Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Blundered Balmerino Communion Token

No one likes to make mistakes. But we sometimes revel in the mistakes of others. Why? Perhaps it reminds us of our own failings. After all, what is humor but a laugh at some small misfortune. It is not surprising then, that error coins and tokens fascinate us.
     Lester Burzinski loved errors. He served as an officer in CONECA. So I am sure that he took a particular liking to a small round CT from the Old Balmerino Church in Fife that is distinctive for its blundered design (BK138). The obverse reads: B/1725, but the digits presented problems for the engraver, as the 2 is retrograde, and the 5 is inverted. The reverse is reads: M/TK for the Minister Thomas Kerr who served between 1727 and 1741.
A wonderful CT from the Old Parish Church at Balmerino.
Only the 7 in the date is correctly oriented. This is an honest
token that speaks to the struggles on an unknown mold-
maker over two centuries ago.
     The village of Balmerino is a rural cluster of houses located along the Firth of Tay. It was the location for the Balmerino Abbey, now in ruins. The old parish church was built sometime in the 1560s, and it is now completely gone but for a small mound in a cemetery. Some of the stepping stones located there are believed to be from this old Kirk that was demolished in 1811. Here is a link to a photo of the old stones: Stepping stones made from the Old Church at Balmerino.
     Our story begins on a cloudy day some 288 years ago. A token was needed for the upcoming communion event, and the local blacksmith or plumber was employed to make one. The elders had dictated a certain design. Mold-making was probably not his specialty, but he knew how to use a chisel. He also understood that he needed to cut the mold in retrograde -- that is to say, the mold was cut as one would see it in a mirror reflection.
     And so, production began. The B was easy. Even with a rather ungainly chisel, he was able to complete the stem with two cuts and smoothly carve two loops with an extra cut at the top to complete the letter.
     But the digits were more of a challenge. It appears that he started on the left (remember: the mold needed to be cut in reverse). With several -- perhaps three -- deep cuts, he formed a 5. He probably started with the loop, carefully making sure that it faced right (in reverse, as it should be). But his error was that the digit was upside-down!
     Next came the 2. He cut it facing the wrong way! Did he forget to make it retrograde in the mold? Or did he use the 5 as a reference point? In any case, he made a nice loop, but seeing that the digit extended below the 5, he tried to correct it with a bold, over-lapping base. A 2 is a bit like the letter S -- these figures are difficult to flip-around in your head.
     The 7 was cut with an oddly sloped top bar. But he got it correct. By this time, he was running out of room. Luckily, only the 1 remained. But problems arose once again, as the serif of the one was cut facing left on the mold. As before, perhaps he was using the 7 as a reference point, so he pointed the serif of the 1 towards the 7 in a concrete attempt to make it retrograde relative to the 7 -- but what this actually did was make the one in the mold normal and retrograde on the token!
     Now, reverse was fine. The M and T were easy. All he had to do was get the K correctly. He did -- although he squeezed it somewhat against the rim.  
     Oh my! Was he dyslexic? Or did he not know his numbers very well? Maybe the task was too difficult, as his mental flexibility (that is, the set of skills needed to juggle concepts in the head so as to accomplish this feat of mental gymnastics) was poor. In any case, he was in for a surprise when the first tokens were picked out of the mold.
     And the elders? Well since we are making up the story anyway, we can just give it a happy ending. And so, the elders just smiled and thanked him for his work. After all, the smell of fresh bread, and the tap-tap-tap of the carpenters transforming planks into tables, filled the air. Anticipation was everywhere.
     For us collectors, we can identify with the plumber. He did his best with tools designed for repairing hardware of a larger sort. We enjoy contemplating this token that is so blundered, as to be beautiful for its distinctiveness and honesty.
     With this piece in our hand, we connect with this unknown mold-maker who so long ago struggled one afternoon to prepare for the sacramental season.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Market Watch

This Market Watch reviews all ebay auctions between October 20 and October 26. It has been a busy week with some interesting sales to report. In fact, CTs made of stone, tin and plastic sold this week. Also, an unfinished CT in lead with casting sprue attached crossed the block. It was an unusual week indeed.
     Overall, 42 CTs traded hands in the past seven days. Actually, the number was a bit higher than that since a few pairs were sold together. There was one CT(?) that sold for over $100 (what I call the Highly Desired category), whereas no other pieces sold above $75 (what I call Desired category). However, four CTs brought over $50, and the middle-range ($20 to $49) was filled with nine CTs. But of course, most sales involved much fewer dollars with 28 tokens selling for less than $20.
A pebble for your thoughts?
     The auction of 11 CTs held by cobwrightfortishe on October 11 produced the strongest prices for the week. This offering included some wonderful tokens from the Andrew Macmillan collection including a nice set of Edinburgh "castle" CTs (sold individually of course) that spanned most of the date range described by Brook. But the star of the show was an etched stone of unknown origin that sold for $152.
     The stone or pebble was a smoothly-shaped, rather oval piece at 35x24mm, with a crudely cut inscription AK on the obverse and a cross on the reverse. The piece was attributed to Athelstane in East Lothians based on an undocumented communication between Andrew Macmillan and the late Reverend William Cattanach D.D. (a church historian who ministered at St. George's West in Edinburgh). Is this piece a true CT from the early era? Or, was it used for a special event? This question deserves a longer posting in the near future. Suffice to say that pebbles have been used in the church since Roman times (sometimes called tesserae). Nonetheless, five bidders wanted this one, casting eight bids overall with most of the action unfolding in the last hour or so of the auction when the price soared from $50 to threefold. Here is the link: Athelstane early CT stone.
Three listings from Brook.
     The series of Edinburgh CTs offered collectors a chance to get a representative example of these early pieces with the attractive castle pictorial. Cobwrightfortishe offered four examples dated: 1754, 1766, 1781, 1795. Brook shows an earlier one dated 1718 (BK380) with the others numbered in succession, but he does not show one dated 1781 -- it is included in his listings however (we can just squeeze it in: BK382A). This group brought active bidding with five to seven bidders clamoring for each piece. All of these CTs are on the rare side, so the hammer prices were governed by condition: the 1795 (with the most pleasing light gray surfaces) bringing the most dollars at $66 and the 1766 (with mottled gray and brown surfaces) bringing only $39. All told, the four CTs were dispersed into three different collections -- I believe that one of them is headed to Virginia.
     An oddity deserves mention: a "concoction" CT dated 1571 with the legends: YE OLD TIN KIRK and THI SI AFR AUD (This is a fraud) brought a single bid, but with a high opening, selling for $49. It was a hand-snipped octagon. It was a curious piece that reminds us that CTs have been around for a long time and have been the subject of all sorts of wit, mischief and fakery.
     Also of note. An oval CT with casting sprue attached sold for $60 with six bidders contesting. Finally, a set of four plastic, uniface CT replicas sold for $22 with four bidders contesting. In summary, it was a good week for collecting. I would be remiss to not remark that several nice CTs sold cheaply in the lowest price category! Good stuff is out there, so keep looking.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Communion Token from the Scottish Missionary Society in Jamaica

An interesting token from the Scottish Missionary Society made an appearance on ebay two weeks ago -- it is something we do not see very often, so let's take a look.
     Missionary work has been a prominent part of the Presbyterian Church since the beginning. This was made clear in the Scottish Confession of Faith that was presented to Parliament in 1560:

 This glaid tydingis of the kyngdome sall be precheit 
through the haill warld for a witness unto all natiouns.

     The Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge was created in Edinburgh in 1709 with the goal of spreading the gospel to the North American Indians. The was just the beginning of a larger missionary movement in Scotland. In 1796, the Scottish Missionary Society was formed, and despite some difficulties getting organized, the Society began to establish missions across the globe in areas where the English Crown had colonies: South Africa, India and Jamaica were among the first. Missionary work spread to China, Russia and Sierra Leone with mixed results. But the missionary zeal was undaunted.
     The Mission in Jamaica was begun around 1800. There were many sugar plantations there with a large working populace, all of whom were emancipated in 1838. The first synod was held in the 1840s and many congregational churches were formed.
     Burzinski listed 17 tokens from Jamaica -- nine of them are from Kingston. Three more are from the Scottish Missionary Society. This leaves five tokens, each from a different parish.
Here is the example from the Simmons Gallery auction of
the Bob Merchant collection. It is a rare one by any standard.
     The token offered for sale on ebay was cataloged as B6333. It is a somewhat rotund oval, cast in pewter with a simple, bold design. On the obverse, the initials S.M.S represents the Scottish Missionary Society; the reverse carries the familiar Bible verse: THIS DO IN REMEMBRANCE OF ME. This particular specimen had a few small scratches on the obverse. The dealer reported a rarities rating of less then 5 known. Who is to say otherwise?
     This piece was listed with a starting bid of $395. This is serious CT money. Only devoted collectors need apply. Interestingly, the Simmons Gallery auction that ended a few days ago included a specimen (plus an example of another variety). The two pieces sold for high prices. Each one sold for $176. So, compared to the ebay offering, they were a good deal (essentially, two for the price of one). But the auction is over now. As such, the ebay piece is the only one left sitting on the block.
     So how much is a CT like this really worth? If all the collectors who wanted one participated in the auction, then we could easily say: it is worth $176. But if you missed it, and you really want one, then what are you going to do? How long can you wait? What if one does not come up for sale again in the next decade? These are the questions all serious collectors face.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Market Watch

This Market Watch covers ebay auctions held between October 13 thru October 19. It was a slow week on ebay with 22 CTs trading hands -- but it was a HOT week overall with the big UK auction closing mid-week (see previous post).
Here is an example from Haddington. Don't let the big
photo fool you: it is a small token that is sharply struck.
     Of the 22 CTs sold, 16 of them sold for under $20, whereas four more sold in the middle range. Two pieces sold at BIN prices above the $50 mark: both of them bringing $62; both of them sold by HistoryinCoins. This UK dealer has a strong presence on ebay and offers a wide selection of CTs. He lists his items at retail prices that bring consistent sales each week. I have purchased from him and recommend watching his offerings.
     The first of the two top sellers was a round CT from Mauchline in Ayr that was dated 1742 on the reverse (B4572). The obverse shows the parish name along the rim with a four-point star in center. It is a nice piece without distractions. Nineteenth century pieces with dates are always popular and do not last long on ebay. Here is the link: Mauchline CT.
     The second one was a shield-shaped CT from Haddington in Lothians (B7571) -- this piece appears two or three times a year and always sells. It is dated 1812 and depicts a goat. It is a small token with fine details, in a shape that is unique to this parish. Type-set collectors keep this token popular.
     The goat is part of the Arms of Haddington, a royal burgh dating back to the 12th Century under the rule of David I. In the arms, the goat is shown on its rear legs scaling an apple tree (or vine). The exact meaning is unknown. The image might reflect a geographic reference, as a place named "goat field" is near Haddington. The seal might depict a fable wherein a goat chews the leaves of a vine; the vine later produces grapes but demands that the goat be sacrificed during the harvest. Check out this link to learn more: Goat of Haddington.
     I think I would have held off eating the vine and just waited for the grapes.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

UK Communion Token Auction Ends

The Simmons Gallery auction of 364 Scottish CTs (plus a token die and die trial piece) from the Bob Merchant Collection ended earlier this week on October 15. I hope you got something, as there were many nice pieces that went for affordable prices. There were many other tokens too!
     Ninety percent of the Scottish CTs found buyers, as only 37 pieces received no bids. There were many inexpensive CTs to be had with 60% selling at or below $20 (220 pieces). On the other end, only nine CTs sold for over $50 (just over 2% of the total). The rest crossed the block in the middle range.
     These prices certainly invite new collectors into the fold since the buy-in is easy on the wallet. At these prices, no one would find fault with a casual collector buying a couple of CTs and carrying them around for show and tell. Even at the Presbyterian Church, you will find some raised eyebrows and inquisitive expressions, as few parishioners realize that CTs were part of their church history.
     The two varieties of square CTs dated 1815 from Auchterarder in Perth (pictured in a previous posting leading up to the auction) sold on low end of the scale at about $12 a piece -- a bargain! At the high end, the two-piece mold sold for a cool $800 (this was the start bid, so it appears that only one bid was forwarded). I would have liked the mold, but my wife was not as enthused.
This rather plain looking cut rectangle was bid to $88,
as the piece was probably needed to complete a collection.
We are not so surprised when an early piece with hand-cut
lettering brings big bucks, but a cut rectangle dated 1845?
This goes to show that only the dedicated collector who has
focused on a particular shire or church really knows what is
rare and what is common. So how rare is it?
     Among the CTs that sold for over $50, there were three pieces that sold for $88 each. One of them was a Glasgow-styled square dated 1830 from Ardrossan in Ayr (B485) in VF condition. The other two were cut rectangles: one from New Church in Ayr dated 1855 (B611) in nearly VF condition, and one from Dalmellington in Ayr dated 1845 in VF. The connection seems obvious, but who would have guessed -- it appears that at least two collectors were vying for CTs from Ayr. I imagine that they were striving to complete a set from this shire. Now we know -- or can guess -- that these pieces are "hard."
     In contrast, the other six pieces in this high-priced group were from all over the place: Aberdeen, Kirkcudbright, Lanark(2), Moray, and yes, one more from Ayr (Old Church).
     Up to now I have been reviewing only the Scottish CTs, as the Irish and World CTs presented a completely different story. This is the domain of serious collectors. In short, these CTs brought very strong prices. For the 33 Irish CTs, only two stock tokens went cheaply (at $8 a piece), whereas the rest (but for one) sold for over $50 each. Twenty-one pieces brought over $100 with three of these bringing twice that.
     The top three Irish pieces were from Macosquin County in Londonderry (B4365), Donacloney in Down (B1797), and Portglenone in Donegal (5642). They were all primitive CTs with no more than a pair of letters to identify the parish or minister. I confess to knowing very little about Irish CTs, but I am intrigued (but also happy to save my dollars until I learn a bit more).
     Finally, the world tokens brought a wide range of prices with the highest priced pieces bringing over $500. A CT from the Free Church of Scotland at Calcutta in India brought $512, whereas a CT from the Scotch Presbyterian Church at Florence in Italy also brought $512. But the big winner was one from the Scottish Church at Isle of Man: it brought $622! Wow! This is a lot of token!
     Certainly, there are serious collectors out there. Keep in mind, however, that many collectors spend many more dollars on Civil War Tokens, Saloon Tokens and the like.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

In Search of the First Glasgow Square

I am contemplating B2822. It is dated 1714. Is this the first Glasgow square?
     I have the third one dated 1725 (B2826). This relatively small (at 19mm), single-sided square was stamped with a hand-crafted die on crudely rolled or hammered stock.
The Glasgow Series in Brook.
     Brook shows the series starting with one dated 1716. However, the earliest one with a date of 1714 was not cataloged (or pictured) until Kerr & Lockie published a short article (aptly titled: Further Unpublished Scottish Communion Tokens) in the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland in 1952-53. They had apparently missed it in their original Unpublished Tokens monograph published a decade earlier in the same journal. As such, it came to light rather late. Burzinski gathered up all this info and included it in his catalog, but he did not have an illustration of the earliest piece in the series. As such, it can be easily missed by collectors.
The first one in the series as
pictured in Kerr & Lockie.
It is cataloged as B2822.
     I was happy with my 1725 piece until I spied the older one in the catalog. I'm still happy, but wanting. Isn't this the way of collectors: the focus is always on the next one! After all, it is the acquisition fantasies that keeps the fire burning. A collection to which no new pieces are sought is dead.
     On my piece, the seal of Glasgow is placed in the center of two concentric circles that form a band that includes the parish name at top, and the date at bottom. A simple  leaf or point, flanked by two pearls, adorn each corner -- perhaps representing the trinity. A subtle beaded border completes the design. It is the same design used in 1714 and 1716 with only minor variations.
     As mentioned in an earlier analysis, a bell hangs on a limb, a bird is perched atop the crown, and a fish rests below at the root. The 1714 piece is the earliest CT to show the Glasgow City Arms.
     It is also the first CT to show this arrangement of concentric circles on a square flan. Or is it? The design elements are certainly not new when it comes to the world of tokens. In fact, many round merchant tokens, plus church tokens for the poor, show a circular pattern wherein the legend follows the outer rim with a circle (lined or beaded) in the center. Within this inner circle, we often see either a tradesman design, initials, or in some cases, a legend or date.
Here is my ruddy Glasgow Square.
It is the third one in the series with
an attractive design that begat
a popular regional subtype. This
one is a bit worn out, but all there.
     These round tokens were commonplace during the late 1600s and early 1700s. Hence, the design format is an old one. Plus, it seems quite natural that a round token would utilize an inner ring to organize the data. What is interesting to me is that the design was not universally adopted for CTs.
     But wait! There is a 1714 Glasgow CT that is round and has the City Arms placed within an inner circle. Unfortunately, the piece is not pictured anywhere. It, too, was first cataloged by Kerr & Lockie in the above-mentioned 1952-53 article. But the round one was not made again. It seems that the square was preferred as if to identify it as a CT. Hence, Glasgow-styled squares are distinctive (but with a familiarity that token collectors ought to recognize).
     So, back to my question, is B2822 the first Glasgow square?
     And, in a related vein, when was the last Glasgow-styled CT made? "Glasgow" squares appear to have been made until 1819. But many parishes were producing similar squares well into the 1830s. But the last one? And don't mention B2895 from Glasserton in Wigtown! That one is a retrospective piece meant to look like the 1771 token!
     In the meantime, if you have a 1714 (or 1716) Glasgow piece you want to sell me, let me know. I want the first one (and the second one).

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Market Watch

This market watch covers ebay auctions between October 6 and October 12. It was a moderately active week of trading cash for tokens, as 36 CTs found new collectors.
     There were two D CTs sold this week, but no HD CTs to report. The majority of CTs sold changed hands for under $20 with eight more selling over that amount but under $50. Four pieces were bid higher, including two that were in the Desired (D) category (over $75). These numbers underscore the affordability of CTs in general -- it is a ripe collecting field with many opportunities.
     The top two CTs for the week were sold on October 9th as part of a group of 16 pieces auctioned by cobwrightfortishe. His auctions tend to run every nine days or so, and they always include interesting CTs -- many of them in pleasing condition (or else, rare).
     Number one on the D list was a "pillow-shaped" CT from Linlithgow in Lothians with the full communion event date of 31 Jul. 1832 (B4283). It is essentially a rectangle with scalloped sides, curving inward. Several odd shaped CTs have come from this shire (and a few other midland regions) starting in the 1830s; most of them are eight-sided or "starfish" pieces -- this one from Linlithgow is a bit more unusual. As such, the CT attracted 6 bidders, entering 7 bids, to produce a hammer price of $89. The token had smooth surfaces, deeply toned with some lighter spots. Here is the link: Pillow shaped CT from Linlithgow.
     The other hotly contested CT was a broad square dated 1796 from Lochwinnock in Renfrew (B4408) that attracted 8 bids from 6 bidders. This CT was adorned with scrollwork and script lettering -- a regional variation that appeared in this region for a short period of time (mentioned in previous postings). The scrollwork designs are probably the work of a single engraver, as they are very similar. This specimen had a dark patina with slightly lighter highlights on the devices. I pictured one of these CTs in a posting last July.
     Another odd token deserves mention. This one sold with only one bid for $27. It was a silver CT with a copper plug dated 1730. Yes, silver! The seller -- a dealer from Virginia -- speculated that the silver composition represented the body, and the copper represented the blood of Christ. This round CT came from Cologne, Germany -- it is not cataloged in Burzinski. It came from the estate of Rev. William Sengel who was a paster at the Old Presbyterian Meeting House in Alexandria, VA. Is it a CT or some other kind of church token? Either way, a fascinating piece -- Bravo to the buyer!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Big CT Auction Closes in a Few Days

The opportunity to add a few CTs to your collection is now.
     The Simmons Gallery auction of the Bob Merchant Collection (Part II) closes on October 15th. This auction includes tokens dated after 1800. There are 400+ CTs to be sold, and every one of them is pictured on their website. Most of them are from Scotland, but 33 come from Ireland and 17 come from other countries -- where else are you going to find one from Argentina or Isle of Man?
     Auctions are curious events. We get a chance to explore the whims of another collector. Many of us have put our collections together piece by piece. Each token is a prize -- a personal victory marked by an acquisition that followed diligent searching and deliberation. The CTs in Merchant's collection no doubt reflect something of the man.
     His tokens came from many sources. The collection took years to assemble. And on October 15th -- a few days from now -- his CTs will be contested for and scattered about the globe. I hope to get a few; my bids are in!
     Yes, the life of a collection (or even a part of a collection) is much like our own story-line. Each CT represents a particular experience. The experiences accumulate. At the end, we go back to the beginning. The end often seems more abrupt than we imagine it, particularly as it happens all at once -- like a big bang! Once again the CTs are dispersed, only to be added to some new collection. A new collection that is unique, reflecting the whims of a yet another collector.
     I am one of those other collectors -- still adding pieces, arranging them like a child playing with blocks, developing my own story-line, one bit at a time.
Since I recently posted on varieties, here is a pair that is
offered in the Simmons Gallery auction. These CTs come
from Auchterarder in Perth: the right one has rounded
corners. The numerals are charming with an over-sized
eight and a stylish five with its sweeping lower loop.
     In looking at the photos of the CTs to be auctioned, I can see that there are many excellent tokens to be had. Most collecting specialties are represented: a few primitive squares, several Glasgow-styled squares and straight rectangles, narrow and rotund ovals, depictions of churches and the communion elements, table numbers, and even some varieties.
     The reserve prices are low: mostly $10 -- and the estimates are only double that. Yes, CTs are inexpensive when compared to other exonumia bits!
     Also let's not forget the pair of CT dies that I profiled in a previous posting (September 11th). This is a museum piece. It could be in your own museum!
     The prices realized for the February auction of Merchant's collection (Part I) suggest that many pieces are likely to sell at or below the estimates. With so many CTs available this time around, I suspect that many of these pieces will sell at bargain prices. So for the price of a few Big Macs, you could get a token instead!
     Enjoy yourself this weekend: make soup and put some bids in! Here is the link:

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

More Die Varieties in Communion Tokens

With 7000 (and counting) CTs to contend with, it would be quite normal for the collector to cringe at the notion of adding die varieties to the count. But of course, this is what we like to do.
V1: I have the biggest F!
     Besides, discoveries made through the lens of a magnifying glass can answer bigger questions about how CTs were made and used. Plus, we get to snuggle up close to the handiwork of some unknown engraver who was etching designs into leaden dies on some afternoon nearly 300 years ago. You can touch the past even though you cannot go there.
     In our search for die varieties, we travel to Duffus in the shire of Moray. This place is nestled in the highlands of Scotland. It is a place I would like to visit sometime.
     Laid out before us, we have three round CTs. They are primitive bits, more roundish than true -- all the more charming as such. Each of them shows the letters DFS for Duffus. Note that Brook made this attribution (BK316), whereas Burzinski (B1955-B1956) went with another place, namely Dumfries in the shire of the same name. I am told that Brook is most likely to be correct -- but this blog is open to any other opinions. Nonetheless, the tokens speak to an early time, probably the mid-1700s.
     Before narrowing our vision, it is nice to admire the simplicity of the tokens and to remark on the subtle artistry of the large F in the middle and the swoopy S to its right. The engraver made the effort to cut firm serifs on each letter - this was not rushed work. 
     Eagle-eyed collectors will notice some differences between the pieces right away. Maybe it is the Fs that catch our discerning eye or the Ss -- either way, we can see differences without squinting. All are different: there are three dies. And maybe one more that we have not yet encountered. Keep in mind that CT catalogers before us have only found three thus far.
V2: My S has nice curves!
     Burzinski listed two of them as follows: B1955 with "F is 9mm tall" and B1956 with "F is 8mm tall, S top & bottom round." So there you have it: big F and little F. So the first one (V1) is easy to attribute: go with the big F. But the second one is really two, so we have to look as the Ss. If we want the S to be rounded at top and bottom, then we can see that one S meets the criterion (V2), whereas the other one is flatter on the bottom (V3). Also, the V2 piece has the bottom tail of the S pointing below the F; alternatively, the V3 piece has the flat bottom of the S pointing to the base of the F. The D is bigger on V3 with a bit of flatness at the farthest reaches of the loop. Is this fun? You bet!
     Now here is a challenge for you. Which one does Brook picture? V1, V2 or V3? My guess will be embedded in a future post.
     What can we learn from this exercise? First, several dies were made. They were made to either meet high demands or speed up the production process. Perhaps the dies were connected so that three CTs were molded at one time. Were they made for different communion services? The latter is unlikely in my opinion, as subsequent tokens are known for this parish, and there was a press in the early days to make new, and distinctively different, tokens for each communion event (with subsequent ones often showing dates).
V3: My S is flat at the base!
     Second, we can confirm that each die was handcrafted. Yet, there was a plan and a particular style that the engraver was aiming for. Put another way, he tried to shape the letters in a similar fashion with enough attention to space the letters neatly, add serifs and make the F prominent. We cannot actually read his mind, but his mental template can be seen as the average of all three.
     Third, we can see that the dies were expediently made with minor differences tolerated. The purpose was not to make tokens for posterity, but to make tokens for the upcoming communion service. As noted above, care was taken to make them attractive, but the bottom line was to have an adequate supply of CTs.
     We might expect that the three varieties are equally prevalent if made from a three-die mold. So check your pieces. Now you have something else to look for and ponder. If another DFS CT comes to the auction block, you can compare it with what you have or what else is offered. For example, one specimen that I got from the Burzinski collection was a V1.
     I wonder what other die varieties are out there?

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Market Watch

This Market Watch examines ebay sales for the period of September 29 thru October 5.
     This week, 40 CTs were sold with 35 of them trading hands a prices below $20. The remaining five pieces were hammered down for less than $30. Just your change purse was needed to get in on the action! As such, no HD or D pieces crossed the block.
     Among the bargain lots, a few nice pieces (common ovals and cut rectangles) were available and made nice additions to collections missing some of the newer pieces. A number of older CTs sold cheaply too, but most of them were quite worn and/or corroded.
Here is the reverse of B494. It reads
Minister/James Gillespie/1713.
The obverse reads: ARN/GOSK.
     An American dealer offered 12 primitive CTs on September 29 (plus another 13 were sold by this seller the day before that were not posted in time for my last MW). As a group, the pieces represent an odd mix of primitive -- mostly incuse -- designs: basically, single letters pressed into square and rectangular flans. Ten of the 12 sold this week went to one bidder for very low dollars ($3 to $8), whereas one piece of stamped lead, attributed to Jura, (B3423-24) was run up by two bidders to nearly $20.
     Collectors need to beware of the primitive CTs, as they are easy to fabricate. Among the offerings noted above, there were at least two spurious pieces. Dealers and collectors can be misled -- so be sure to compare primitive pieces with photos or drawings of CTs with known attributions.
     For just under $30, a couple of nice CTs were had by sharp buyers. First off, an attractive upright rectangle from Arngask in Perth-Kinross (and Fife -- the parish borders all three), dated 1713, attracted four bidders, three of them bidding multiple times (16 bids in all) right up to the end of the auction. This is an early and desirable piece that is not offered for sale very often (B494). Of note, this church produced a similar piece in 1721 (also infrequently encountered -- at least in my experience).
     A second CT also deserves mention: a Glasgow-styled square, dated 1819, from Kilmalcoln in Renfrew (B3696). This piece was in great condition and is two-sided -- many of these squares are blank on one side, but this parish adopted a two-sided design in 1788 and 1819. The reverse has the minister's initials in script, so it combines the Glasgow obverse styling with scripted letters on the reverse that were popular for a short while (about 1780 to 1820).

Friday, October 4, 2013

Communion Tokens from Cruden: A Closer Look.

The four CTs from the Cruden Church stockpile deserve a closer look.
     There are four CTs in all, dated 1737, 1800, 1842 and 1844 (cataloged by Burzinski as B1701, B1702, B1703 & B1704 respectively). The progression goes from square (it is actually elongated vertically by 1mm), straight rectangle, round and cut rectangle. Old shapes give way to new shapes -- noting however, that round pieces (an old shape) continued to be used infrequently through the end of the CT era. Burzinski mistakenly describes B1703 as being dated 1848!
     The name Cruden might have come from the phrase Croch Dain. This refers to the slaughter of the Danes that occurred in 1012 during a battle between the Scots under King Malcolm II and the invading Danes. The Kirk of Cruden was established thereafter on the very spot where the fighting took place and was dedicated to Saint Olaf, the patron Saint of Denmark and Norway.
     The oldest CT from the Cruden stockpile comes from the third church constructed in the vicinity; it was built about 1560. The CT dated 1737 was used in this now demolished stone church. The building was over 150 years old when the communion service was held. This CT is squarish with three lines of data that reads: CRU/DEN/1737 (N is retrograde). The tokens were handed out and passed back to the elders to allow access to the fenced tables -- as such, the pieces were used once and were stored for the next 275 years. I find it amazing that they were kept so long!
Worn hand-crafted CTs from Cruden.
     A new church was built in 1776, nearly all of it from one huge block of granite known as the "the gray stone of Ardendraught" that sat in a nearby field. Church services began in the new building in November of that year. It was here that the second CT dated 1800 was used. The token was decidedly rectangular as was the emerging style of CTs to come. This shape allowed the parish name to be spelled out on one line with the date boldly placed below. Very few parishioners probably recalled the first communion service, as the previous sacramental event was 63 years past; but this one was probably a grand event that also celebrated the new church.
     In 1834 an number of improvement were made to the church building. In particular, round towers were added to provide access to the galleries. This design certainly gave the church a regal look. Despite these alterations, the congregation itself splintered in the wake of the Great Disruption of 1843.
Machine struck CTs
from before and after
the Great Disruption.
Note the doubled letters
in the parish name for
the round CT.
     One of the key issues centered on whether or not the congregation had the power to choose their minister without interference from the General Assembly. Some thought so. Consequently, the Free Church of Scotland was formed -- that is, a church that was free to govern itself without interference from the government. The Rev. Alexander Philip, who was elected by the congregation at Cruden, chose to follow the Free Church movement. Hence, he and about 500 parishioners (out of 800 total) left the Church of Scotland and joined the Free Church of Scotland.
     The third CT of the set dated 1842 represents the last one used before this schism. It was a bold round piece produced under the authority of Rev. Philip only a year before he left with over half the congregation in tow. It is a struck piece made with number and letter punches. In particular, the piece shows distinct doubling (from over-struck letters on the die) in the parish name.
     A new stone church was constructed in the nearby town of Hatton in October of 1843. The latest token from Cruden comes from this church. The communion service was held only two years after the last one, suggesting a desire to solemnize the movement to a new church with a sacramental event. As before, Rev. Philip presided over the service. The CT design was a modern one: cut rectangle with a pictorial of a church on the reverse -- it is a stock token similar in design to others used at the time, likely struck by a mill that produced church and merchant tokens.
     Hence, the story of Cruden Parish is marked by the CTs themselves. It is a story of a growing congregation, new churches and philosophical differences. The tokens document the sacramental events -- they were few and far between, except at the end when the last two pieces represent different churches. This history was easy to discover, as the Cruden Church website full of interesting bits.
     As collectors, we can see that it is also a story of how CTs evolved over time, reflecting the general trend from squares and straight rectangles to cut rectangles (with a guest appearance of the round one). We can only ask: Hey, where are the ovals?

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Communion Tokens from a Church Hoard

The tokens come in an attractive
brochure with a picture of the church.
Once again, I have discovered a church hoard of CTs.
     The hoard of tokens is from Cruden Church in Aberdeen and includes four different CTs. Yes, I know some of you have heard about them, but think about this: Here is a chance to collect a few tokens directly from the church itself!
     This is what the Reverend Thomas Burns and others did in the late nineteenth century before the CTs were all gone! Put another way, it is like buying merchant tokens from a stash located in a rusty safe hidden in the back of an old storehouse.
     This is exactly what happened here. As the story goes: When the current minister, Reverent Rodger Neilson, came to Cruden 40 years ago, he found the tokens in a large safe in the vestry. When, the tokens were examined, it was discovered that there was a mix of old and new pieces -- four types in all. The old church, known simply as Cruden Old, was represented by three tokens dated 1737, 1800 & 1842 -- all from the Established Church of Scotland. A fourth token, dated 1844, was from the United Free Church of Scotland located at the West Church in Hatten. Cruden Old was closed in December 2007 as upkeep was becoming too difficult.
     All told, there are two dated rectangles, a round piece and a cut rectangle. This snapshot of a church history is significant, as it reveals the progression of shapes that were used. When combined with what we know about the evolution of shapes across Scotland, it reminds us of the individual choices made that characterize a single parish. Still, we find a predictable pattern at Cruden: the primitive rectangles came first; an always popular round piece followed, whereas the most modern of types came last: the mighty cut rectangle.
     The four Cruden pieces, as sold, come in a nifty folder with four windows, each labeled with the date. It is an attractive set that sells for about $36 (plus about $9 shipping to USA). The money is being raised by the church to replaced some of the windows in the sanctuary. The payment is actually considered a donation. Here is the link: Cruden Church Site.
     Like the pieces from the Balquidder Parish Church profiled a few months ago, this is a great opportunity for the collector who wants to rub up to history, getting as close as possible. These old pieces come directly from an old token bag (as they say) -- it is the next best thing to discovering them yourself. In this regard, we are reminded by Rev. Burns: "A token preserves a link which joins the present to the past, and while revealing in many ways the spirit of bygone ages, it may oftentimes be said to mark the fortunes of the Church in different districts in Scotland" (from Old Scottish Communion Plate, 1892).