Wednesday, January 14, 2015

What makes for "Desirability" in CTs?






Here is a post that comes from our newest blog member. Welcome David.


I have been stimulated to give some thought as to what constitutes 'desirability' in this field of collecting. Apart from collectors who pursue a thematic approach, such as collecting tokens of a particular region, 
religious denomination or diversity of scriptural quotations, that which determines the acquisitive drive for the generalist collector is probably a combination of rarity, aesthetic appeal and an associated interesting 
history or story. Rarity, as has been noted before in the blog, is often uncertain, as it is a judgement usually based on the frequency with which a 
token appears in the market place, knowledge very much dependent on the experience and vigilance of the collector. The regular market reports of 
this blog assist in making such assessments. Aesthetic appeal is a composite of design, shape, metallic composition, condition and legends. The stories connected with a particular token or its church form the other component of this trilogy. Individual collectors will give their own weightings to each of these elements.

Two nineteenth-twentieth century Scottish tokens already noted by previous contributors may serve to illustrate these issues. There is general agreement that the two St Kilda Free Church tokens are rare. This assessment 
is based on the knowledge that they served a very small population for whom church attendance was virtually mandatory. They are seldom offered for sale: BZ 6482 has appeared rarely, an example fetching a high price when sold on ebay in July 2014, but I have not seen BZ 2277 (with legends in Gaelic) 
offered for sale. The latter token reflects the native language of the St. Kildans - very few spoke English. The tokens were the subject of a brief paper by Henry Garside published in Spink's Numismatic Circular in 1916 
(Vol. 24, pp. 37-38), where they were described as "two very rare communion tokens in the National Collection, British Museum".

A fine example of a token with much aesthetic appeal is that of Glenapp (BZ 2896).  This token, while not of the same order of rarity as the St Kilda tokens, is nevertheless scarce and eagerly sought. It is one of few tokens 
struck in bronze, its singular design was created by the architect who also remodelled the picturesque Glenapp church, and its symbols of Paschal Lamb on the obverse and Celtic Trinitarian trefoils on the reverse, offer scope for religious reflection.  I recall reading that a minister of the church used its iconography for a sermon. The style of trefoil on the token is reproduced on the Celtic decoration of the Church's lectern.

Unattributed tokens have collector appeal, not only on account of their probable rarity, but because they also offer scope for research and reverie. If they are also unpublished, there is scope to make a small contribution to 
the corpus of knowledge. It is not uncommon to come across unattributed tokens of the eighteenth century or earlier, but quite unusual to find one of a later period.  I include images of a token dated 1837 (see token picture above) that I have been unable to locate in any published reference. In style it is similar to a Free Church of Scotland token of St Luke's Church, Edinburgh, dated 1852 (BZ7596), although the rectangular shape accommodates the design horizontally rather than vertically. I understand the congregation that became St Luke's had its origins in 1836, their church being known originally as the Young Street Chapel. I am wondering whether this 1837 issue may be a surviving token of Young Street Chapel. Perhaps the majority 
of tokens were destroyed after the presumably later but undated issue came into use, these new tokens being stamped 'St. Luke's Church, Young Street, Edinburgh' (BZ 2342).  When the congregation joined the Free Church after the Disruption in 1843, tokens picturing their new church building resulted in the attractive issue dated 1852.  Only two rectangular shaped Free Church tokens are noted by Kerr and Lockie (PSAS, LXXIX, p. 27), one being that of St Luke's Free Church, perhaps lending some support to the possibility that 
this last issue may have reverted to the prototype provided by the 1837 tokens, perhaps for sentimental or other reasons. The 1837 token is of white metal and measures 28 x 18 mm.  Identifying the building it portrays, or 
some documentary evidence, would clearly be of value in attributing the token to a particular church.

A very large print of the whole city of Edinburgh, circa 1860, drawn from an elevated perspective, shows a building on the southern side of Young Street, very similar to that portrayed on the token. I reproduce a small segment of the print (see above) greatly magnified. The building in question is that in 
the centre of the image. 

I would value any help in confirming or dismissing this tentative 
attribution of the token to Young Street Chapel.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Communion Token Guidebook in Coinage Magazine

I was pleasantly surprised to see a full color review of the guidebook Communion Tokens in the January 2015 issue of Coinage magazine; the review was written by Mike Thorne, Ph.D. -- one of their regular contributors (and book reviewer). I spoke with him earlier in the year; he is a very interesting fellow who is also a psychologist. His numismatic writing is a natural extension of his coin collecting interests plus a distinguished career in textbook writing. In any case, it was quite an honor to have the CT guidebook featured along with other mainstream books -- on one side was David Bower's Buffalo Coins: America's Favorite, and on other side was Beth Deisher's Cash In Your Coins. The CT guidebook won a Numismatic Literary Guild award for Extraordinary Merit, so that is nice too.
     The book is still available from me on ebay at the list price of $14.95 with free shipping in the USA. If you are from overseas, you can get the book on Books123.org or from other large book distributors (e.g., Amazon).
Masthead from January 2015 Coinage Magazine
written by Mike Thorne, Ph.D.
     For a couple of months, the book was unavailable, as I did not renew the online book contract. Consequently, a few used book sellers stepped-in the marketplace -- one of them was offering the book for $1000 on Amazon. I hope no one needed it that bad! I like to think of this book as a gift to the collecting community: It was the book that I wanted to read, as there was nothing out there to get me started -- although, I must say that Brook has stood the test of time as a must-have guide with an excellent introduction.
     I still have about 15 books left (saving another five for gifts), so this guidebook is near the end of its run. There is no way to break even on this project, but at least I am over half-way there (my wife is happy about that). I encourage others (maybe some on the blog) to tackle a project like this. There are other books that could be (need to be) written on CTs -- personally, I would like to see a Top 100 Communion Tokens book with nice photos and church histories.
     I am working on a second CT book that will be more of a gazetteer that profiles regional variations and trends (a type set/varieties collecting approach) -- sort of a continuation of the CT by shapes idea. This will be a useful book (I hope) that aligns neatly with BK, K&L, and BZ. As before, the true reason for writing is to give me something fun to do. Nonetheless, this project is on-hold at the moment, as I am going off in a new direction right now -- that is why my user name has changed from Token Hunter to SCD. What can I say? The SCD reflects my love for relic coins and tokens -- and readers of this blog know that I particularly like the primitive, rough-hewn CTs.
     In the meantime, I think blog readers would like to hear about and see pictures of any new CTs you have acquired. The Market Watch postings have noted many nice pieces going to new homes -- Did you get one? As for me, I have a new one from New Kingston, NY that I will profile later this month -- I got it last year. It is a nice one: shiny, not primitive -- but it is a USA piece, and rare as such.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Market Watch for November & December

Happy New Year: 2015!
     Last year went out with a bang! The CT marketplace has heated up a bit with 517 CTs sold in the past two months. As I write this, there are over 550 CT listings on ebay. Several big collections are being dispersed, and collectors have noticed.
     In November, 244 CTs were sold on ebay. This number went up to 273 in December. Totals like this have not been seen since the start of last summer. Most of the CTs sold inexpensively: 330 CTs sold for under $20 in the C range (64% of the two-month total). In the $20 to $49 B group, there were 175 CTs sold (34% of the total).  Only eight CTs brought BB prices above $50.  In the A range ($75 to $99), there were two sales, and there were two sales in the AA range above that. Consequently, only 2% of the total sold for over $50. These figures show that CT collecting is still very reasonable.
Here is the listing from Brook for the CT that sold for $190.
The loaf is similar to that found on BK272 Dalmellington
and BK275 Dalrymple; this is probably a regional feature
that comes from the same hand (or brain). On the reverse
the reference is to Psalm 116 (as on BK272 obverse).
     Twelve CTs sold above $50. Topping this group, a round piece from Carsphairn (BK173) was hammered the day after Christmas for $190. This is a whopping price, but it is a rare piece not seen for sale in at least a few years. Six bidders competed for it, casting 30 bids. The top bidder knew it was rare and had entered a high bid early on -- a fury of bids only led to frustration among the rest. It is a nice piece that comes with a loaf of bread!
     A Kirkton heart (BK689), dated 1761, brought a healthy $109 on 12/20. Five bidders vied for it, casting 12 bids; it came down to three at the end. This is one of the more available hearts (only BK336 is more common -- and maybe BK187), as several have sold in the past few years -- all for strong prices.
     Two bidders provided spirited competition for a cut-rectangle dated 1845 from Fairlie FC in Ayr (BZ2496). They went back and forth a dozen times before the piece was hammered down for $97 on 11/15. Prices like this do not come from type collectors: these two were working on an Ayr, FC, or larger set.
     The popular Forgan rectangle, dated 1774 (BK434), brought $79 on 11/23 with seven bidders casting ten bids. The winner showed up with all the money in the last hour. This piece has been up and down in the marketplace -- I have seen prices range from $30 on up to A category dollars. This was a nice clean piece purchased at the top.
     An interesting lead token that could be a CT (or a seal) was placed on the block in late October, selling for $70 on 11/2. The piece was roundish with rough edges; it was styled in the form of a market token (or Glasgow square) with two concentric circles framing the legend: S.Botolphs with WH in the center. The listing suggested that the initials could stand for Willam Hutchinson from a church in Aldgate, London. An estimated date of circa 1590 was given. You decide. Only three bidders took the dare, each entering one bid.
     A trio of BIN sales also brought in $70, $70, and $60 respectively. The first was a cut-rectangle from Popular Grove, Halifax, Nova Scotia (NS-236). The second one was a round CT from Rathillet (Fife), dated 1782 -- the latter token is a common one that typically sells for C money; as such, it over-sold by a wide margin. The listing stated that it was "rare" -- not really. The third was a cut-rectangle from Earlton in Nova Scotia (NS-214) that sold for $60.
     Rounding out the top twelve CTs: a worn Airlie round piece (BK19) sold for $59 with four bidders showing; a very nice round CT from Ardclach (BK53), dated (16)91 sold for $53 with seven bidders showing -- this is a popular one with the Love/Love reverse; a cut-rectangle from Ferrintosh FC (BZ2542) brought $53 from two bidders; and a round piece, dated 1786, from Meigle (BZ4708) just slid over the BB category mark, selling for a BIN price of $51.
     On balance, the holiday season was good for CT collectors. The marketplace seems strong and 2015 appears to be off to a good start with many listings posted.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

CT Museum at the Presbyterian Heritage Center

I recently received several photos from Claude King who visited the museum at the PHC located in Montreat, NC. He has been collecting CTs and visiting the blog for the past year or so.
     The pictures he shared will be of interest to all CT collectors. If you are like me, after looking at these pictures, you will want to plan a trip to Montreat this summer to see for yourself. The link to the PHC website is here: http://www.phcmontreat.org/index.html.
     Montreat, NC, is located just off I40 in the western part of the state; the town itself is north of I40 just east of Asheville -- it is adjacent to the Appalachians (to the west) and national forests all around, so I am sure that the countryside is beautiful.
     The first picture of the earliest dated CT -- from Perth Kirk -- is quite interesting, as it is dated 1604! This predates the CP/1648 round CT from Crossmichael by nearly a half-century (BZ1606/BK240). I mention in my guidebook that the earliest reported (but with none surviving) dated CT is from Glasgow with a date of 1588 -- this report comes from the work of Burns, Whitelaw, and others.
     In particular, Burns quotes from the Kirk-Session in Glasgow on the 13th of April, 1588 as follows: "The session appoint some to speak to the Baileys about making a new stamp and carts for tickets." And quotes further that each ticket (i.e., token) should be marked "with this sign, 1588." We do not know what the "sign" was from this quote, but the reference to the date, and the direction to have the date stamped on the ticket, is clear.
     These researchers have also indicated that the Crossmichael CT is the oldest (or as Burns puts it: "one of the oldest" -- perhaps holding out for the chance of finding an older one) dated token that survives. Of note to collectors, one of these rare CTs was sold in May 2014 by Simmons Gallery from the Bob Merchant collection. It was bid up to 156 BP or about $250. This is actually quite cheap as far as rare coins or tokens go. Also, I should add that the attribution is listed as "uncertain" by Burzinski -- and Burns, too, raises some questions about this.
     So here we have one dated 1604. It is a rectangular piece with straight corners and bold rim. The lettering appears to be hand-cut -- particularly with the out-sized T in PERTH. Certainly the year is well within the range given above of 1588 to 1648 -- we would expect to see dated tokens during this period. Do we need to re-write all the CT guides? Is this the date of use, or the date of the church founding?
     Still, we have to ask: How did all previous catalogers, including Burzinski, miss this one? Burzinski traveled to Scotland several times -- did he ever visit the PHC?
     The other picture shown is of a CT die. This one is made of iron (per the description) and is completely embedded in a large block of wood. There is only one die, so the apparatus had to be sturdy enough to withstand repeated use. It is a one-sided die, such that the blank reverse was impressed by the wood block that was fit over the lower one with the die imbedded -- you can see the small square burn marks on the upper block. Two guide poles insured a regular fit.
     Molten lead cools very quickly, so it probably took a minute or less for the lead to harden enough to be picked out. Any extra lead would flow out of the mold through the small channel at the edge of the die. The shiny CT sitting next to the die looks new -- did they use the die to make one?
     The description identifies this die as coming from Bloomington, IN. Bason listed only a dozen CTs from Indiana with six of them coming from Bloomington. This one (Bason28/BZ5997)) is described in his text as a small, straight rectangle of 13x9mm, made of lead, and noted to be thick. As the photo shows, the token is one-sided with the letters RP in relief, surrounded by a slight border.
     Many thanks to Claude King for sharing these photos. He has sent some other photos of Charleston CTs (including a slave token) that I will post later this month. In the meantime, enjoy these on Claude's behalf. If you click on the photo, it will enlarge it for better study.


Saturday, November 8, 2014

Market Watch

This market watch covers all CTs sold on ebay and other sources (when I stumble on them) for the month of October, 2014. It was an active month considering that 169 CTs were sold on ebay and nearly 500 were offered by Simmons Gallery (more precisely, 519 lots with 346 sold at auction -- not including post-auction sales which I do not have). About 15 or so of these latter pieces appeared to be metals/tokens, not CTs. In sum, we had about 169+336 (best guess) CTs sold this past month.
     For the CTs sold on ebay, we had 129 pieces go for less than $20 in the C range. Another 36 sold below $50 in the B range, whereas only 4 CTs sold above this mark, but below $75 in the BB range. Many good deals were to be had, as bidders were sleeping for some auctions. Comtok sold 62 CTs this month in three series on 10/13, 10/22, and 10/28. Also a series of octagonal pieces from Lesmahagow were offered with sequential table numbers ranging from 1 to 13, but missing Table 4. Some great deals were to be had: for example, a pair of Burntisland rounds dated 1744 (BZ875) sold for $8 a piece (two different varieties were represented). They were in great condition. Nice buys -- it was not me (wish it was).
     Topping the BB list was an oval dated 1829 from the St. Andrews Scots PC located in Buenos Aires, Argentina (BZ6434). I have never seen this one before. It attracted four bidders with five bids to win the piece at $73.
     Next on the list was a Nova Scotia CT from Earlton. It sold at the BIN price of $62. This one was cataloged as NS214 -- the price was correct, and maybe a bit low, according to the Charlton guidebook that provides a range of $70 to $90.
     Two Scottish CTs made the BB list. First, a Haddington (in Lothians) shield token dated 1818 (BZ7572) was hammered for $56 after four bidders casted seven bids. This is a popular token that usually comes very nice (probably NOS). Second, a 1795 castle piece from Edinburgh (BZ5296) was hotly contested with 11 bids from six bidders. This one, too, is a popular token and has sold for much more on ebay in the recent past. The castle motif is attractive and emblematic of the city, and Scotland overall. Both of these pieces came from comtok's offerings.
This is the oldest native CT from Canada according to the
Charlton guidebook. He apparently brought the molds
for this token from Canada. It is listed as NS304.
     The Simmons Gallery auction closed on 10/20 -- this was the fourth auction of CTs from the Bob Merchant collection -- he certainly had a big collection! There were 519 lots with 346 listed as sold on the first go-round (note that post-auction sales are not included). This sale deserves a more complete description, but for now I can say that all the Scottish pieces went for reasonable (that is, low) prices. The top bids went towards three Canadian CTs, three Jamaican CTs, and a maverick Mission Church token dated 1872 that was attributed to West Indies or African mission -- the latter piece sold for about $300.
     I was fortunate to get one piece from Truro in Nova Scotia (BZ6966/NS304) that sold for just over $80. In the Charlton guidebook, it is valued at half this price, but try and find one. If you have been reading this blog, then you know how much I like the Glasgow-styled squares: this is one that was made in Canada. I have not seen this one for sale before and had been wanting it since I mentioned it in my guidebook -- I included a picture. As you can see, it is a rather primitive piece with nice patina. I like that Nova Scotia is spelled out. Love it!
     As you can see, this blog has been quiet. I think readers would enjoy hearing what favorite CTs you have added to your collection lately. If you got something from ebay or Simmons Gallery, let us know.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Market Watch for September

The leaves are turning and dropping to the ground. As with the season, the CT marketplace has slowed somewhat, but it remains colorful. One-hundred and ten pieces were sold in September with 94 of them coming from comtok who is selling off part of a collection.
     Most pieces have been selling inexpensively with only a few (or one) bidder(s). Eighty-six CTs crossed the block for under $20 in the C range -- many uncontested. There have been some very good deals in this mix with more than a few 18th century pieces finding a new home. Twenty-one CTs sold in the B range that includes all trades between $20 and $49.  Only three tokens sold above the $50 mark: one each in the BB, A, and AA ranges.
Obverse of Ladykirk CT
     Tops among these three CTs was a crude, diminutive rectangle from Ladykirk. This is an attractive, albeit primitive, piece for its simple incuse lettering -- LK -- on the obverse and the bold four-digit date -- 1716 -- punched deeply into the reverse. It is a rugged bit of church history that conjures up all sorts of images of the past. The piece is cataloged as BK696 (or BZ4334-6 [3 varieties] ... in this case BZ4335 that comes with curved 1 and large loop on the 6). Only two bidders vied for this one, casting 11 bids to push the price up to a whopping $130. Yes, this figure is not a typo: $130. Here is the link: Ladykirk CT for big bucks.
Reverse of Ladykirk CT
The straight 1 plus the small loop
on the 6 suggest BZ4334.
A curved 1 with big 6 loop is
BZ4335, & no first 1 is the last.
     On the same day (Sept. 29th), comtok offered a pair of these same pieces: LK//1716. The obverses were pictured (whereas in the previous sale the bold dated reverse was shown). One bid was all it took to get the pair for $15. So what do we make of this huge discrepancy?
     Looking back at previous sales of Ladykirk CTs we get these data. In February of 2013, the Bob Merchant specimen was sold by Simmons Gallery for about $25. Another piece sold on ebay in November of 2013 for about twice this much. In addition, several lots of very nice ones (with smooth, ashen surfaces) were sold cheaply, raising suspicions that these were spurious -- in particular, the specimens illustrated by Burzinski were rough, corroded bits with white sulfide frosting like the ones illustrated here. As such, very nice pieces with light (fishing lure) color need to be purchased cautiously.
     All arguments not withstanding, a hammer price of $130 for a Ladykirk CT is extremely strong. In contrast, the pair offered by comtok was a great buy. Here is the link for the pair of Ladykirk CTs: Two for the price of one.
     Moving on, a Clackmannan heart, dated 1731, attracted 6 bidders, casting 10 bids, to produce a healthy sale price of $76. Two bidders really wanted this one, but they showed restraint, as the hammer price was consistent with previous sales. These hearts also tend to be mildly corroded -- I have never seen one with smooth surfaces across a half-dozen sales. This one was average to above-average with no distracting marks. It is cataloged as BK187 or BZ1460.
     The final CT that brought a price over $50 was a Glasgow-styled square from Prince Edward Island: an 1832 New London piece in excellent condition (PE-216). It crossed the block at $69 with only two bids -- just shy of book values of $70-90. This was a far cry from the hot battle reported in this blog last November when two bidders cast 19 bids for a similar one, pushing the price to $86.
     All told, it was an interesting month. The characteristics of a thin market were in plain view: bidding wars with price spikes juxtaposed with lackluster interest towards many very nice pieces selling cheaply. And, let's not forget the heart: it was contested by two rational buyers who knew its value.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Market Watch for August 2014

August was a slow month for CT auctions and sales. The end of summer usually brings vacations, and so it was in the CT marketplace -- most vendors were closed for the weekend. All told, there were 105 CTs sold this past month. This figure is exactly half of the tally for July, and June was tops with over 350 pieces sold.
     There were two familiar auctions in August, as comtok continued his series of sales with 17 CTs crossing the block on the 15th. One of them was a rare heart from Canisbay in Caithness (BZ7672 or KL(40)303); it brought forth only three bidders, selling for $34. It was a corroded piece with snowy-white surfaces. Yet, all hearts are scarce to rare, and certainly popular. Here is the link:  Heart-shaped CT.
     Also, cobwrightfortishe continued his series of sales with 14 late-series CTs (six ovals, eight cut rectangles) on the 30th. All of these were nicely toned pieces with few, if any, distractions.
     Fifty-five CTs sold for under $20 -- many of these were nice and appeared to have been over-looked by collectors who were on vacation. But this might not have been the case, as nearly as many CTs sold for strong prices that give evidence that the CT marketplace is alive and well -- and that the die-hard collectors are always watching. As such, 42 pieces sold in the B price range, whereas eight more crossed the block in the $50+ range. Of these, four sold for under $75, and four more sold in the A and AA ranges. The top two pieces brought 3-digit prices: $230 and $188 respectively.
Bason 333 is listed as from the 1st Reformed Presbyterian
Church in Pittsburgh, PA. This stock token was also used
in South Rygate, Vermont, and listed as Bason 416.
     The top piece that sold for $230 is no stranger to this blog: an American CT from Pittsburgh PA (or Vermont) cataloged as BZ6067 or BA333. This round one is a stock piece, minted in lead but looks like German silver. It is a popular piece with a detailed burning bush, certainly scarce, but often seen in US CT collections. Thirteen bids were cast by seven bidders, but only two of them held on after the elusive $200 mark was passed. This is a nice piece -- I paid more for mine, so in my reckoning, this was a good deal. I think any US CT is worth $150-$200 or more (usually more). Here is the link: RPC Burning Bush US CT.
     The second AA CT that sold is also known to readers of this blog, as it has sold four times in the past year. Here I am referring to the SMS Jamaican piece cataloged as BZ6333. This one was sold by stevehayden who has been selling off the last remnants of the Burzinski collection and other CTs once owned by renowned exonumia dealer Steve Tannenbaum. Five bidders casted three times as many bids with four of them staying with it as the price moved past $140. It only sold for about $40 more at $188. It was nice piece with dark, brownish toning and some minor roughness. Previous sales suggest that this was market-correct for this piece.
     Next came an Irish CT from Belfast, Antrim. It was an attractive piece with bold B (with period) over-top the date of 1776. Nine bidders went for it initially, but only four of them pushed on to a selling price of $90. I think this was a deal! It was listed as a "Scottish" CT but was unattributed. The CT catalogs as BZ655. Here is the link:  Irish CT from Belfast.
     Finally, the fourth CT that sold for over $75 (maybe?) was listed for $100, but it was sold at a undisclosed best offer. It was a squarish piece, somewhat battered and worn, from Castleton in Roxburgh, cataloging as BZ1452 or BK176. It is not pictured in Burzinski -- this can be an indication of rarity, as he had a nice collection (but I cannot say for sure). Still, it looks to have brought solid money.
     I noticed that several B pieces in the $30 to $40 range sold that had been listed for several weeks (or more), so it appears that someone decided to bite the bullet (as it were -- both are lead) and just get them. All of them were very nice pieces, and I had wondered why they were not selling. By the same token (no pun intended) there are many very nice Canadian -- seldom seen piece, mind you -- that are listed currently. If it were not for my determination to stick to a particular plan, I would buy them all. So there you have it, go get those primitive Canadian pieces: they do not come around that often. In fact, I have not seen many of them for sale even once in the past 3 or 4 years.