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. comtokcanada@gmail.com
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."


Sunday, April 27, 2014

A Communion Token Progression: Brutish to Stylish

Which one do you prefer? 
I seek out communion tokens from the same parish to see how they evolved across time. As you know, CTs from a specific kirk can be separated by years or decades.
     Sure, we know that squares, rectangles, and rounds became ovals and cut-rectangles. But a more intimate story can be found when the same basic design (and shape) was improved or modified across decades in the early period.
     With this frame, I am contemplating two tokens from Fala in Midlothian (BK405-406). There is a story here; we cannot be sure what it is, but it is worth our efforts, as this is what amuses us. Is it the story of two engravers? Is it a story of better tools? Was the first one used as a model for the second? Is the crude one the first one? I will at least assume the latter.
     The crude token is undated. It is a simple square with bold lettering that is coarsely engraved. The letters -- FK -- are bold with few adornments. The F was given a serif on the upper crossbar, but the rest seems hurried. The F was given quite a bit of room too; after all, the bars need space to project outwards. Perhaps the engraver started with grand designs in his head, but gradually found that his hands and tools were not up to the task. By the time he got to the middle crossbar (which is low) and the base (uneven), he was forced to confront his limitations.
     With such a bold F, the K is squeezed such that it runs off the rim. The diagonal bars barely have room to breath. Still, he tapered the diagonals to provide a modicum of style. One other element is puzzling: what are the dots meant to signify?
     Some years later, the elders called for another piece. And so, another engraver was hired. This time, he had expert hands and more precise tools.
     The first thing I notice is the regularity of the die: the square is true. No border is evident, as the mold was neatly cut out. The die was a two-part affair so as to provide more info on the reverse. Finally, the piece was made with a broader face, and thicker too.
     The FK was placed on the obverse. The attention to detail is immediately obvious. The F and K have air -- perhaps too much in the middle. The letters are delicate with a taper from bottom to top. The F has delicate serifs -- only the base is lacking (but it is stout).
     The K is also lighter at the top. The serifs are a bit bolder but less competently shaped. The best part, however, is the gentle curve on the lower diagonal bar -- a knee joint that pulls the eye immediately to it -- it is the first element you take notice of. It seems human.
     The reverse is lightly rendered, but the style is consistent. The I (for J) has delicate serifs. The G also has a soft finial. The letters stand for John Gourlay who served as minister from 1764 to 1773.
     The date is neatly spaced with big loops defining the double-sixes.
     All told, the comparative artistry is what makes these CTs worth having. There are many pairs (or longer series) of CTs in the Scottish series that invite side by side comparison like this one.
     Do you have a pair of CTs with a similar story to tell? Share it.

Friday, April 25, 2014

CT Meeting this Fall? Plus, some Auctions.

I was exchanging emails with Bob Merchant, and we agreed that the Winter Expo in Baltimore might be a good place to get together. Perhaps some others would like to join in -- A CT Meeting.
     Baltimore, MD, is a clean city with many hotels and restaurants near the Convention Center. The crab cakes are the best. The Whitman Expo is scheduled for October 30th to November 2nd. This is probably the best US show on the east coast (although I have not yet been to FUN in January). There is also a summer Expo running from June 26th to 29th, but this show is slower -- I rarely go to it unless I am hot to sell something.
Here is another piece from the Expo in March.
All info is on the flip. When did you last see this one?
     As I have reported on this blog, there are some CTs to be had at the show -- see picture. Of course, if we get together, we might end up trading a few pieces. In any case, the crab and tuna is good.
     If you collect colonial coins then the Winter Expo is the place to be, as StacksBowers conducts the C4 auction (Colonial Coin Collectors Club) at this meeting. I am a member of C4 and dabble in US colonial coins from time to time. However, I am quite serious about Spanish Colonial cobs from Potosi!
     Bob Merchant reminded me that the 3rd installment of his collection is being auctioned by Simmons Gallery in early May. As many of you know, Bob has a huge collection, judging from the hundreds of lots already sold in 2013. Up for auction this time are 514 lots! Most of the pieces are 19th century CTs ranging from KL495 to KL1193. This run of  CTs is most impressive with two-thirds of them up for grabs. The starting bids are low at 6 BP, and the estimates are only at twice that. Check it out: Link to Simmons Gallery.
     The late series CTs represent a great collecting opportunity. I have noticed that cobwrightfortishe has recently been selling 19th century ovals and cut-rectangles at bargain prices on ebay. He sold 18 pieces on April 12th with most of them going for under $15 -- he has another 20 pieces coming up for auction tomorrow (in about 10 hours from now).
     The same sort of bargains can be had with the Simmons Gallery auction: I purchased over a dozen pieces last Fall for very reasonable prices -- these CTs were from the 2nd installment of Merchant's collection.
     So there you have it. Some auctions to follow and a possible meeting next Fall at the Expo. I'll talk more about the meeting as it gets closer.