Sunday, December 29, 2013

Market Watch

This market watch examines ebay auctions & sales between December 22 and December 28. It was a slow week -- probably a good thing, as most folks were enjoying the holidays and saving the CTs for later.
     Thirty-two CTs traded hands this week: four of them were sold at BIN prices and the remainder were hardly contested (more on that in a moment). The tally shows that 25 CTs sold for under $20 with 6 more CTs bringing B prices from $20 to $49. Only one piece hit the $50 mark -- it was sold the day after Christmas with a BIN option.
     A USA dealer cronus-coins sold 15 primitive CTs with all of them selling for less than $10. It was an odd grouping, as ten of them were simple incuse designs (usually one or two letters); the remainder were primitive molded pieces with parish/minister initials only. The surfaces were similar on all pieces: a smooth, dark gray patina, curiously devoid of any scratches, discolorations or corrosion.
     Only two of these primitive pieces attracted more than one bidder. Unusual. One that caught my eye for comment is the Ladykirk CT (BK696, also B4334 - B4336). This is not a common CT despite three varieties. One sold at a BIN price of $48 on November 30 from a reputable dealer in Scotland; it is the only one I have seen for sale in several years -- it was lightly frosted with white oxide salts. Here is the link of the one sold this week: Ladykirk CT BK696 in perfect condition. Is this one real? Of note, even Burzinski's plate specimens are corroded with white powder forming on the surfaces.
     The single BB CT was sold by a dealer in Nova Scotia for $50. It was a cut rectangle from Montreal (CE220A2): a nice token with some luster peeking through darker toning in the fields. These pieces were used between 1844 and 1859 according Charlton. The purchase appeared to be a good buy, as this CT is listed at $70 in VF in the guidebook. Here is the link: Montreal CT.
     Be on the lookout, as I have a special (well, maybe outlaw is a better word) CT in store for New Years!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Have a CT Christmas

Best Wishes for everyone on this blog. I have enjoyed the emails, postings and phone calls.
     I hope you get a CT for Christmas. A tiny square with a big bow on it!
     But consider this:
     Did you give one away? Now that may seem contrary to the ways of the true collector, but think about how cool a CT can be to some folks. Not recommended for young children of course -- after all, lead is a neurotoxin. But consider this for those who are curious about your odd collecting habits. Or consider this for the loved ones who always ask what have you acquired lately, but never really had a token of their own to contemplate.
     A token can make a great gift. And so can a CT Guidebook (hint!).
     The nice thing about an inexpensive token is that it can be just as fascinating as a rare one to new eyes. In fact, some folks might prefer a satiny cut rectangle to a rude squarish chunk.
     One of my close friends and I exchanged tokens this year. He had eyed a small cafe token that I had with his name on it. It was a "good for 5 cents" piece that could be used at Johnny's Cafe. Not an expensive token, but try and find another one!
     Why did he like it? Well, who knows. Why do we like the CTs that we buy? It is easy to get all puffed up about this: we are saving history; we are serious scholars, and so on. 
     But actually, we are just collectors. We are in a long line of collectors that have been arranging and rearranging these CTs on our desks for the past two centuries. So let us not get too peacocked. Sure, we spend copious amounts of time (and dollars) on our obsession -- like me typing this blog for example -- but in the end, it just leisure.
     The antidote to our seriousness is to give a few CTs away. And Christmas is the perfect time to do this.
     Give one to your pastor or priest or preacher. Give one to your token collecting buddies -- if he is a civil war nut, give him one dated in the 1860s. Any error collector would like to have one with a retrograde numeral -- there are lots of those. Donate a few to your coin club so that they can be auctioned off. Even the non-collectors will enjoy a piece -- particularly, Presbyterians.
     Give one to your wife.
     In fact, my wife has asked me for a heart! I showed her a few, and of course, she picked the best one. You see, it does not take an expect to know quality. She also eyed one of my triangles. "Can you drill a hole in it, so I can wear it?," she asked. Hmmm.
     Drill a hole in it? Drill a hole in it?
     You have to be prepared for this when you give tokens away.
     I think that I will go with the gloves for my wife this year. She complains of chapped hands, and she uses a lot of lotion. Yes, she needs the gloves! Maybe next year I will sacrifice a heart.
     So, despite everything I just said, even I struggle with the concept of giving it away.
     Why doesn't she like the ovals?
     I can imagine the outcry if and when I do let go of a heart. The exonumismatists will shout out: "He is destroying heritage material, depriving generations yet to come, profaning the piece ... ."
     I hear a rock hitting the outside of my house. And, another.
     Ok, I am definitely getting the gloves! But I am giving my friends some CTs to pass around and enjoy! And yes, I know they will touch the surfaces while eating chips. Tis the season!
     Merry Christmas from Virginia.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Market Watch

This Market Watch reviews ebay auctions for the week of December 15 thru December 21. It was another busy week with most of the action coming at the end with a big auction on Saturday. As before, benachie offered up another installment of the Scottish collection that he has been marketing -- this time putting 117 CTs on the block. Consequently, the number of listings exceeded 450 at the start of the day.
Here is a quaint Culross CT.
It presents itself as a diamond.
     All told, there were 146 CTs sold this week. With all this bidding action, it is not surprising that we have four AA CTs to ponder this time around. Of course, many great CTs sold for less money. Hopefully, you purchased a few nice ones for gifts (as I did). Most pieces (103 of them) crossing the block sold for under $20, whereas, 34 more sold for B plus 2 that earned BB money. In the upper price ranges, we had several stars that stimulated the desires of serious (or mad) collectors. There were 3 A CTs and 4 AA CTs.
     In particular, the top four pieces ($100+) boasted qualities that communion token specialists love: superlative condition (and rarity?); interesting shapes -- a heart, of course, and a primitive square that was oriented to present itself as a diamond; and finally, an unusual -- somewhat homely -- stamped piece of brass. So, which one was top dog this week?
     The top dog designation is clearly a misnomer here. The highest dollar CT sold brought $167 -- it was no dog! All the money went for a round token from Aberlady in East Lothian with a late date of 1864. Twelve bids were entered by six bidders, and as expected, it came down to two paddles waving at the last. This sharply struck piece was adorned with a 6-point star (two over-lapping triangles) with a cross in the middle (B141); it was bathed in a light ashen patina over flawless, semi-glossy surfaces. I would not have predicted such voracious bidding on this one for its condition alone -- is it rare? Here is the link: Aberlady Round CT.
     Next up, the heart never fails to bring out the bids. It was a piece from Clackmannan dated 1731 (B1460) that attracted five bidders (casting 6 bids). It really came down to the wire with the price soaring by $70 in the last seconds to hammer down at $112. Someone really wanted it. This is big money for a somewhat corroded piece -- but this issue usually comes rough (and it does not come around very often). It is a distinctive token, thick with bold CK and date. Here is the link: Clackmannan Heart CT.
     Clackmannan has more than its share of hearts. For a shire that only produced nine CTs in the eighteenth century from four parishes, it is remarkable that four pieces are hearts -- B1460 is the one that is seen most often of that group. However, in a chest full of hearts, it is more scarce than the one we are accustomed to seeing from Dunfirmline in Fife (B1823 & B1824).
     Sharing the mantle of AA pieces sold this week was a diamond-shaped (or rotated) CT that brought $103. It was a small squarish (read: rectangular) CT from Culross (BK251) that was attracting the attention of folks mid-week. Three determined bidders vied for this one, casting no less than 8 bids. It was offered in a small group of eleven primitive and/or worn pieces offered by cobwrightfortishe. Whereas most of them went for C and B money, the diamond (in the rough) was quickly targeted.
     The Culross CT is twice cataloged by Burzinski (B1126 & B1176), as it comes in several sizes: a square of 16mm, a rectangle of 18x14mm, and some sizes in-between (for example, I have pictured one that measures 17x15mm). The star is also located in different locations. It is a simple design: a C with a bold 5-point star. Does anyone know the specific meaning of the star?
     The last AA piece was not much more than a crudely stamped bit of brass. Listed as coming from Crimond in Aberdeen (B1615), it is a rare piece. I was thinking of stepping into the fray, but the bidding was already hotly competitive with four bidders pushing the cost of admission to over $90 at the start of the day. The price did not move much beyond this mark as the auction neared. In the end, the token sold for $99.75 (just enough to round up to the AA range).
Primitive, unusual & rare:
These are qualities that we relish!
     I checked to see if the tiny village of Crimond had a copper mine, but none was listed. So why use brass? This was probably what the craftsman had on-hand. In any case, this piece will make for interesting discussion in any collection.
     A few other CTs deserve mention. A cut rectangle from Cumnock in Ayr (B1738) brought an incredible $95 at the hammer with eight bids coming from four collectors. It got hot on the last day of the auction, as two bidders squared off. This is perhaps the most money I have seen paid for a cut rectangle of the standard design (oval motif with adornments at each corner). It is the only nineteenth century CT from this parish, representing the Free Church that was built in October of 1843. It must be rare enough for more than a few collectors to need one to complete their sets! This is a good example of what can be learned in the auction arena -- namely, which tokens bring out the serious collectors! Here is the link: Cumnock Cut Rectangle.
     Also, an irregular rectangle from Coyltoun, dated 1728, crossed the block at $88. Another popular piece -- the 1760 Dalmellington round with chalice and loaf (one of my favorites) -- sold for $85. These were both very nice tokens that are always popular.
     Looking back, we can see that all the featured CTs were from Scotland this week. We had a few Irish pieces (stock tokens) show up -- one of them was not listed as Irish and sold cheaply. Incidently, a group of pieces from Scotland were labeled as Irish by mistake -- but the prices were reasonable.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Early Communion Token or Just a Rock

Here is an intriguing object to ponder.
     A few months ago this piece was offered at auction by cobwrightfortishe -- it sold for over $100. It is from the Andrew Macmillan collection of Scottish CTs. This "token" has the letters AK scored on the obverse with a cross on the reverse. The stone measures 35x24mm.
     Is this a pre-token issue? Is it old?
     What evidence do we have?
     The circular note card that comes with the piece has some notes to get us started. First, the piece was purchased thirty-five years ago in June 1979. It was attributed by Rev. William D. Cattanach to be a pre-token issue. But there is no evidence in the form of Session records or personal accounts to support this. Furthermore, the chain of ownership does no go back to a parishioner who was awarded the piece.
     The Rev. Cattanach attribution identifies the piece as coming from Athelstaneford. This parish is located northeast of Haddington in East Lothian. The obverse letters -- AK -- are consistent enough. Brook describes a small round piece from this parish with the letters AK incused, but the lettering is hardly unique (see Ashkirk for example).
     We need to dig further.
     Athelstaneford is a small town where an epic battle between the Picts and an invading army of Angles from Northumbria took place in the year 832. The Pictish King, Oengus II, experienced a vision the night before the engagement: St. Andrew promised him a glorious victory. The following morning there appeared in the blue sky a white cross formed by clouds. This was taken as a sign, as Saint Andrew had been crucified on a diagonal white cross.
     The Picts won the day and dedicated their victory to the patron saint. Thereafter, they adopted the blue flag with diagonal white cross as the Scottish flag. The leader of the beaten army was named Athelstan, and since he had been killed in the battle by the river, this place was called Athelstanford.
     The cross on the stone is not diagonal. But could it still represent the white cross? Or is it simply Christian symbolism. Probably the latter.
     So how about the Rev. Cattanach? What do we know about him?
     He was ordained in April 1951 and received his doctorate in divinity in 1970. He was considered well-versed in church history. Incidently, he was an avid bird watcher. Rev. Cattanach was a minister in Geneva where John Knox preached, and he also served at St. George's West church in Edinburgh. He certainly was in a position to make a better guess about the stone than most of us.
     Looking back further, we know that the Romans used pebbles as counters and tokens. Often a white stone was given as a ticket to award ceremonies for those who had won an athletic competition. Of course, small stones were used as amulets or charms throughout time.
     In Revelation 2:17, the following is said: "To the victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it." Is this a ticket? A ticket that promises salvation to all believers? I leave that to the scholars to figure out.
     Then there is the Jewish tradition of placing small stones on grave markers -- a tradition that has been adopted by others.
     So what do we make of all this?
     The parish church at Athelstaneford is certainly old enough. The original church was founded in 1176, whereas the present church dates from 1780.
     Was this inscribed pebble used as a communion token? Or was it used later for a commemoration of communion in the early days? Maybe it was used for a special service or study that had nothing to do with communion.
     All of this notwithstanding, we can only trust that Rev. Cattanach knew something. But we also need to entertain a certain about of skepticism.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Market Watch

This Market Watch reviews all ebay auctions and sales from December 8 thru December 14. It was a spirited week with 137 CTs trading hands. At one point, there were over 420 active listings.
     One of the big movers this time around was the serial auctions by benachie; he offered 88 CTs on Saturday to close out the week with a fury of activity -- this represented two-thirds of the action reported here. But let us not forget the always captivating offerings by cobwrightfortishe with 17 pieces going up on Friday, all of them from the seventeenth century.
     All told, there were 79 CTs that sold for under $79 -- most of them were low grade, but a few boasted of nice surfaces with great eye. Forty-one CTs in the B range crossed the block, whereas another 11 BB CTs were strong sellers. There were four more CTs that sold for over $75 in the A range and two additional pieces at the top in the AA category. Robust prices overall: over 40% of the CTs hammered down this week were in the B to AA range!
The reverse is a stock design that appeared in the
late 1840s; the obverse was made to order.
The CT from Ballywillan also shares this reverse,
but the obverse does not have a date.
     The most bids and biggest money was for two Irish ovals: each piece brought the same hammer price of $176. We have seen this before -- Irish pieces bring out the serious wallets. The first one was a piece from Ballywillan Church (B710) in Londonderry. Nine bidders vied for it, casting 14 bids -- but two big bids were entered as the hammer came down, increasing the price by $60 as the final seconds ticked off. The oval is undated, but is likely to date after 1845. Here is the link: Ballywillan CT.
     The second oval was a reprise of the same story: ten bidders, 17 bids, with the winning bid upping the stakes by $80 in the last moments. This oval was from Fauchanvale Church (B2514) in Londonderry. Above is an old photo of one that sold over a decade ago.
     Four A CTs added to the excitement this week. First up, we had a cut rectangle, dated 1860, from Bridgegate in Lanark (B1008) with serial number 199 stamped within a small frame. Only a few CTs were serial numbered to allow a record of each token (and who received them). This piece was bid to $91 with four bidders competing. Secondly, an English oval, dated 1853, from Brampton (B983) was bid to $89 by five bidders. In the third spot, a true Glasgow square (BK469) with the city crest in the center, and dated 1776, was bid to $85 by four determined bidders. And finally, a primitive rectangle (oddly shaped at 25x12mm) from Huntingdon, Quebec, in Canada (CE214) brought a BIN price of $85. This little piece, dated 1835, had been for sale for several months. It is rare, and I am surprised that it did not sell sooner -- it is listed for twice the price in Charlton. Here is an old photo of this curious bit of Canadian history.
     All in all, a very strong week for trading.
The Huntingdon piece is utilitarian
design: small, simple & easy to hold.
     There were many nice CTs selling in the B and BB ranges. In particular, a nice Balmerino round with the blundered 1725 date sold for $25, and a nice pair of Barony Glasgow-squares sold for under $30 each. A few more dollars could have won an 1801 Elgin oval with the serpents slithering under the date for $62. Or how about the ever popular 1678 Brechin round (with the last two digits clear) for $71. And finally, a small square from Grange with the heart motif could be had for $70. All were neat pieces. And yes, if you have been watching for the past few years, the prices are climbing somewhat.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

More on early squares of Fife

Earlier this week, I neglected to show the early Dunbog piece that was square.
     So here it is. As such, there are at least three shapes known for this CT: the irregular octagonal as pictured in Brook (BK328), the "lozenge shaped" described in Burzinski (B2243 -- I have not seen this one), and the square one pictured here (not described in BK or B).
     The same die appears to be used for the octagonal and square one. As such, the flans were cut by hand and the die was pressed into each one. It was probably not a hammer die, as there appears to be no evidence of die bounce. A small screw press could have been used.
     The question remains: Did the shapes mean anything special? Or, were the shapes just a result of successive batches? Maybe different cutters made the flans, but I doubt that too much variation would have been tolerated.
     A single die could have been used for several years. Close inspection suggests that the same die was used on the two Dunbog pieces. For example, the dot over the M is slightly off-center to the left on both pieces, and the letters (both inside and outside the inner rim) line up in the same way when comparing them. Wear and corrosion make an exact match difficult to determine.
Anstruther Easter Parish Church
     Also for inspection is the remarkable CT from Anstruther Easter that was found in the vincinity. This one has an anchor in the middle that represents the harbor that is located there (in fact, it is included in the crest of the modern day burgh of Kilrenny, Anstruther Easter & Anstruther Wester. In particular, AE is located on the north bank of the Firth of Forth and is home to a fishing museum that boasts of its maritime history. The church was constructed about 1634 as a chapel for the Kilrenny parish, but it became the parish church for AE in 1640. There is a nice picture of this church on Wikipedia that is attributed to photographer Jim Bain.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Pre-Glasgow Squares

Here is a favorite of many CT
collectors, as it is nicely made
with many ornaments.
Glasgow squares are distinctive. The circular design made up of concentric rings placed within a square frame is easy to identify and has a predictable geographic distribution that fans outward from Glasgow (for the most part). But the idea of a circular motif is not at all new.
     Merchant tokens -- farthing pieces in particular -- from the mid-seventeenth century were organized in a similar fashion. Of course, the tokens were round (like coins) and the rings were intuitive.
     Today I examine the similarities between an early token from Dunbog parish in Fife and a farthing token that was commonplace at about the same time. We can only wonder if these pieces share a design heritage. It seems obvious, but reading the mind of an engraver who lived centuries ago is tricky business -- in fact, I have trouble reading my wife's mind today!
     What do we mean by a design heritage. It is a mental representation, a schema that is lodged in the brain of more than one engraver. The common folk also held this schema, particularly if they handled more than a few farthing tokens. For example, most of us today find coins with lettering arched about the rims familiar. If we were asked to design a coin for an art class, many of us would employ this schema (e.g., placing Liberty or 2013 arched along the rim -- or something like that). So it was back then. This is what I mean by a design heritage. Most simply, it was a heritage born of one engraver looking over the shoulder of another. This, coupled with the familiarity of all that came before, is lodged in the cortex of this unknown CT engraver. This much, we can be sure of. But what design features are encoded? For this, we turn to the tokens themselves to see what design elements are used over and over again.
     First, a bit about the parish. Dunbog is a small parish in northwest Fife that borders the river Tay. Farming and cattle grazing is the only industry. The ruins of the old Kirk, dating back to the beginning of the Reformation, were cleared away in 1969; only the graveyard remains. A new church was built in 1803.
     The Dunbog token (BK328) was made during the tenure of Min. John Makgill who served between 1646 and 1654. Afterwards, he served at a parish in Cupar for eight more years, but he resigned in opposition to the demands by the crown to submit to the English episcopacy. These were troubled times that were characterized by much tension (and bloodshed) between the two countries. The CTs were rudely shaped into octagonal and square pieces (and Burzinski mentions a "lozenge-shaped" piece as well). The center shows the initials of the minister: M/JM (first M for minister)and the legend reads: PARISH DUVBOVG.
The farthing on left is from England, but similar pieces are likely to have
circulated (or were known of) in Scotland. Note all the similarities.
     The farthing token was issues by Jonas Whale of Colchester in Essex. I believe that he was a baker. Due to a shortage of small denomination coins, thousands of these tokens were produced between 1640 and 1672. There were common enough to be familiar north of the border (perhaps a reader can elaborate on this, and the use of similar tokens in Scotland). Production of these pieces stopped when Charles II ordered the mint to begin making regal coppers. This particular piece shows the initials of the merchant: W/JS with the location: IN COLCHESTER within the rings.
     Comparing the farthing token with the Dunbog CT, we can immediately see the similarities. The beaded borders of the concentric circles are the same. The lettering is nearly identical with large periods used as stops. The initials in the center are arranged in the same (one over two) configuration with periods flanking the top letter and a period or flower in-between the two bottom letters. Even the size of the design elements are similar such that you could place the round token atop the irregular one and cover the design completely.
     Was the Dunbog piece made by a minter who also made farthings? After all, Dunbog was a small place -- hardly a parish that you would expect to see such a well-designed CT! Typically, a stamped square would be enough for such a farming community in the mid-1600s. Certainly, the irregular flan was made by inexpert hands, so it is the die that is similar -- who made it?
     Last week, sunnyleith provided a link to an earlier CT from Anstruther Easter parish (also in Fife) that exhibits very similar characteristics. This piece bears the name Mr. Colin Adams who was the first minister of this Kirk with a tenure starting in 1641. This makes this token one of (if not the) earliest CTs with a concentric circle design template. In this case, the CT was rotated 45-degrees to produce a diamond effect -- it is square dimensionally. This token was found by a metal detector in Anstruther: imagine that, it has been sitting there -- lost -- for 350 years! Here is the link: Anstruther Easter CT from Fife.
     We can ponder: Did the first Glasgow-styled square come from Glasgow?

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Market Watch

This Market Watch reviews all ebay auctions between December 1 and December 7. This week was rather slow but for one auction on Saturday when benachie offered 98 more CTs from the Scottish collection that he has been selling off.
Here is another example of the silver CT from the Crown
Court Church that sold for $180 about 15 years ago.
     Most of the CTs offered this week sold for under $20. There were a number of rather rough CTs crossing the block, but there were some good opportunities for the sharp buyer who was looking for clean pieces (albeit common) with good eye appeal. There were a few highlights in the upper price ranges too.
     In all, 110 CTs were counted with 77 of them selling for under $20 in the C range. Another 23 CTs sold in the B range with five more going for over $50 in the BB range. Another five pieces sold for A/AA money.
     In particular, a trio of English CTs from the Scottish National Church at the London Crown Court Church sold as a lot for $251 (about $83 each). This lot was offered by a dealer in Ontario, Canada. The group was attributed to Burzinski himself, as the tokens came with some of his packaging.
     The CTs represented a variety set with one of them being a silver piece (B1692) and the two others made of white metal in thick and thin varieties respectively (B1693 & B1694). Seventeen bids were entered by 4 bidders with most of the activity coming in the last few moments. There is a fourth variety in this series (B1695) listed by Burzinski that is made with a silver plated copper flan -- this one was not offered here.
     The Crown Court Church is known as the longest established Kirk in England. The congregation began meeting as early as 1707, whereas this church was constructed in March of 1719. The building was heavily renovated in 1909.
     Among the 98 lots offered by benachie, there were a couple of CTs that brought prices in the A and AA range. One of those pieces was a straight rectangle from Lisburn in Northern Ireland (B4291). We have come to expect high prices for Irish pieces: this one brought 16 bids from 8 bidders, pushing the hammer price to $160 -- the highest price paid for a CT this week. The token was in F-VF condition with even gray color and a few minor hits. Here is the link: Lisburn CT.
     A second CT that garnered active bidding that pushed it into the AA range was a cut rectangle from Neilston (in Renfrew) that was dated 1836 (B5184). The edge cuts were bold on this piece, giving it a distinctive look. This one attracted four bidders, each of them entering multiple bids, to produced a hammer price of $86 after 16 bids.
     All told, there were several nice pieces offered from this collection this time around. One unusual piece that made a second appearance in as many weeks was a Lamington & Wandel (in Lanark) triangle that sold for $65 with 4 bidders contesting (B4075). This price is similar to the BIN price of the one that traded last week for $55. At least sometimes, the marketplace seems consistent.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

More Square and Round Communion Tokens

A pair of CTs from Dirleton Kirk.
Early squares and rounds might have served different functions.
     Take the case of Dirleton Parish in East Lothian. This small village located on the south shore of the Firth of Forth boasts of a stone church dating back to 1612 or shortly thereafter. The structure was dedicated to St. Andrews. It was enlarged in 1650 with the addition of an aisle extending from the right wall that has gained notoriety as one of the first neoclassical structures in Scotland. All counted, there were 600 sittings.
     Two tokens were produced for this church: a round one and a square one (BK291-292). They are simple pieces, one-sided and dateless. The name of the parish is abbreviated: DRL with a line over top to designate the contraction. The letters are in relief and contained within a sunken panel. Apparently, the pieces were molded into squares or rounds and a punch was applied.
     Close inspection of the tokens reveals that the punch used for both shapes is the same. The D is large and thick; the R is a big smaller and higher. The contraction line over top starts at the right edge of the D and almost bisects the upright of the L. Any differences are due to steadiness of hand or press and the pressure applied when sinking the punch (plus wear & tear after production). As such, it is reasonable to suggest that they were made at the same time. But for what purpose?
     It has been suggested that different shaped tokens were given to men and women respectively. The practice of separating men and women in church was established by the apostles. St. Augustine (354AD-430AD) wrote: "The masses flock to the churches ... where a seemly separation of the sexes is observed; where they learn how they may so spend this earthly life."
     Many Presbyterian churches in the USA have separate doorways for men and women. This does not seem to be the case in the Scottish churches that I have seen pictures of. Dirleton has only a single doorway. But this does not tell us how seating was arranged within, or how the communion service was conducted. By the mid-1800s, separate seating gave way to family seating in many churches.
Dirleton Kirk was constructed in the early seventeenth
century. It was enlarged several times, including the aisle
projecting from the right wall. This latter addition was
built about 1660 and is known as the Dirleton Aislie.
The Gothic pinnacles were added in the 1830s.
(Image is from Wikipedia/public domain)
     There are other reasons why CTs of different shapes were made at the same time. For example, there is evidence from session records to show that communion services held on consecutive Sundays required different tokens to insure that no one attended twice.
     Are there other reasons? Perhaps there was a status difference that was signaled by each of the token shapes. Some CTs made of silver in the USA were probably given to a select few.
     As for the Dirleton CTs, no one knows for sure why they were made round and square. All of the above reasons are plausible with the separation between men and women at the top of the list and consecutive services a close second. Maybe the session records contain an answer, as these records apparently date back to 1655.
     Another well-known example of square and round CTs from the same parish (presumably made at the same time) are those from Dunfermline (BK334-335). These are the charming ones with the overlapping hearts -- readers may recall that a pair of these sold for high prices a few months ago. There are other examples too. But how about the rectangular (16x13mm) versus square (13mm) CTs from Combie & Dundurn (BK234-235)?
     In any case, the two shapes remind us that different CTs were used by the same congregation at the same time. Yes, shapes did evolve over time, but not always in the same ways within a particular parish or geographic region.
     I wonder who got the rounds and who got the squares? I think the square ones are more manly.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Market Watch

This Market Watch reviews ebay auctions held between November 24 through November 30. Two auctions dominated the trading this week: cobwrightfortishe offered 15 CTs on Tuesday, whereas benachie offered 102 CTs on Saturday. In between these auctions, the block was relatively quiet with 22 CTs sold.
     All together, 139 CTs sold this week -- an active period. As usual, most of the tokens sold for less than $20, adding up to ninety-three pieces or about two-thirds of the total. Many good buys could be found among these C tokens.
     Twenty-two CTs sold in the B range of under $50, whereas eleven pieces brought BB money. Two CTs were bid past the $75 or A marker.
From Brook: Here are two of the pieces that sold last week.
Hand-crafted octagonal pieces are attractive, as they are
primitive and misshapen with an ancient charm.
     As we have come to expect, the cobwrightfortishe auction featured several rare and high quality pieces -- all of them bringing strong prices. There were two A pieces that sold for over $75, and several more that sold for very close to this mark in the high BB range -- in fact, six more pieces sold for prices above $60. All of these CTs were from the Macmillan collection.
     The top A piece was a irregular-cut octagonal piece dated 1766 from Fortingall in Perth (BK441B). It was dark gray and pin-pricked with corrosive heads, but still with a nice look for a relatively rare piece. Five bidders cast 7 bids, pushing the hammer price to $78. This piece was one of three octagonal CTs from Fortingall offered, as similar pieces dated 1746 (BK441) and 1785 (BK442) brought $76 and $67 respectively. Brook listed a fourth piece in the series that was dated 1756.
     By the way, the parish churchyard at Fortingall has one of the oldest trees in all of Europe: a yew tree that is at least 2000 years old and maybe twice that. A stone wall was built in 1785 to protect this landmark that is believed to have provided refuge for early Christian worshippers who settled there as early as 700AD.
Here is the Fortingall Yew.
(from SNAIK, Wikimedia)
     Early octagonal pieces are not rare as a group, but they are infrequently encountered -- Brook and Kerr & Lockie list less than 20 of them. Many of the early ones are irregularly shaped with unequal sides and are charming as such. The Fortingall series is one of the longest series of these hand-crafted designs: Kenmore in Perth boasts a series of three such pieces (plus a newer one at the time of the great disruption of 1843).
     Two unusual engraved CTs from Garvaldin in Lothians (BK463 & BK463 variety with extra star) sold in the BB range: $65 and $67 respectively. Bidding came from seven bidders overall, but both pieces went to a single buyer. Both CTs were in excellent condition with minimal wear and no distractions. Here a link to one of them: Engraved CT from Girthon.
     The extended auction of 102 CTs from benachie included many inexpensive pieces, but three of them were bid past the $50 mark with one piece in particular pushing towards the A marker with a hammer price of $72: a Perth rectangle dated 1745 (the so-called "Jacobite Rising" piece mentioned in a previous post). Five bidders competed with 17 bids (and many more automatic bids that resulted in 16 price changes in the last 15 minutes).
     In contrast, a lowly Dunbog square from Fife that was used in the 1650s only garnered $16 with few bids.
     Finally, a few BIN sales bested the BB mark: an attractive rectangle from Mertoun in Berwick (BK798) dated 1700 and a primitive triangle with an incuse letter on each side from Lamington & Wandel (BK702).

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Six Months and Counting

This blog is six months old. Hurray for that!
     It is a bitter day at the end of a Thanksgiving weekend -- a nice time to be out in the country, curled next to a fire, thinking about tokens, collecting, and the meaning of it all. When this blog started on the 8th of June, it was warm and inviting outside -- an odd time to start a blog. Today is bone-chilling: more of a thinking and writing day.
     I was not sure where the blog would lead at first. I had just finished writing a guidebook -- for myself actually, and then getting some more printed to share. I had been immersed in CT land for most of the previous winter and spring.
     Writing (and collecting) is akin to jumping into a whirlwind of sorts: the funnel sucks you down, as you learn more and more minutia. Once you are in the zone, the world seems to revolve around these bits of lead. Perhaps this is where evolution ends. Trivial discoveries seem significant somehow. Did you know that 21% of all CTs from Berwick are round? Yes, of course you did.
     You can get swallowed up for evenings at a time. Others raise their eyebrows incredulously, feigning grimaces for each others' amusement, all the while wondering what is so intoxicating about these little tokens. That you pay good money for them only adds to their dismay.
     At least I am not glued to the TV or out shopping for more socks! Or eating another Big Mac!
     We will have none of that here. This blog is a sanctum -- deep within the funnel -- where we can nurture our obsession -- revel in it without self-reproach. Shout it out! I hope folks have enjoyed the ride thus far.
     If you have not purchased one of my guidebooks, now is a good time. I am posting a few on ebay for $10 and free shipping all during December. It is perfect holiday reading. It will inspire you to consider all the types of CTs out there while providing a pat on the back from a fellow collector. Also, what a great gift -- maybe those incredulous others will understand!? No, I doubt it -- but worth a try!
     Yes, of course you already know a lot of stuff about CTs. But did you know that Ayr squares from the Associate Church represent a unique and tightly regional design? And that most of them have scary, shark teeth? Or how about the scripted squares from Berwick? These, too, came and went quickly and represent a regional subtype. The book explores these tidbits. You will certainly think of some more, and so the idea of organizing CTs by shape, size, design and region can be inspiring!
     If you are from the UK or Canada, and you want a book, please leave a comment on the blog, and I can arrange to send you one for $8 plus postage -- this is the same deal as stateside. If there is interest, I can create an ebay offering for non-USA collectors.
     Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

More from Baltimore: A New York Token. Rare, but how Desirable?

Last Sunday I asked: "Where are all the USA tokens?"
     While at the Baltimore Expo in early November I found some.
     In particular, I spied a rectangular piece with rounded corners from Newburgh, New York. I had a chance to buy it, but passed. My wife would be happy to know this, but I decided to not mention it -- why fan the flames of denunciation?
     But like many collectors who have been in this situation, I am still thinking about it, quietly.
     It is a simple piece with UPC/NB on the obverse. The reverse is blank. The letters were punched in separately, so they are uneven in a way that announces its improvised production -- of course, they are incuse. The letter punches are thin as seen in printing. No two tokens are identical, but all are cataloged as B7042 or Bason-96.
     It is rare? Yes.
     When did you last see one?
     The Presbyterians organized in Newburg, NY, in the 1770s. There is mention of a wooden church being erected in 1793. In 1817, the congregation had about 100 members. In 1855, about half this number withdrew to organize the Calvary Presbyterian Church -- a new brick church was built and dedicated in 1858.
     On the national stage, the Associate Reformed Church and the Associate Presbyterian Church joined together to form the United Presbyterian Church (UPC). Consequently, the Newburgh token is likely to date sometime after this merger. But which church? Calvary?
     Both Bason and Burzinski list a similar token from New York City (attributed to a church on West 44th Street). This other one is also rectangular with rounded corners. It is simply punched too (but with periods added): U.P.C. Is this relevant? Your guess is as good as mine.
     In any case, both are rare. But they are an acquired taste -- not pretty, just a once-functional bit of Presbyterian history. There are not many collectors of USA CTs out there to start with. In fact, one dealer once quipped that there are so few USA CTs available in the marketplace that it is hard to keep the motivation high enough to seriously collect them. But I am sure, this CT is on someone's want-list.
     I wonder how many collectors of USA CTs are out there?
     One aspect of the marketplace that I have noticed is that there are clearly defined subgroups of CT collectors with few cross-overs.
     Those collecting the Scottish series are legion, as there are more than enough tokens to go around. Consequently, prices are reasonable. And, motivation to get a few more is high. On ebay, you can see these collectors bidding over and over again. The usual suspects show up for each auction.
     In contrast, other CT series are collected by distinctly different groups. And the pricing structure is different too -- that is, they cost much more.
     In fact, if we look at ebay prices for the past three months, the top three tokens reflect three different collecting groups. The highest priced tokens have come from Jamaica (sold for $338 on November 17), New Zealand (sold for $250 on September 1), and Ireland (sold for $197 on November 9). There was almost no overlap between bidders on these pieces, or between these bidders and those who have bid on the top Scottish pieces. I counted only one cross-over bidder among the competitors.
     Is there a separate group of folks waiting for a USA CT to come up for auction? The last USA piece that sold on ebay was an Allegeny, PA, token that sold at a BIN price of $225 on August 8. In contrast, a New York oval, dated 1799, did not sell in January at a start price of $995. Several bidders vied for the New York pieces offered by StacksBowers in mid-August -- but of course, these were exquisite pieces from a great collection. Four pieces sold for prices between $190 and $425 a piece.
     How much interest would the Newburgh, NY, piece bring?

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Market Watch

This Market Watch examines ebay auctions from November 17 through November 23. It is freezing outside, but the CT market is hot with 88 sales this week and nearly 300 listings on ebay at this moment.
     Most of the CTs sold were part of a large auction that was held yesterday by benachie. This seller offered 67 pieces, most of them selling for low to low mid-range prices with one piece crossing the $50 mark. These pieces are from a Scottish collection of about 700 pieces -- this was the second offering, so there are many more on the way! I noticed some nice buys in this group.
     All told, sixty-one CTs sold for under $20 or in the C range. Eighteen more sold in the BB range, and five pieces were bid into the B range of over $50 (but under $75). There were three CTs in the A range and one more in the AA range (that is, sold for over $100). Two of the pieces in the A range were sold in a single lot for $197, so they were nudging up against the $100 mark.
     Please remember that I am using a new rating system (AA, A, BB, B, C) to group CT sales according to hammer prices. The cut-offs are still arbitrary at this point -- someday I will provide a more statistical examination of the CT market price structure.
     The top CT this week was a piece that I have talked about before: a Jamaica West Indies oval from the Scottish Missionary Society (B6334) that brought $338 in a hotly contested auction that opened with a rock-bottom start-bid. The CT was offered by stevehayden -- it was likely part of a collection of Central American tokens that he is currently selling. It might be part of the Rulau collection, but this attribution was not stated. The purchaser should ask about this. In any case, ten bidders entered 19 bids.
     Interestingly, nearly all the bidders appeared to be token collectors who were focused on the region versus CT-specific collectors -- I noticed only one cross-over bidder who often vies for Scottish CTs among the top five bidders. This suggests that most of those who collect the Scottish series or the Canadian series were not involved in this auction. Certainly CTs appeal to folks for different reasons. Here is the link: Jamaica SMS CT.
     Of note, there is another Jamaican SMS CT offered for nearly $600 on ebay at present. In contrast, the two SMS pieces (representing two varieties: Lots 1150 & 1151) in the Simmons auction last month brought about $180 each. So, how bad do you want one?
Here is another example of
a New London CT from PEI.
     The pair of A tokens that sold for about $98 apiece were Irish CTs. They were cut-rectangles from Monreagh P.C. in Donegal (B4945). Ten bids were entered by 7 bidders with the price doubling in the final seconds. A similar piece sold in the Simmons auction (Lot 1124) for $128 -- you get a deal if you buy two for one money! Here is the link: Two Irish CTs from Monreagh in Donegal.
     The remaining A token was a Glasgow-styled CT, dated 1832, from New London on Prince Edward Island in Canada (B5282 or PE216). It sold for $86 after two bidders battled for two hours, entering 19 bids as the auction closed. In all, 28 bids were entered by 7 bidders. It was a nice piece with light golden toning on silver surfaces. The price was spot-on as compared to the Charlton estimate of $90.
     Another Canadian piece was bid to $72 -- just shy of the A CT category. This one was an irregular round piece from Harvey Settlement in New Brunswick (B3231 or NB216). This primitive bit attracted 9 bidders who entered 20 bids. I have never seen this one offered before, so I suppose it was boon time for the Canadian collectors. Here is the link: Harvey Settlement CT from New Brunswick. The Charlton estimate was between $45 and $60. Get it when you can!
     Well, there you have it. An active week with non-Scottish pieces leading the way: Jamaican, Irish and Canadian pieces bringing out the wallets. Looking back at the last three months, the top 10 sales have been dominated by these pieces (plus the New Zealand CT profiled a while back) with only four Scottish CTs (one of them a rock!) in the mix. Where are the USA CTs?

Friday, November 22, 2013

Early Ovals

In my last post, I made an error.
One of the earliest ovals?
     I looked at the date on one of my communion tokens, and without pondering it further, or looking at my reference books (like Burzinski), I assumed that the date indicated the age of the token! Sounds reasonable, but as most seasoned CT collectors know, some dates reflect the founding of the church, or the election of a church official, or a significant change in the organization of the church.
     I should have known, as the token was well made and still had the sheen of newness that we find in mass produced pieces. It was an oval from Musselburgh in Lothians (B5106). On the reverse, the date was prominently centered: 1783. Burzinski made a notation that this was the date that the Millhill U.P. Church was erected. It is not clear when this CT was used, but given the thick letters and expert production, it appears to be a second-quarter nineteenth century piece.
     My thanks (again) to sunnyleith who reminded me of all this.
     This is my opportunity to invite you to provide comments as well. Remember that this blog is an exploration. Like most of you, I am a collector who is reading and discovering new things everyday. So please add a comment: Let me know what you are thinking!
     So, let us get to our topic. What are some of the earliest ovals out there? I took the afternoon to provide a few findings in this regard.
     Brook lists 12 ovals and pictures nine of them. Kerr & Lockie add two more and picture them both in their 1940-41 monograph aimed at updating Brook's listings. This adds up to 14 ovals cataloged before 1800 -- quite a small number.
     The earliest one that I found was BK257 (B1730) from Cumbernauld in Dunbarton. This one is an upright oval dated 1752 and measuring 27x24mm. Interestingly, this token also illustrates the very aspect that I mentioned above, as it provides an early date of 1650 to denote when the church was established. And, in this case, it says so -- hard to argue with that! Now that I have highlighted this CT, we all want one!
     A second early oval is a piece dated 1761 from Gargunnock in Stirling (BK454 or B2800). This one illustrates another aspect of early ovals that I mentioned in the previous post: it appears to be an out-of-round round with its slight dimensions of 25x24mm. Go ahead and say it three times, quickly: out-of-round round. For a similar piece (OORR) see BK986.
     Kerr & Lockie picture a primitive token that is distinctly oval at 24x19mm with no more than a T on the obverse from Torosay in Mull of the Inner Hebrides (KL288 or B6734). As I was looking this one up in Burzinski, I could not help but notice that another primitive oval (this one from England) was listed just below it -- it also was identified by a single incuse T (B6735-36 including a variety). And so it goes: the more we look; the more we find! 
     We are fortunate to have this fascinating hobby!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

More Fall Colors: Early Cut Rectangles and Ovals

I am not sure when the first cut rectangle appeared.
Two early cut rectangles.
Is there an earlier one?
     It was probably shaped to ease handling -- not to be pretty or to set a standard. Consider this: the rectangle is easier to hold by the fingertips than a small square or round. It is also easier to pass a rectangle to another person. Try it!
     The elongated shape also provided more space for data. I am sure that die/mold cutters liked the broad expanse offered by the rectangular shape: no more crunched letters or fussy monograms!
     But cutting the corners was the true innovation. Right angles are sharp. This is particularly true when the token is cut or punched from hammered stock.
     Yes, it is more decorative, but this feature was probably secondary to providing "soft" corners for the fingers.
     One of the first cut corner rectangles I can think of is the 1745
piece from Kinnell. It was profiled in a Market Watch a while back, and another one sold last week. It shows thin letters that appear to be scratched into the die by inexpert hands. But of interest here, are the corners -- they are cut ever so slightly to provide a comfortable piece.
     Is this the first cut corner rectangle?
     Curiously, both Brook and Burzinski missed this feature! It is quite surprising for Burzinski to ignore the corners, as he was certainly exacting regarding the square vs. rectangle discrimination.
     Another early rectangle that is clearly cut to provide comfort is the 1778 piece from Balquidder. This one, too, is made from hammered stock, so it needs to have the corners modified to reduce sharp points. The cutting is obvious on this one.
     Now, let us examine the ovals. Of course, the oval shape did not have any "sharp edge" problems. The edges are hand-friendly all the way around -- just like rounds ones. But unlike the round pieces, the oval has the advantage of being easy to hold and pass to another person -- after all, CTs are tickets of a sort.
     Like the cut rectangle, the oval has a broad face whereon much data can be placed. It is no surprise that the oval rivaled the cut rectangle at the start of the nineteenth century.
     [Some errors here have been corrected by sunnyleith -- I removed them to avoid confusion, but see his helpful comments, and my next post]. *If you see an error or have a question: Please Comment!
     So, I wonder: When was the first oval made? I am sure that there is an old molded one out there somewhere in the early era. It was an outlier piece -- an out-of-round round one perhaps.
     As we saw from the graph yesterday, cut rectangles and ovals arrived on the scene late but came to dominate the Scottish CT series. The oval was the most popular piece at the start of the nineteenth century, but the cut rectangle finished stronger. Stay tuned for a bar graph that puts this progression in sharper focus.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Squares, Rectangles & Rounds in Fall Colors: The Key!

A while back I presented a colorful graph. I suspect most folks figured some of it out. As you know from earlier posts, I like to use shapes as a starting point for classifying CTs from Scotland. When the shapes are tallied across time, interesting trends (and regional variations) come to light.
     So here is the key to the puzzle. The first two colors are squares, rectangles & rounds. The squares and rectangles were grouped together and given a deep brick red. But the rounds stand alone and are of lighter color. These were among the earliest pieces.
Some early squarish ones, or should
we call some of them rectangular?
     Yes, hearts appeared early too, but they did not last long and would only produce a sliver on this graph. Odd shaped CTs with unequal sides also arrived early on, but these were anomalies and barely merit a space on this graph. If I put them in with green hues then we might see them.
     The squares and rectangles were grouped together since they are closely related. In fact, some tokens are squarish due to one uneven or scalloped side, or else they are barely rectangular with a difference of one millimeter. Burzinski liked to sharply differentiate the shapes as one or the other, whereas Brook used the term "squarish" here and there.
     Some pieces had square designs on slightly rectangular flans. Certainly, some pieces were clearly elongated with relaxed spacing of letters and numbers or with three lines of data -- true rectangles! In any case, you can see the big area taken up by these two right-angled CT forms.
Roundish and Round.
     The rounds became less popular over time and never rivaled the right-angled pieces. However, they remained in use until the end when they were about as popular.
     Can you figure out the other colors? If not hearts or octagons, then what? Hint: just look at the key.
     Of course I am referring to the modern shapes. For starters, we have to give the cut rectangle its own category, as these became the most popular type. And so here they are, showing a "slim" beginning. Despite the puny start, they began to assert themselves at the start of the nineteenth century. Cut rectangles became dominant at the end.
     So what is left? The oval of course! And, as you can see, the oval had its day! It dominated briefly, coming on strong in the late eighteenth century. It was quite popular at the turn of the century. The oval was eventually eclipsed, but remained popular.
     In the end, the big pieces took over: rotund ovals and broad cut rectangles. All the data could be squeezed on the obverse, leaving the reverse for a Bible verse.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Market Watch

This Market Watch reviews ebay auctions from November 10 through November 16. It was a busy week with 122 CTs sold. Just yesterday, 93 CTs were sold, so most of the action was on Saturday. Prices spanned the whole range, so everyone had a chance to get something. Here is one of the pleasures of CT collecting: You can add one or two pieces each week for reasonable dollars!
     I decided to change the rating system this week. HD and D descriptors will no longer be applied, as many fine CTs are desirable even at lower prices. Instead, I will use a more intuitive model. Here we go: AA tokens are those that sell at or over the $100 mark, whereas A tokens are those that sell for less but cross the $75 mark.  BB tokens are those that sell in the upper middle range of $50 to $74, and B tokens include the lower mid-range of $21 to $50. Finally, we get to C tokens -- those in the less than $20 range. Note that these are the same ranges used previously. If you need adjectives, we can say, "awesome, better, and cheap" -- but remember, we are only referring to selling prices, not quality or importance of the pieces. That, we leave to the collector.
     As is usual, most of the CTs sold this week were C pieces: 84 of them. In the lower mid-range (B), there were 26 CTs sold, whereas 9 tokens were in BB land. There was one A CT and two AA CTs. These figures clearly show that most CTs sell for reasonable prices. This is encouraging for anyone who wants to get started, as nearly 70% of CTs sold for less than $20 -- I noticed many attractive and/or interesting pieces in this group (and purchased a few myself).
     A new seller -- benachie -- came online this week who listed 75 CTs from "a Scottish collection of 700 examples that lain dormant/untouched since the 1970s." Also, cobwrightfortishe offered 16 more CTs from the Macmillan collection.
     The top AA piece sold for $126. Six bidders vied for this one, casting 9 bids, doubling the price on the last day. It was a straight rectangle from Ireland in moderately worn, but unblemished, condition. The CT was from the York Street Church in Belfast (B7285). As noted last week, these pieces are hot -- one sold in the Simmons Auction for $88. Here is the link: Irish CT from Belfast.
The burning bush/AMO AMO
design was used on at least three
highland CTs: same reverse die?
     The second AA CT came from a grouping of 16 pieces offered by cobwrightfortishe on November 16th: a round piece from Fearn (BK417) with the burning bush/AMO AMO design on the reverse. This specimen presented with irregular edges (as made) and smooth surfaces steeped in a rich ashen patina -- no wear was noticable, and the burning bush was strong. It  attracted five bidders, casting 6 bids to push the hammer price to $116 -- all the usual suspects were in this one. Here is the link: CT from Fearn.
     This burning bush reverse design can be found on CTs from Auldearn, Avoch and Fearn -- three parishes in close proximity near the Moray Firth. The round pieces from these churches are all irregular with thin, hand-cut letters/numbers. They appear to be the work of a single engraver.
     The only A token was also included in the cobwrightfortishe auction: an upright straight rectangle, dated 1739, from Fogo in Berwick (BK430). Six bidders actively competed for this one with 12 bids entered to produce a very strong price of $96 (almost in AA range). It was described as a "rare" piece: When was the last time you saw one? Here is the link: CT from Fogo.
     These high points do not adequately characterize the quality and intrigue of the pieces offered this week. Many excellent dated CTs from the 1700s were to be had -- most of them bringing spirited bidding in the BB and B ranges. I think some of the best deals were to had in these categories. I must say that I missed out on a few of them -- but that is the challenge of collecting: namely, the thrill of the hunt and the longing (and misgivings) for the ones that got away.
     Some of these mid-range pieces included two seventeenth century bits with the initials of the minister only (BK424 from Fintray and BK437 from Forgue) -- these primitive squares date from the 1680s and 1650s respectively and represent turbulent times in the history of the Presbyterian Church. Also, two diminutive Fife rectangles from Flisk and Forgan (BK429 and BK434) sold for under $50 -- nice pieces! If you have been wanting a four-cornered dated CT from Fintry (from 1733), one was hammered down at just $55; this is a popular type-piece, as only a few were made like this within a narrow geographic region. These are all great pieces.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

How many CTs can be found at a Big Coin Expo?

I am back from the Big Coin Expo. While there, I decided to ask everyone who looked the part: Do you have any Communion Tokens? How do you look the part? Tokens and foreign coins fill the case (and no slabbed Morgan dollars). The task was to determine just how many CTs can be found by traveling to the big city of old ships and crab cakes.
     The short answer: I found 350 Scottish CTs (plus or minus two or three) and nine (maybe 10) more from the USA. I also met two dealers who claimed to have a few at home ("I have them somewhere, but I'm not sure where").
A double-box of CTs is hard to find!
Just about all of them are from Burzinski.
     The analysis: one exonumia dealer had 330 SCTs + 8 USA CTs, another had 20 SCTs, whereas two foreign coin dealers showed up with 8 and 2 SCTs respectively, and finally a generalist had 1 (maybe 1 more) USA CTs. There you have it. Out of 200+ dealers, five of them had CTs. You could get more bugs (I think they call them scarabs) than you could CTs from all the dealers there, but for one!
     Clearly, the CT marketplace is thin. Few CTs are available for sale in comparison to all other stuff, with silver rounds and Morgan dollars leading the charge. In the past month, there have been more SCTs on ebay at any one time than at this three-day show -- which, by the way, is one of the best USA coin shows you can attend.
     I only brought one book to sell -- good thing, as there was no one to buy it. Nonetheless, a few of us exonumia fans did meet for lunch on Saturday (one of them, other than me, is a CT devotee). One of my accomplices also collects game counters, so he understands the peculiar nature of a thin marketplace: a smattering of pieces, few collectors, and values defined by two folks coveting the same piece.
     So here is what was found. Steve Hayden had brought a double-row box of CTs from the Burzinski collection. They were obtained from Steve Tanenbaum, and they were enclosed in 2x2 holders with his attributions squeezed in the corners with Burzinski boldly written in red ink. These are the remnants of Lester's collection, having passed through several dealers before here. I have been mining these boxes for two years now, but I always go back for one or two more. I got 10 this time, and my friend purchased about 20. Steve has many SCTs on his website too. He is an easy-going guy and fun to buy from.
     Steve had a few USA tokens. I will profile them in other posts, but for now I will mention that most came from PA and NY. Three of them were Buena Vista squares -- not common by any measure, but not bordering on unique as is the case for many USA tokens (Bason-201).
This primitive lead square
from PA reads: AR/C for
Associate Reformed Church.
     Paul Cunningham, a well-known exonumia dealer and TAMS board member, had about 20 SCTs. He had many double-row boxes full of every token imaginable: from Arcades and Circuses to Trollies and Telephones. I think my friend cleaned him out of gaming tokens. Of particular interest, Paul had three USA Trade Dollars that had been shaped into "potty dollars" -- this is when a carver shapes a johnny beneath Ms. Liberty. But here is the best part: They came from Lester Burzinski's collection. I was told that he had a whole box of these!
     Foreign coin dealer Allen Berman brought eight SCTs for me to look at. They were common pieces (three of them Port of Monteith squares, albeit rough), but still the grouping ranked him third in the CT count. Allen is a really nice guy -- full of stories with lots of medieval coins to go with the tales.
     Two more SCTs were spotted in the case of an absent dealer from the Mid-West: a pair of 1699/DBK pieces (Dunblane). They both were dusty with a thin layer of salt on the surfaces.
     Finally, I discovered a single USA CT held for a decade or more by a Virginia dealer. The piece came with an interesting story. It was a rectangular piece attributed to Argyle, New York. According to the story, this token was passed down in a NY family. It was described as unique; however, it is listed as Bason-74. It was a beautiful molded rectangle with bold letters (A M), no wear and unblemished ashen surfaces. It was priced at a firm $750. He had another piece (the maybe piece) that appeared to be completely engraved with a chalice in the center. It may have been a one-off token -- it was not for sale.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Market Watch

This Market Watch covers ebay auctions from November 3 through November 9. It was a busy week with 62 CTs sold (two lots of 3 tokens each are included in the count, making 58 sales in all).
     The week started off with an offering of 18 CTs from tomv007 -- as with many of his auctions last summer, all the tokens offered were from Angus (perhaps from the same collection). Later in the week, there were 31 tokens from a seller in Ontario, Canada, that were listed as "communion tokens" but were something else. The tokens appeared to be a mixture of checks and counters. As such, these pieces were not counted in the weekly tally given above. Finally, the week closed with 12 tokens offered by tavytavy.
     Two-thirds of the tokens (46 of them) sold for less than $20 with some very nice dated squares included in the mix. Another 10 CTs sold in the middle range with three more selling above $50. The stars of the show were two pieces that crossed the $75 mark and one other that sold for a whopping $195 (certainly deserving of the moniker: highly desired or HD CT).
This crude, but apparently quite rare,
rectangle from Ireland sold for $195. 
     The HD CT was a piece from Ballylennon in Donegal, Ireland. It was a crude rectangle that was irregularly shaped and impressed with BL for the county on the obverse and GH for the minister George Hanson on the reverse. It was a specialist piece with only three bidders pushing the price from about $50 on the last day to $195 at the hammer. A closer look at the picture revealed that this was the same CT that sold last month in the Simmons Gallery auction as Lot 1104 for about $48 -- quite a profit for a quick flip! Here is the link: Irish CT from Ballylennon.
     As mentioned above, two other CTs were bid past $75. First, a round piece from Montrose in Angus (B4684) was bid to $86 with five bidders vying for ownership. The token was attractive with smooth surfaces and sharp details; however, it did have a small scratch near the rim that showed bright. Still, the price was strong. It was from the group offered by tomv007. Here is the link: Round CT from Montrose.
     Second, a heart from Clackmannan dated 1731 (B1460) attracted 13 bids from four bidders. The piece was smoothed by wear with a few hits here and there -- a decent specimen for one that often is found in scraggy condition. The bidding was steady and strong from the start, as hearts are always popular. Everyone who collects CTs want a heart! The final price was $76. This one came from tavytavy. Here is the link: Heart CT from Clackmannan.
     Have you noticed that the number of sales is picking up. As I post this, we have over 390 listings for CTs on ebay! This week, we have witnessed the return of two sellers that we have not seen in a few months.
     On another topic, stay tuned for a recap of the Baltimore Coin Expo.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Communion Token Art

I have an intriguing graph for you to ponder -- in Fall colors too. I did not include the KEY, so that you could enjoy the contours with unclouded mind.
     But the colors do have significance.
     You can see that all the Scottish CTs are included along the vertical axis, whereas time marches across the horizontal axis in 20-year intervals.
     So what does all this signify?
     I am sure that you will figure it out. I did, however, group all the right angles together. Yes, this is a clue: all the right angles, together.
     We can explore all of this later. For now, enjoy the shades of autumn and contemplate your tokens. The cooler weather means more time inside with hot cider. And during these breaks in routine, we may decide to pull out our tokens and thumb through them, thinking about how they changed across time.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

CT & Token Get Together at Baltimore Expo

The Baltimore Expo, sponsored by Whitman, is next weekend: November 8-10. If you are planning to go, this would be a good time to meet up.
     The Expo is probably the best East Coast numismatic show in the USA. There are several token dealers who attend, and they usually have a few CTs on hand. Of course, if they do not know you are shopping for CTs beforehand, they may leave some of their stock at home, as few collectors ask to see them. But at least you can connect with them. Of course, there is no one that specializes in them, as the collector base is thin, and the dealers would starve if that is all they had to sell.
     I have purchased many CTs from Steve Hayden who is currently selling off the last remnants of Lester Burzinski's collection. Hayden acquired much of his stock from the late Steve Tanenbaum's estate. Hayden has many other tokens to look at -- particularly Civil War tokens, as these are hot right now.
Like a medieval fair, the dealers travel long distances and
set out their trinkets: old coins, tokens, odd bits ...
and hopefully, a few leaden squares and rounds.
     In addition, several foreign dealers have a lonely CT or two in their cases. You never know what you will find sitting next to a silver penny or groat.
     For those looking to branch out, or just let your impulses go unchecked, there will be many other coins, tokens and oddments for which to spend your hard-earned cash. It is good for your health to explore new collecting areas.
     I will be there on Friday and Saturday. I am not hunting for anything in particular, but who knows! If you want to talk tokens, I will be out front in the foyer of the show at 12 noon on Saturday getting one of their famous crab cake sandwiches. Maryland is known for its crab cakes, and the ones at the show are actually pretty good -- much better than the charred hot-dogs that you find at local coin shows. Still, too many crab cakes will kill you while you sleep!
     I will wear my trademark mustard ball cap that reads: One Coin is Never Enough -- very cool. So look for the cap, or the guy chewing on a crab cake. At least one other CT collector will be there too. I will bring a few books to show or sell if you are interested.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Market Watch

This Market Watch reviews all ebay auctions between October 27 and November 2. It has been a busy week with many more listings than usual. As the weather cools and the sun retreats to the southern hemisphere, the CT market seems to be heating up -- or at least more sellers are bringing their tokens to the marketplace. At one point, we had nearly 400 ebay listings at one time -- a record in 2013.
     Overall, 110 CTs crossed the block in 95 sales (note: several pairs were sold together and a set of five was offered for "one money.") There were two HD CTs sold (those over $100), and two D CTs sold (those over $75). Four more sold for over $50. But do not let the high prices fool you, as this was a week for many great deals: 81 CTs crossed the block for less than $20, and many of these were very nice. Completing the tally, nine more CTs changed hands in the lower middle range ($20 to $49).
     Two big sales accounted for the increase in CTs sold this week. The week started with a large two-day auction by jamesdicksonbooks, a UK dealer who sells antiquarian theological books and ephemera. He offered 16 CTs on October 28, but that was just the warm-up act, as 38 more CTs crossed the block the following day. He has sold on ebay before but has not been present for awhile -- I have purchased from him and recommend this seller. The week closed with cobwrightfortishe offering 16 CTs on Friday. Several of them were rare, and all of them brought very strong prices (all the HD and D tokens were in this lot). There was something for everyone.
     The first auction attracted a small group of bidders -- many inexpensive lots were contested by two or three bidders. In particular, jamesdicksonbooks sold 50 CTs for under $20. There were some nice Glasgow squares in there that should have brought more money in my opinion (as you know that I like these tokens). At first glance, it appeared that the folks in bidder land were all asleep when the auction was going, but that is not true, as a few pieces attracted much attention and brought strong bids with more than a handful of bidders contesting -- as such, prices for three CTs were pushed into the mid-range ($42, $47 and $57). These prices and bidding action are telling of what is scarce and what is not. Still, I must admit that I was asleep on this one.
Here is BK384. The castle is quite
attractive to collectors. Pictorials
do not get any better than this!
     This brings us to the grand finale. As expected, cobwrightfortishe did not disappoint. Nearly 20 bidders were waiting. The top piece was the last of the series of Edinburgh castle CTs that he auctioned off about two weeks ago -- this one was dated 1795 with JG/DG on reverse (BK384). It was sharply detailed with some yellow and black toning that did not adversely impact its great eye appeal. Thirteen bids from 7 bidders vied for this one, but it came down to two collectors at the end with the under-bidder entering 7 bids within the last 45 minutes against a previously entered high dollar mark. The castle was hammered down at $159. All told, the five Edinburgh pieces (this one plus the four auctioned earlier) were dispersed into four collections. Here is the link: Edinburgh Castle Token BK384.
Going "Stag" anyone?
This one is not nearly as nice!
     The second big sale was also nabbed by the same bidder who had entered an early "high" bid. This piece, also from Edinburgh (more specifically, Canongate) depicted a stag within a shield and was dated 1764 on the reverse. Like the previous one, it is an iconic CT that is always popular (BK 388). Fourteen bids from 6 bidders competed with most of the action unfolding in the last few minutes. It was an evenly worn ("Fine" condition) piece with great patina and strong details -- much better than the one illustrated in Brook or the one sold in the Norweb collection. The hammer price? A whopping $154 -- big money, but for a worthy token that is hard to find nice. Here is the link: Canongate Stag CT.
     A round version of this stag token (BK387) had preceded the sale described above. It was a somewhat ruddy piece with some discoloration, but it attracted nine bids from 7 bidders to bring a strong price of $86. It was a round version of the square one and was dated 1727. The under-bidder on the one previously described got this one -- so hopefully, everyone was happy enough.
     Finally, another round CT from St. Cuthberts (also in Edinburgh) sold for $90 after five bidders entered twice as many bids to decide where this one was headed. It was a simple token with STC on the obverse (note: uppercase T) and 1776 on the reverse (BK385).
     Whew! Lots of action this week!