Thursday, August 21, 2014

Counterstamped Communion Tokens: maybe, maybe not.

Here are a couple of pieces to ponder.
Virginia Halfpenny N20-X. Image from StacksBowers.
     The first one is a 1773 Virginia halfpenny. The piece is deeply counterstamped R.P.S. in bold letters across the obverse. A recent Colonial Newsletter (CNL) article by Roger Moore proposed that this countermark stands for the Reformed Presbyterian Synod of Virginia. It is a rare piece, but others might be out there. Of note, Bason does not list any CTs with this letter combination, but of course, there are many pieces marked by the initials RP and RPC (with and without periods).
     The notion that coins or tokens were used as communion tokens is not so far-fetched. The round Port Glasgow tokens (BZ5774 / KL(40)244) appear to be stamped over a (yet-unidentified) token. There are probably others too -- let me know if you know of any. Certainly, the use of a countermark was practical. I am surprised that it did not occur more often. Or, maybe it did, and we just do not know about it. However, to my knowledge there is no documentary evidence to support the notion that coins and tokens were counterstamped by the Presbyterian Church.
Massachusetts Cent.
Image from StacksBowers.
     On a more tangential note, the Albany Church Pennies (1790) were counterstamped over worn coppers in at least a few (if not all) cases (e.g., 1771 halfpenny). These pieces were not communion tokens, but were traded for "good" money prior to the church services, so that these "pennies" could be placed in the collection plate. They were reused over and over again in this way to insure that "good" money was collected by the church. Keep in mind that this was the First Presbyterian Church in Albany. At the time, over half of all coppers circulating in the USA were either counterfeit English pieces or under-weight tokens of dubious quality. As many of you know, the ACPs are known in two varieties and are quite rare (all told, probably about a dozen known from a production of 1000 pieces -- a 1.2% survival rate).
     Here is another piece that could be a communion token. This time a Massachusetts Cent provided the host coin. The deeply impressed countermark -- PC -- could stand for Presbyterian Church. Again, we have no documentation. Bason only lists two CTs with these letters -- only one of them signifying Presbyterian Church (the other CT is from Peters Creek, PA).
     Still, we know that early USA CTs were quite primitive, as most everyone was busy carving out a life in the frontier. It would not be a surprise to learn that counterstamped coins and tokens were used as communion tokens.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Market Watch for July

This market watch reviews ebay sales for July. It was a relatively slow month with 210 CTs trading hands. This figure does not include a large number of questionable tokens that were sold off in large lots throughout the month (more on this later).
     Several large auctions dominated the mid-summer activity with comtok offering 20 pieces on July 1st and 48 more on July 10th -- all from his personal collection.  Cobwrightfortishe offered 15 more pieces on July 8th from the Macmillan collection. UK dealer richardigr offered 30 CTs on July 28. In addition historyincoins sold numerous pieces throughout the month at BIN prices.
     As is typical, most pieces sold inexpensively in the C range (under $20): 118 CTs in all. There were 78 CTs crossing the block in the B range (under $50) with some very nice pieces in the mix.  Only 15 CTs sold at or above the $50 mark: 11 CTs in the BB range and two each in the A and AA ranges. There were many opportunities to pick up some nice pieces this past month as bidding seemed slow overall -- many pieces sold uncontested.
     Top honors go to a New Zealand CT from Tapanui. This oval sold for a BIN/BO price that was under the original listing of $400. So, how low did it sell for? No one knows, but since the start price was way up there, we can reasonably guess that it easily sold for over $100, planting it firmly in the AA category. Here is the link: Tapanui New Zealand CT.
     The second AA CT sold came from the comtok auction: a very nice cut-rectangle from St. Kilda in the Outer Hebrides (BZ6482). As noted in the listing, this congregation was as small one (population 180 for all of St. K); consequently, few tokens were likely made. This piece had a nice patina and smooth surfaces (but for a tiny obverse scratch). Five bidders cast nine bids with two big bids to decide the contest in the closing moments -- this one sold for $109. Here is the link: St Kilda CT.
     The next CT was also sold by comtok: this one was from Uig on the Isle of Lewis (BZ7015). It was a superb little oval, dated 1836. I cannot imagine that Uig was a large congregation either, so few pieces were probably produced. Six bidders vied for this one with consistent bidding; after nine bids the piece was sold at $71 in the A range.
     The final piece that brought over $75 was one we have seen several times before on this blog: the 1678 Brechin round. This is a popular one, as it is the oldest dated piece that is readily available. This one was dark (as is typical) but with most of the 78 showing at the bottom. It was listed for a BIN price of $100 but a BO took it home -- was it over $75? Not sure, but I counted it as such. Prices for these are all over the place ($50 to $90) depending on who wants it and how badly.
     There were many other nice pieces sold this month including a 1831 Kirriemuir round CT for $32 -- this one can spark quite a bit of excitement if enough bidders are in the room -- we have seen them sell in the A and AA range before.  Also, a cut-rectangle from Crossford brought a healthy $67 (from two bidders!) -- these late series pieces are hotly contested by serious collectors intent on completing a shire set. If you want to know which pieces are missing from these sets, then watch these auctions (particularly cobwrightfortishe) and learn. A few nice Glasgow-squares were to be had (e.g., New Cumnock, Largs).

     Finally, we come to a distasteful subject: questionable CTs. A USA dealer -- cronus-coins -- offered and sold large groupings of CTs with simple (mostly incuse) designs. For example, 57 CTs from Bedrule (BK103) were sold on July 27. These round pieces are marked by an incused BK. The CTs pictured were pristine -- perhaps a bit too pristine, as most of the pieces coming from Scotland are clearly used up.  Only one bidder took the bait and paid $100 for the lot.  Here is the link: Fifty-seven Bedrule CTs.
     On the same day, cronus-coins sold 26 CTs from Galashiels (BK452) for $55 -- also a simple token marked by an incused GK. This lot, too, was composed of pristine tokens. Although hoards of unused CTs are known to exist, how likely is it that there are two hoards of CTs that not only have the same leaden appearance, but are also from different shires -- not to mention, of such simple design that they can be easily manufactured. But wait, there's more: how about 18 pristine pieces from Kilmuir (BK604) or 10 from Saltoun (BK988) -- both lots sold earlier in the month. And why are there no common cut-rectangles or ovals being offered -- these are the most frequently encountered hoard (or should I say, NOS) pieces.
     We can add Lairg, Ladykirk, Kildalton, Kilmonivaig, Keith, Kemnay, and IB tokens to the list of questionable tokens. Since all were sold, we can expect to see them again (unless the buyers were getting them to destroy). But then again, maybe they are authentic ... check the ebay "sold" records and judge for yourself. If you are like me, I will get mine from an established dealer in the UK, and prefer those with a provenance (e.g., ex-Macmillan or ex-Burzinski).

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Errors and mysteries

Errors and Mysteries
Things are not always as they seem, even when written up in books by respected researchers. Let me show you what I mean.
When an American dealer was selling dies for Communion tokens, I bought the one pictured, for the obverse of the token for Penrith and St. Mary’s. The token is listed in Copinger as number 224, Penrith, Cumberland. The reference continues in Cresswell as number 4903 and Burzinski as number 5586. As far as the identity is concerned, we are home and cool, right?
Not necessarily!
I have a decent collection of English Communion tokens, but not this token – part of the reason I chose this die. So I thought I’d check into the church that issued it. I looked up Penrith, and found it quickly. As is often the case with English Presbyterian Churches, I checked to see if this congregation was not part of the United Reformed Church. It is. Wonderful!
Then I looked for St. Mary’s. No map indicates the existence of a town named St. Mary’s in Cumberland or anywhere near Penrith. Maybe it was a country church, or simply a church name, I thought, but searches continued to come up empty.
The logical next step is to contact the congregation. I emailed Penrith URC and had some delightful exchanges with the congregational secretary, who is very much up on the history of the church. He confirmed that there is no St. Mary’s, told me that Penrith has never been in a joint charge with another congregation, certainly not in the 1800’s, and further, there was no evidence that Penrith Presbyterian Church had ever issued or used a Communion token.
From curiosity to mystery!
A search ensued for other Penriths, and I found one in New South Wales, Australia, and, not far away, a St. Mary’s. Continuing research showed that Penrith and St. Mary’s Presbyterian Churches were a two point charge from 1860 through into the early 1880’s. Logic suggests that this is not an English Communion token, but Australian. Two Australian collectors have looked at the evidence and agree with the findings. Kirkwood and Sons in Edinburgh, makers of the die, tell me that they do not have the old records anymore, so cannot confirm or deny that the token is Australian.
However, to complicate matters, there is no record of Communion tokens being used at Penrith or St. Mary’s. This is not necessarily conclusive as I have seen Session minutes from a Canadian Presbyterian Church that never mention tokens, but the church has a bag of them! My guess, shared by an Australian collector, is that the token was ordered, but never actually used. Further searches for the tokens themselves seem to indicate that they are not often seen. I have found record of only one, and that in a Museum in Scotland. Perhaps it is a proof from Kirkwood who sold off many of their proofs a few years ago. I have tried to find out whether the token the Museum has is new or used, something that might help confirm my guess, but they don’t do such searches, so I may have to go to the Museum next time I am in Scotland.
If anyone out there has an example of the Penrith and St. Mary’s token I’d be interested to hear from you.
By the way, I sent the die to Kirkwood and had restrikes of the obverse made. The reverse is not the same as the original – so there is no confusion. The re-strikes are in my Australian collection.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Market Watch June 2014

June was a busy month with 361 CTs trading hands. Plus, a record sale price was recorded when a Jamaican CT sold for a whopping $621.
     Several big sales dominated the market square this month: comtok offered 91 CTs whereas richardigr offered 136 pieces (a new dealer we have not seen on ebay recently); cobwrightfortishe offered 20 more pieces. These serial auctions accounted for over two-thirds of the sales.
     As expected, most CTs crossed the block for less than $20 underscoring the bargains available. All told, 290 pieces sold for C money. Among these CTs were several nice Glasgow-styled squares, a few eighteenth century, dated pieces with moderate wear, and many late series pieces. Cobwrightforthishe offered a nearly complete run of KL(44) pieces cataloged between KL130 through KL150 -- most of them in excellent condition. Comtok also sold pieces in an orderly fashion, organized by shire and parish.
Obviously, this is a rare piece that is missing from at least
ten collections and is sorely needed by three collectors.
Burzinski notes that this token comes from a small village
in the center of the island.
     Sixty more CTs sold in the B range, plus another seven were bid past the $50 mark into the BB category. At the top of the bill were four pieces that brought A and AA money.
     The top CT was a Jamaican piece from Carron Hall Church (BZ1315) offered by well-known exonumia dealer and Civil War token expert Steve Hayden. He has many CTs in his inventory, most of them from Burzinski's collection. This piece attracted 10 bidders, casting 21 bids. They were all flirting until the end, when three bidders got serious and pushed the price above $500 on the last day. The hammer of $621 is the highest CT sale price recorded since this blog has been published (no others have exceeded the $400 mark in the past 12 months). Not even the hearts can compete. Here is the link: Carron Hall CT from Jamaica.
     The second CT to bring gasps from the on-lookers sold for $365. This one, too, was a Jamaican piece (BZ6333) -- but one we have seen several times in the past year. It is the SMS oval piece that was profiled last fall in this blog. Five bidders vied for it with 18 bids deciding the final outcome. Here is the link: SMS CT from Jamaica.
     The third CT in this month's lineup was another SMS specimen. This one had been listed at a BIN price of $595 price for over six months. It finally sold at an undisclosed best-offer price. Certainly the marketplace has spoken since at least four SMS ovals have traded hands in the $300 range over the past year. Unfortunately, this specimen had a scratch across the first S which was quite obvious to even the casual eye. Still, it is a rare token.
     The fourth CT was in the A range: a Scottish piece from the island of Coll in the Inner Hebrides. It was offered by cobwrightfortishe (KL(44)144 or BZ1543), attracting five bidders who cast seven bids. As is typical, two of them battled urgently as the hammer came down to end the sale. The piece sold for $82 -- a high price for a late-series Scottish CT. Here is the link: Coll CT from Inner Hebrides.
     Of note, a Canadian round from Cornwall in Ontario (CW234-A1) crossed the block for $65 with four bidders casting twice as many bids. This is the first one of these seen in the marketplace for over a year.
     On balance, we see the usual pattern in the marketplace: many inexpensive -- but nice -- CTs selling briskly with three to five bids each, plus a few non-Scottish rarities providing the high-points. The collectors are active, and all reasonably priced CTs are finding new homes.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Welcome Covenanters

Our CT Covenant is growing.  And a few others are watching.
     This blog spot is our Glen. Fortunately, we do not have to gather in the cover of dusk. Or worry about the King's troops. In fact, our activities are center-stage for all to see and enjoy. In fact, this blog spot has had over 10K hits in the past year -- it is a well-trodden path.
     Covenanters (and onlookers) do not have to produce a token to enter the Glen -- "Token," the elder would bark, as he stiffly held out his hand. But, I bet our pockets and drawers are full of CTs.

     Feel free to try a short posting to see if everything works. Consider sharing a picture of your newest acquisition. I'm sure many of us will recognize it ... especially if you are on ebay much.
     The marketplace has been active, so I am sure that some of us are adding new pieces on a regular basis. I managed to get a few pieces just yesterday, and I am looking forward to the ritual of examining, cataloging, and packaging them into tidy flips with a small descriptive card.
     The hammer prices have been very reasonable this month. I think the FF will provide a review of the action at the end of the month.

     But for now let me share a recent find that was reported by a metal detectorist in the "backwoods" of PA. Our lucky treasure hunter was searching for coins in a wooded area in the Hartslog Valley of central PA. He found a CT from this rural outpost. As he put it, he was unsure if this tiny lead token of 6 x 10 mm was historically significant, but now he knows that he has something special and rare -- not just a dog or cattle tag! Of note, reissue CTs of this variety (Bason-243) exist -- I cannot tell if this is one of them.
This one looks to be in nice shape,
especially for a "grounder" -- it is
cataloged as Bason-243.
     In any case, the found CT is neatly inscribed with thin, block letters adorned with delicate serifs. The sawtooth borders (Bason says: "dog-tooth") provide an attractive, folk-art frame. The small rectangular size is quaint but easily slips between the fingers (at least in this case).
     According to Bason, Hart's Log Church was first described in 1786. As quoted from Bason: "In 1814 as a result of a political feud the Alexandria Church seceded from Hart's Log Church. In 1830 churches of Hart's Log and Alexandria were united. Lead from which these tokens were made was likely dug from Canoe Valley, adjacent to Hart's Log Valley." The town of Hartslog is now called Alexandria.
     There is a website that describes the church: Check it out at Hartslog Church Site. This site has photos of the church site. Also, be prepared, as there is fife and drum music!
     Apparently, the church name is derived from a hollow log used as a trough by trader John Hart in the late 1740s for his pack animals. The log was located on a pioneer trail known as the Frankstown Path. The Hartslog church was constructed nearby; it was a log structure with no windows and a dirt floor -- cold in the winter and stifling in the summer. The parishioners sat on split-log benches, facing a rough-cut pulpit while swallows fluttered overhead.
     CT history does not get any better than this! Makes you want one of these HL rectangles, doesn't it?

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Market Watch for May 2014

It was a vibrant month in the marketplace. There were over 320 CTs sold on EBay and over 500 lots offered in the Simmons Gallery auction that closed mid-month. These numbers add up to over 800 CTs on the hammer
     The large numbers of CTs sold were bolstered by several big sales that were conducted on EBay throughout May: xonumia sold 36 CTs between May 19-20, 22 CTs between May 21-22, plus two group lots of 17 and 20 CTs; comtok continued this month with 37 CTs on May 3rd, 26 CTs on May 14-15, and 12 more CTs on May 26; and finally, cobwrightfortishe sold 18 CTs on May 15 plus 14 more CTs on May 30.
     Examining these EBay sales, most CTs sold (257 pieces or nearly 80%) were hammered down for under $20, placing them in the C category. Another 49 CTs crossed the block in the B category (under $50), whereas only 18 CTs sold above this mark. Ten CTs sold in the BB range, five more in the A range, and three CTs (all sold with one bid) garnered AA money.
This is a true diamond CT.
It took until 1949 for this CT to be cataloged
by K&L in the Proceedings. It is a Free Church
CT attributed to N. Albion St. Chapel.
     The top three AA CTs were all English pieces sold by the same NZ dealer on May 26: 1) a round Crown Court piece from London, dated 1848, brought $130; 2) a second round piece, this one from Lloyd Street Church in Manchester, dated 1801, brought $130; 3) a cut-rectangle dated 1861 from Trinity Church in London came in at $104. All three were described as ex-Burzinski (cataloged as BZ1696, BZ4617, and BZ4436 respectively).
     The five A CTs all sold within the tight range of $75 to $87, but the bidding patterns were quite different. The most expensive piece was a Glasgow diamond, dated 1783 (KL49-46). This is a true diamond with acute and obtuse angles (not a rotated square). Nine bids were entered by eight bidders to push the hammer to $87. Most interesting was the bidding pattern: it appears that each player took a single stab at it, but no one stood their ground and defended their move. In the end, the price was fair given that a similar one sold last year for $96.
     In contrast, a Glasgow-styled square from Port Glasgow, dated 1761, soared skyward with only two bidders doing battle. This one sold for $75 after 23 bids from four bidders -- but 21 bids came from one player chipping away at an early high bid from the winner. It was a beautiful piece with the Arms of Glasgow in the center, all bold and steeped in a dark patina (BK914A) -- it does not come around often. Here is the link:  Port Glasgow CT.
     Another battle was waged over an oval from Brechin (East Parish), dated 1836. Here, three bidders made 27 moves to inflate the hammer to a whopping $81. It was an attractive piece with simple design and unusual verse (BZ999). But was the price too high? Another one was sold by Simmons Gallery last year for 6 GBP (under $10), and a second piece went unsold yesterday that was offered with a BIN of $16.50. Maybe the $81 piece was a variety(?), or it was just a bidding war!
     The two other A CTs were from England: a cut-rectangle from Warrenford (BZ7127) and a super-cool square from Etal (in Northumberland) with incused heart (BZ2467) -- the latter sold at a BIN of $83, the former traded hands for $79.
     I will leave the Simmons Gallery auction for later, or perhaps someone else can provide some analysis on this sale. Finally, I thank TH for helping with this Watch.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

The next big thing: Write a Post!

This blog has run its course in the current format. 

     This blog was started a year ago to provide a meeting place for CT collectors. I published a starter guidebook soon afterwards. As most of you know, our field of collecting did not have a beginner's guide or a meeting place. We are a small group, spread across the globe -- quietly collecting for the most part.
     Many collecting specialties have websites that allow members to independently post their experiences and questions -- I am member of several of these. These sites have active discussions about what folks are finding and liking. Plus, they have auction reviews and historical tidbits. This is perhaps what is needed for those of us in the CT field.
     Up to now, this blog did not offer enough access and flexibility for new writers who want to share their collecting experiences or expertise. This is about to change. I am inviting others to post articles and pictures on this blog, just as I have.

Check out the new page!  It will provide details about joining the blog and becoming part of the CT Collectors' Covenant.  

     Also, do not forget that there is a gathering being planned for CT collectors at the Winter Baltimore Expo. This would be a great time to meet up, share ideas, and do what all great collectors do: eat steak and salad and talk tokens and coins.

One of my favorite CTs for its bold
figures and archaic first digit.
This is BK563 from Kemback, Fife.
     My experience with this blog has been an adventure. When this blog started in June 2013, there were 182 hits by the end of the month; this jumped to 47 hits in July and kept rising to a peak of 1376 hits in January 2014. Since then, there have been 1107 and 1396 hits for February and March respectively, with a decrease to 835 hits with the new weekly format introduced in April.
     Our CT marketplace is active. This past April, we had 225 ebay sales. Two-thirds of these sales involved CTs trading below $20 -- there were many nice pieces in this group. I think we all realize the importance of this market segment for getting new collectors involved. On the opposite end, we had some stellar pieces bringing strong hammer prices -- for example, the Covenanter token that sold for $355 on April 9th.
     Some books are selling too: two copies of Brook, two copies of Bason, and one copy of Milne sold last month on ebay. I am selling a few guidebooks on Amazon. This tells us that new collectors are entering the field. In addition, several large collections are being pruned at present: Merchant, Macmillian, Sutherland, and still some Burzinski CTs are crossing the block.
We are fortunate to have such a great hobby. I end with a quote from my book, One Coin is Never Enough (2011):
"... as coin collectors, we believe in magic. We love our coins and treat them accordingly no matter how irrational it appears to onlookers. The coins in our collections are special. They have stories to tell, and we marvel at their survivorship, rarity and beauty. Through the act of collecting them, we transform the mundane into the marvelous."