Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Communion Tokens cataloged by Burzinski: Using the Book!

Most CTs are cataloged by Burzinski numbers. Typically one B will do for the prefix, or a BZ -- I opt for a single B. Be yourself!
Each listing is alphabetical
most of the time or by parish
some of the time.
     Even though Lester Burzinski's numbering scheme has become the standard in the field, I have been reminded by seasoned collectors that many useful guides have come before (Brook, Dick, Creswell, Whitelaw and so on). In fact, Burzinski lists 21 guides in the front of his book. These previous works were used not so long ago, remembering that Burzinski did not publish his guidebook until 1999.
     That being said, many folks continue to use older numbering systems. Personally, I like to use BK and K&L numbers for the eighteenth century CTs, as the catalogs are easy to use and the images are clear. Still, I double-check everything with Burzinski's catalog.
     Using Burzinski is straightforward. He lists (or tried to) all CTs, from all countries, in alphabetical order by their inscriptions. This is similar to what Orr did with the Brook and Kerr & Lockie catalogs. So, for the most part, you can look up a token by reading the inscription. However, some tokens have multiple inscriptions -- parish name, church denomination, date, minister. All this data is placed inside or outside a circle or oval or some other motif, so it can be confusing.
     There are many CTs that start with the church denomination -- such as Associate Church. Are they listed under A? No, they are not. In most cases, you have to look for the parish name. For example, an oval from Leslie (B4291) can be found under the letter L even though the inscription starts with Asso Cong. As such, Burzinski prioritized the parish name or the abbreviation of the parish name thereby confusing his otherwise neat alphabetical ordering.
     Most frustrating is when Burzinski has grouped tokens from the same parish together with little regard for the A-B-Cs. For example, Aberdeen CTs are grouped together (for the most part). So, when you look for B64, a rectangle with an O placed above ABD, it would make sense to look for it under the letter O in the guidebook. However, in this case you must remember that parish is prioritized. You also need to know that ABD means Aberdeen in order to figure this out. So, where is the token cataloged? Under A or course! Many folks have commented that he should have stuck to his A-B-Cs in these cases. To add more confusion, a round CT from North Church in Aberdeen (B111) comes later than the token just described -- despite the letter N preceding the letter O.
     In circumstances when the inscriptions are sparse, Burzinski does much better. Sometimes, the same inscription is used for many tokens, as in RPC (meaning Reformed Presbyterian Church). These are listed under Rbut you must match your token with the photo (if available) or the description of the dimensions. There are 50+ CT listings (B6014 to B6066) to look through. They are not arranged in any particular order, but this does not matter in instances when the collector does not know where the token is from. But when you do have some additional information, it would be nice to have the listings arranged alphabetically by locality.
     Tokens without inscriptions are listed at the end of the catalog starting with B7290. This is where more photos are sorely needed. This is where Bason's catalog with drawings for nearly every USA CT is essential. Also, it behooves collectors to keep a file of images from auction sales that are not available in the standard catalogs.
     Despite these difficulties, a diligent searcher will find the listing eventually (unless you have a maverick). A step-wise search procedure is helpful: 1) Go with the A-B-Cs remembering to prioritize the parish name in some cases, 2) Check within a parish/shire if you already know it using the index, 3) Scan the photos (keeping in mind that they are arranged in alphabetical order). Be sure to try several options: go with the main inscription first, then look up some other part of it.
     As noted above, there is an index of all parishes located within a particular shire. The same goes for parishes located within a province (Canada) or within a state (USA) ... and so on. These indices are very useful, as they list all the CTs from that place. The spellings chosen for these places are modern, so if your CT is from Dvnboug, then look for a similar name in the index: Dunbog. It is not always this easy, as Conveth is listed under Laurencekirk in the index. Fortunately, both of these CTs can be found in the alphabetical listings by the old name or spelling.
     I think we all can imagine the monumental task faced by Lester Burzinski when he was organizing all this info. Errors are inevitable. Most of them are typos -- you will quickly find this out once you dig-in and start comparing the index with the listings and the listings with the photos and so on. There are some misspellings too: Sterling instead of the correct Stirling. The Scots recognize these kinds of errors straightaway, but for Americans who struggle with phonetics, it is not so obvious sometimes (I know, as I have misspelled place names too and never caught it -- yes, I blame part of it on my poor phonetic skills: I have never heard anyone say "Renfrew" or "Fife").
     The kinds of errors that are most troubling are the misattributions. It happens. New info comes in from time to time; old info is confused with new info; and transcribing errors occur in proportion to the number of data points we have to contend with. Think of it this way: each error is an opportunity to be the discoverer who gets to set the record straight (until someone comes along and sets it straight again ... and so on)!


  1. Will this catalogue ever be published again as a much longer run than 250 ?
    Most of us ordinary folk who just like the array of CTs which are around still can't afford a Burzinski if it turned up in auction or in a bookshop. It is useless quoting a Burzinski number as we have no idea what it means ! Help !!

  2. Hey Eric, I think most of us would like to get a copy of Burzinski. I know that several advanced collectors have tried to get the family to sell the rights and files so that the book can be corrected (of the many errors -- most of them small) and re-issued. I checked out the ANA library copy several times and looked up every Scottish CT -- my wife thought I had gone crazy, but I just had to know what I was dealing with! For the pre-1800 CTs, the Alexander Brook reference is essential and available. The Kerr & Lockie series is also essential and is small enough to be copied from the library -- the ANA has a bound copy. Go get these! You will not regret it. My guidebook is a good overview, and I am selling it at cost on ebay. As for the Burz #s in the blog, I use BK and K&L numbers whenever possible, and your comments remind me to make sure I do this more consistently. I passed on buying an original copy of Burzinski for hundreds of dollars, but eventually bought a "copy" that was made in Scotland and had been passed around by dealers. You can also keep a file of what you see on ebay; in a year or so, you will get a very good idea of what is out there -- I do this for the eighteenth century pieces. Hope this helps; I am glad you commented on the blog -- I (and the world) will be happy to hear from you again.