Saturday, June 22, 2013

Reference Books for Communion Tokens

What reference books for CTs are in your library?
     Most CT books are old. They are in the back stacks -- you know, those musty book rooms where you can hear yourself gasping. When you pull one from the shelf (if you are lucky to find a copy), you enter a world forgotten. Yet, more than a few researchers have walked across the collecting field, taking notes and making lists. More than a few have been smitten with CTs. But this was a long time ago.
     There is not much continuity in the CT literature. Just lists: odd place names, rosters of ministers, dates. No less than five overlapping systems have been developed to catalog CTs. Some of these efforts were labors of love, published as short-run editions for few readers. And the authors? They are gone. In fact, some of the best descriptions of CTs were written over a century ago in the twilight of the CT era.
     I will review a few of my favorites in separate posts, but let's start with a quick overview. The Reverend Thomas Burns provided one of the most fascinating overviews in his book entitled, Old Scottish Communion Plate, published in 1892. He sifted through dusty church records, providing some of the richest excerpts describing the use of CTs. Along these lines, the Reverend H. A. Whitelaw provided a keen analysis of CT use in his book entitled, Communion Tokens, with Illustrated and Descriptive Catalogue of those of Dumfriesshire, published in 1911. Do not be fooled by the title, as Whitelaw painted with a broad brush in coloring the CT landscape. You will be amply rewarded by reading these masterworks. Reprints are available, and the ANA library have copies to lend.
     What about the catalogues? With 7000+ tokens out there, a map is needed. For starters, Alexander Brook published the first substantial catalog of CTs in 1907. He listed over 1400 CTs and illustrated 1168 of them in his monograph entitled, Communion Tokens of the Established Church of Scotland: Sixteenth, Seventeenth, and Eighteenth Centuries. This work first appeared in the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, but now it has been reprinted and is widely available. Go get it! Do not hesitate, just get it! He also provided an acute history before presenting his listings. Some companion works will help add to Brook: first, Robert Kerr & J. R. Lockie added to the catalog in 1940, listing 461 CTs and illustrating 319 of them; second, M. B. Orr produced an attribution guide designed to be used with Brook. More on these three researchers later. Did I say, go get Brook?
     I will skip a few other guides and jump right to Lester Burzinski's masterful compilation entitled, Communion Tokens of the World. In 1999, he  released the most complete catalog to date with 7000+ entries and 3000+ photographs. This is the standard in the field. Unfortunately, Burzinski was self-published with a production run of only 250 copies. His book trades hands at somewhere north of $600 -- but the ANA library has one! If you find yourself getting serious about CTs, this book is needed. I will do a post on this book soon.
     When Burzinski is nowhere to be found, the comprehensive listing by O. D. Cresswell entitled, Comprehensive Directory of World Communion Tokens, published in 1985 will have to suffice. This is  a competent listing, but no images.
     Canadian and United States CTs are included in Burzinski and Cresswell, but there are more specific guides that are better and available. The Canadian series is well covered in the Charlton Standard Catalogue of Canadian Communion Tokens, published in 2000 and edited by W. K. Cross. This tidy book lists 296 CTs with photos of each major type. Valuations are also added since the Canadian market is more developed -- of course, we all know that CTs will sell to the highest bidder anyway. For the American series, Autence Bason has produced a nice catalog entitled, Communion Tokens of the United States of America, illustrated by drawings: 488 CTs listed with 358 illustrations.
     There are other references (quite a few), but this is enough for now. I acknowledge my biases: I like guides with illustrations. A picture is worth a dozen tokens!
     Finally, I am announcing my book: Communion Tokens: A Guide for Collecting Scottish, Canadian & United States Tokens. This book will help you get started on your collecting adventure. It is a labor of love. I am editing the proofs at this stage, so it will be out soon. More on this later.

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