Wednesday, September 25, 2013

More info on Allegheny Communion Tokens

I received a copy of an article published in the TAMS Journal in June 1993 entitled: The Communion Tokens of the Second United Presbyterian Church of Allegheny Pennsylvania; the report was authored by Wayne Homren and Lawrence Dziubek. The article was sent to me by "Larry" Dziubek; he has been collecting CTs for a long while and knew Lester Burzinski quite well. TAMS stands for the Token and Medal Society.
     The authors provided some additional information about the CTs from this church, plus an overview of the church history -- most of this history was subsequently included in Charles Culleiton's book on CTs of Allegheny County published in 2004 (this book was mentioned in last week's post).
     The article notes that a branch of the Associate Presbyterian Church (APC or AC) was formally established in Allegheny in October of 1837. Of course, European settlers had been moving into the area since the 1790s. A church was erected soon after the congregation was established. Times were difficult in those early days, as the church suffered financial troubles, nearly losing their land in 1843. A tornado swept off the church roof in 1846, and cholera took many lives in the region in 1854. But the congregation persevered.
     The church was rechristened as the Second United Presbyterian Church of Allegheny in 1858 to reflect the merger of several church denominations that henceforth made up the United Presbyterian Church of North America (UPC). This is the name of the church found on the tokens, so it provides the starting point for when the oval CTs were used.
     After the American Civil War, there were several splits in the congregation. In 1873, a new minister was installed: Reverend W. H. MacMillan -- he served until 1911. He made a number of changes within the church: the pew rental system was abolished, a new version of the Psalms was introduced, organ music was integrated into the service, and the use of communion tokens was halted.
     As such, we are left to ponder: When was the use of CTs actually stopped? Until we find a diary of a parishioner that was present on the day when the tradition was ended, we can only say that the CTs were discontinued sometime during Rev. MacMillan's tenure. Perhaps the session records can tell us.
Here are the obverses of the two tokens. The Type1 token
is on the right. Note how the struck piece on the left is
much sharper and has more ornaments.
     Putting all this together, we can guess that the CTs were used between 1858 and 1911. It appears that Rev. MacMillan took office with an agenda, as his achievements appear to reflect a desire to update the church services. Many churches discontinued using CTs before 1900.
     Homren and Dziubek have labeled the molded 2nd UP Church Allegheny CTs as Type1 pieces, whereas the struck CTs are labeled as Type2 pieces. Of particular interest is how the Type1 pieces were discovered. Apparently, the Type2 (struck) CTs were long known to collectors, but the Type1 pieces were discovered "a few years ago." Since the article is dated 1993, this suggests a discovery date not too long before that. 1980s?
     As the story goes, a small canvas bag of tokens was discovered in an old home, located in western PA. The house was being dismantled after having been damaged in a fire, and the token bag was discovered lying in a puddle of water somewhere inside. This is when the molded CTs (Type1) were first discovered. The molded CTs are fewer in number and presumably represent the first batch of CTs from this church. Fascinating story! Still, I wonder how many tokens were in the bag?

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