Friday, June 28, 2013

Ovals scream out: I am CT!

The oval is the most modern CT shape. It is not easy to handcraft an oval die with a chisel put to stone. But machines did it precisely. Ovals were popular to the end, but they played second fiddle to the cut rectangles.
     Ovals began to appear with some regularity in the last decade of the eighteenth century. Their use peaked in the 1840s and declined afterwards, never disappearing. After all, ovals provided a suitable alternative to the cut rectangle. Ovals share the advantages of cut rectangles: they are easy to grasp and are hand-friendly with gentle curves; plus, they offer a broad face that can hold much data. Like cut rectangles, Bible verses were often placed on the reverse of ovals after 1840.
Some early ovals with a few unusual handcrafted ones show
the wide range of sizes and shapes that grace the oval series.
     Oval designs were shaped by the industrial revolution. The dies tended to be expertly made with standardized number, letter and ornament punches used to produce a wide variety of styles. Nearly all ovals were dated. The oval shape itself varied widely at the start, ranging from the long and narrow to the plump and rotund. But they looked more similar as time when on. Of course, there were some regional preferences, plus a few denominational preferences.
     Like the Ayr squares of the early 1800s, the Associate Church pushed for oval standardization: both in size and shape, as well as in design layout. For example, the narrow ovals that appeared in the 1790s across the midlands (mostly to the east) were remarkably similar to each other. The prototypical piece measured 28x18mm. Most of them can be defined as having a 10mm difference between length and height. The oval from Moneydie in Perth (see picture) is a narrow oval that measures 28x18mm. It is dated 1830 on the reverse, so it is a late one. Check out the oval from Bo-ness in Lothians, dated 1796 on the reverse, to see an early one with the same dimensions.
     Some ovals used horizontal lettering (for example, the narrow ovals just described), but die-sinkers quickly began to place lettering along the arc of the upper and lower edges. Often, the latter type included an inner border of beads with a date or name (parish or minister) in the center. Sometimes the center was left blank, as this was an ideal place for a table number to be stamped. In some ways, the oval designs emulated those found on the cut rectangles that used an oval motif.

     Curiously, late ovals tend to show curved lettering, whereas late cut rectangles tend to show horizontal lettering. Admittedly, this is a gross generalization, as there are many exceptions -- but you will not find too many ovals without curved lettering in the 1840s.
     A creative use of the oval was to place a pictorial in an upright position on the reverse. A church facade, with belfry and steeple, could be squeezed-in, length-wise. Upright ovals with a pictorial were popular in congregations like South Leith. One day I will do a post on the pictorials.
     For collectors, oval CTs provide an attractive quarry. It is a pleasing shape -- more attractive than a cut rectangle to my eye. As you can surmise, there are many varieties and regionalisms, and we have barely scratched the surface.
     And consider this too: The oval screams CT! I dare say that if you present a silhouette of an oval token and ask collectors to guess what kind of token it is: more than half will say, CT. If you show both silhouettes together (oval and cut rectangle) and ask the same question: most, perhaps nine out of ten, will say, CT!

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