Saturday, July 27, 2013

The CT Covenant of Virginia

We have formed a covenant in the Valley of Virginia. Yes, it happened rather spontaneously over a toast.
     Our quest is to examine the last remnants of the Burzinski collection. His, once massive, collection has been largely dispersed, but a few boxes remain, and we are determined to work through them. We had been picking at the boxes like crows for the past few years, but now we are taking a long second look.
     But first, we have BBQ and ale in the American tradition. Then we wash our hands with a big bar of soap, spread out soft table mats, pull in the lamps and gather our loupes: we begin. There are three of us, so we take turns pulling CTs from the box and pass them around one by one, calling out the qualities of each piece. If you like it, you shout out, then you set is aside. Three small piles form and the box gets lighter.
Here we have a CT from Lochwinnock, dated 1796. It boasts
of elaborate scrolls that fold up in the center with a flair.
This is one of those narrow regional variations that probably
reflects the work of a single engraver. The square itself is broad
at 23mm and is similar to Glasgow-styled squares used nearby.
As you can see, this is Burzinski's plate specimen.
     Lester Burzinski had 1000s of tokens. But only a few boxes remain. At our first meeting we examined 371 tokens and purchased 62 of them. The second box had 306 tokens; we selected 57 CTs. Many of the tokens are the very ones pictured in his book.
     As we thumbed through the box, we were confronted with the reality that we were unable to determine which CTs were scarce or rare. You have to be in this business for years to discover that. Sure, we have a pretty good idea of what makes for a desirable CT: condition (and eye appeal), distinctiveness, age, known history -- but beyond that, you have to be immersed in a specific quest to truly appreciate the rarity of these pieces. We have some ideas. You have to lose a few auctions to high bidders (note the plural) to realize how much demand there is for a particular CT.
     Herein lies one of the joys and frustrations of CT collecting, we are still discovering what is out there and what is available versus what is rare. I had a Scottish dealer of over 20 years experience tell me that he often sees very rare (maybe just a few known) CTs sell for a few dollars because no one knows. We are reminded that prices reflect supply AND DEMAND. Also we must remember that desire shapes prices in a thin market -- for one reason or another, some bidders just want it at all costs! What is a thin market? The answer: few pieces and few collectors.
     My attitude is to embrace this set of circumstances: CT collectors are on the frontier. We are still making discoveries. The marketplace is relatively undeveloped (as compared to other exonumia series -- for example, civil war tokens). In fact, some CTs are have not even entered the marketplace at all. In this regard, we still have churches (like Balquidder) selling off their "bags" of tokens.
     And so here we are, the CT covenant of Virginia, blindly plucking tokens from one of the biggest collections. The exonumia dealer, Steve Hayden, who most graciously extended us this opportunity is offering these CTs on his website (check my links page). As you can see by the numbers above, we are leaving many CTs behind. This is not because they are not distinctive, old or historic -- and certainly, not because they are common -- but rather, we need to save a few dollars for the BBQ.

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