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?

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