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:
     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.

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.