltimore Expo.
As many of you know, many great CTs have been coming on the market. And, the marketplace is hot despite few bidders. Nonetheless the serious few seem to be paying attention.
   How about that Mariners' Church token (BZ4192) that sold for $255 on September 13th! I almost jumped in, but the waves were too rough and white-capped.
   A nice Inveresk CT (BZ4844) also sold for big money. This is the third one sold in the past few years according to my records. This time it went for a record $202. Very cool piece!
   Many CTs from the W.J. Noble Collection (previously of the Norweb Collection) that sold on 11 July 2000 are coming back on the block, as Steve Hayden has been selling those pieces that were acquired by Steve Tanenbaum. Over 7000 CTs were sold at the Noble auction (plus an impressive collection of coin weights).
   The auction catalog is available to those with the persistence to hunt it down. It has many nice pictures. By the way, the CTs were sold in group lots, so individual valuations are not available from this sale. But now, we are seeing sale prices. As most serious collectors know, many pieces are quite rare and only the lack of bidders hides the true rarity.

I have cut back on the Market Watches for a while. Other interests have pulled me away for now. I just like collecting too many things. I admit to some guilt about this, as if I had a mistress or something. But these things have been germinating for a while. For example, I have been quietly collecting a few ship coins here and there; but now, I have become more involved -- I jumped in the water so to speak. Other stuff, like cobs and relic coins, have also pulled me farther afield. I started another blog to explore these realms: it is called Coin Collecting Necromancer. Check it out. Nonetheless, I still love the CTs, so I hope some folks will add some comments and/or submit an article.

My Communion Token guidebook is still available. I noticed that there are six or seven ebay sellers hawking the book. So, grab one if you are reading this. I also have a listing on ebay since I have a few left. Most folks have liked the book -- you can read more about it elsewhere on this blog.

Good hunting everyone!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Simmons Auction: I have sorted the prices realized

I have sorted the prices realized (in a spreadsheet) for the recently completed Simmons Gallery communion token auction. Here are the results by price group:

Price Range      Number of Tokens
-----------      ----------------
       $170           1 (lot 802)
 $50 - $100          12
 $25 -  $50          52
 $15 -  $25          60
 $10 -  $15          88
  under $10          36
  unsold              6
-----------      ----------------
  total             255

Bob Merchant

Friday, July 3, 2015

Market Watch

Summer is here and the marketplace has heated up. Usually folks are at the beach, but maybe the sharks in North Carolina have chased them away. In any case, we had 163 CT sales in June with more auction action this time around: 111 auctions to be exact. Still, BIN sales accounted for about one-third of the activity.
   One seller in particular has contributed significantly to the uptick. Steve Hayden -- a respected Civil War and good-for token specialist -- has begun to offer the remnants of the Burzinski collection on ebay. I know Steve, and I have purchased many CTs from him -- great guy! He offered five USA CTs, all sold on June 21st. These pieces led the way in terms of price -- bidding was active. Clearly, the USA CT market is strong; however, one power-bidder walked away with four of the five pieces.
This CT is a stock design that was
used in PA and VT.
   Seventy-two CTs sold in the C range, whereas 77 pieces traded hands in the B range. Usually, the statistics are the other way around, but many fine pieces were offered in the $20 to just-under $50 range. Is this a market shift? Maybe. But nice eighteenth century tokens have been hot all along -- we just have not seen much new material lately. Also, the quality has been high this month.
   Only six CTs sold in the BB range, above $50 but below $75. This leaves eight pieces at the top: two selling below $100 in the A range, and six bringing over a C-note. All six of the AA pieces were won in auctions. As mentioned above, five of them were USA CTs.
   The top CT was way up there: A round, stock token from South Ryegate, VT (BZ6078/AB416). This pieces has also been attributed to Pittsburgh, PA (AB333). It was in lovely condition, attracting 11 bidders (the largest crowd for any CT in June). They entered 17 bids overall. Two last-second bids decided the outcome. It sold for a whopping $379.
   Next up, a CT from the 3rd Reformed PC in NYC (BZ5346/AB106) was hammered down for $293. This oval was also in great condition. Some of you might remember that a trio of these in three different metals (copper, lead, white metal) came up for auction about two years ago in a StacksBowers sale. They were hot then, and they still are! Nine bidders vied for this one, casting 13 bids. Four bidders were there at the end, but last second bids made it a two-way battle.
This is a large round CT at 38mm
with nice details and a complete
date on the reverse: 1/18/1870.
   Two CTs sold for $208 in separate auctions. First, an Allegheny, PA, oval (BZ339/AB186) attracted 19 bids from 10 bidders, with two bidders outpacing the field at the very end. This one was profiled (twice) on this blog in September 2013; it is a relatively common USA CT, but scarce to rare overall. These ovals come in two varieties: Type1 is cast; Type2 is struck. This one was a struck one (and in nice shape). Second, a Philadelphia CT (BZ5651/AB322), dated January 18, 1870, attracted 15 bids from 9 bidders. I have not seen this one offered before. It was in new condition. The piece is a large round, depicting a tabernacle (tent) with cloud overhead.
   The last of the USA CTs was a worn round piece attributed to Albany, NY (BZ168/AB71) that sold for $172. This is a stock token with script AC on the obverse and a lathe-work band on the reverse. Bason named James Maxwell as the maker -- similar CTs were used at other PCs in NY and Ohio. Eight bidders were waving their paddles on this one, casting 12 bids -- so, despite the wear, it was not ignored. It is a rare piece.
   The last CT to cross the block in the AA category was a round piece from the Hurst National Scotch Church in England (BZ3241). It is a silver piece. It took six bids to nudge it just over the cut-off with a hammer of $103.
   Of note, the two A category pieces were BIN sales of Canadian CTs that had been for sale for several months. Someone either thought about them for a while and decided to give it a go, or a new face in the crowd snatched them up: either way, they are seldom seen CTs (as least for ebay). Both sold for $75. The first one was an oval from St. Gabriel PC in Montreal (CE226A), and the second one was a crude, hand-hewed rectangle from McLennan's Mountain in Nova Scotia (NS254B1) -- I liked that second one for its primitive look.

Finally, the Simmons Gallery auction was completed in mid-June. Did anyone bid? If so, I think readers of this blog would enjoy a brief report of how it went. Add a comment and let us know!

Friday, June 5, 2015

Market Watch

As we approach summer, the CT market has been slow but steady with 145 CTs trading hands in May.
   There was only half as many auctions on ebay, as 49% of all sales were at fixed-prices. As before, half of these BIN sales went at BO prices, so do not be shy about asking for a better deal.
   Of note, for those of you who are keeping up with the price-points, I use the original asking price for the data; therefore, the prices that are tallied are somewhat higher than they actually were. Still, this shows how inexpensive most CTs are to collect.
   This might change over time, as more books are written, bringing others into the fold. But certainly, CT collecting is the domain of the true collector who seeks out interesting items for the pure enjoyment of the hunt and the insights that research provides.
   Maybe one of our readers is working on a book right this moment -- I hope so, as I would enjoy reading it. Writing a coin or token book is fun, and it is certainly a "bucket-list" item that makes collecting all that more rewarding.
   Of the 145 pieces that sold this past month, eighty-eight (or 60%) of them sold below $20 in the C range. Some nice ones were in the mix, so be on the lookout next time around. In the B range, we had 55 CTs trading somewhere between  $20 and $50 -- many of these CTs were sold at BIN prices with maybe a quarter actually going for less than $20 at BO. These figures only left two CTs in the upper ranges: one was bid to $57, and the other was sold at a BIN price of $105. The latter is big money for a CT, so we will take a closer look at that one.
Here is an example of the Kingston CT.
Note large letters with N close to R.
This is a "rare" piece not seen on this blog before.
   The top CT was a Canadian piece that has not made an appearance on this blog. It was an oval, dated 1823, from Kingston, Ontario, that was issued by the Saint Andrews PC. This piece is cataloged in Charlton as CW276B2. It was sold by a dealer who previously had it for sale on the V-Coins site at $95 (you do not see many CTs on this site, so ebay was obviously the way to go here).
   The Kingston oval was special for another reason. It appears to be the rare "large letters" variety (please correct me if I am wrong on this). The Charlton guide lists the "small letters" piece at $60 in extra-fine, but the "large letters" variety is simply listed as "rare." The guidebook goes on to say that the latter piece was produced in 1867 during the pastorate of Rev. William Maxwell Inglis (1863-1870). Consequently, it is a completely different CT from the "small" variety that was used in 1841 (per Charlton).
   Now you might be thinking, wait a minute, the piece is dated 1823. This is because the date reflects the first group of tokens produced for this church. The first tokens were rectangular with scalloped corners; the lettering is in an upright orientation. I can tell you that not many Canadian CTs had scalloped corners, and those that did, came from the same general region.
   On balance, this sale was a nice buy for the specialist; where else can you find one of these?
   The St. Andrews church is profiled here: St. Andrews Church. There is concise history provided that describes the old stone church built about 1822 and the new church that replaced it when the old church burned in April of 1888. This is one of the great aspects (in my opinion) about CTs -- namely, there are many historical resources out there to discover that can enliven the pieces.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Market Watch

April has passed, and we are into Spring. The CT marketplace was slow during this transition with only 86 CTs sold. Nearly two-thirds of these sales were from fixed-price sales (BIN); although many items went for BO -- so, do not be afraid to make offers. Last month there were 221 sales with 30 more than that in February.
   The large percentage of BIN sales provided a different mix of prices in April with 40% of pieces selling in the B range (most of them between $20 and $35). All told, 50 CTs sold below $20 in the C range, whereas 35 CTs sold in the B range. Only one piece edged into the BB range (over $50) at a BIN price of $58.
Here is an example of the brass Mt. Pleasant CT.
   Many of the BIN offerings came from cobwrightfortishe, as he is selling off a large holding. The top piece was one of his offerings: a brass rectangle with notched corners from Mt. Pleasant in Liverpool. It was in excellent condition. This piece is cataloged as BZ4298 and was described as "rare" by the seller. It was produced in the mid-nineteenth century. As mentioned above, it sold for $58 -- a low price when you compare with other token groups.
   Other runner-ups included an oval from the John Street Relief Church that was dated May 29, 1800. It was a very nice piece with casting sprue evident. I did not find it in BZ; is it a Glasgow piece? Seven bidders cast nine bids to produce a $48 hammer price.
   Third-up was a dated -- 1855 -- stock token with burning bush from Orilla, Ontario (CW302; BZ5422). This one sold for a BIN price of $47.

   As you can see from the previous post, we have a large auction coming up from Simmons Gallery, so there are collecting opportunities coming up this month. I have bid in the last several SG auctions and have been always been pleased -- it helps that I always got something! Last time, I got a heart. So, good luck everyone!