Friday, June 21, 2013

Squares, Rounds & Rectangles

We are challenged by CTs because we love variety. Today, I am looking at the shapes across time.
     Early on, and particularly in the countryside, all the tokens were handcrafted. Irregular shapes were cut into stones and steel (even wood) to produce squarish, roundish, and not-so-squarish rectangular tokens. Even Burzinski and Brook struggled to differentiate some squares from rectangles.
At 15x14mm this one from Eckford
is almost square; it is dated 1728.
     Some parishes preferred a certain shape. Others went from shape to shape to differentiate the new from the old. Sometimes, two shapes were produced at once to differentiate between a communion service one week and another service the next. And there was always a need to make tokens that uniquely identified the parish church so to reduce confusion among neighbors. Nonetheless, there are trends over time and across regions to be discovered. It is our quest as collectors to find these things out.
     As previously mentioned, squares account for one-quarter of the 5000+ Scottish CTs. Most of them were produced before 1830. Some of the earliest CTs are square, albeit with warped sides.
     Round CTs also appeared at the dawning, but rounds represent a smaller grouping than either squares or rectangles. Only about 12-15% of CTs are round. As such, rounds were never more popular than the other shapes, but they lingered longer than squares, perhaps bolstered by their familiar shape -- after all, merchant tokens and coins are nearly always round. In contrast, squares are for sieges. One of the earliest dated CTs is round: a two-sided piece from Crossmichael in Kirkcudbright, dated 1648. Please let me know if you have one for sale.
     One of the most common pre-1690 CTs is also round; of course, I am talking about Brechin 1678! All CT collectors eventually get one of these -- I have two. Brechin is in Angus, and parishes in Angus like rounds: over a third of all CTs from this shire are round. Can you name some? How about Auchterhouse or Glamis?
     Rounds began to disappear from the token bag in the 1840s. Even in places like Angus.
     Rectangular CTs arrived early too. Now this was a shape with some staying power: a whopping 35-40% of all CTs are rectangles. Early ones had straight corners, like squares. Later ones were "improved" with cut corners and broader surfaces -- easier to grasp, plus more room for data and ornamentation. The straight rectangles used the same design format as early squares: parish initials atop a date with minister on the reverse. Many variations exist. But the rectangles allowed more lettering to spell out the parish and relaxed spacing for digits: easier for the die-cutter and parishioner alike. The straight rectangles did not last long however. Just look at the stretched version of the Glasgow-styled square; none of these straight rectangles were made twice by the same parish. Instead, just about everyone moved on to the cut rectangle. Even the ovals -- the most modern of shapes -- did not supplant the cut rectangle. I will provide an overview of these two shapes in a future posting: cut rectangles and ovals. For now, I want to mention an early shape not yet discussed.
     You guessed it: the heart! This shape deserves more words than I will say now. But consider this: nearly all hearts were produced in the eighteenth century. Rerrick in Kirkcudbright produced one of the first dated hearts in 1698. They are early. Collectors love hearts. They are personal, as they eschew the geometric form in favor of a uniquely human one. Ponder this. Also, could this be a hint as to why parishes replaced hearts with more staid shapes later on?

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