Wednesday, November 27, 2013

More from Baltimore: A New York Token. Rare, but how Desirable?

Last Sunday I asked: "Where are all the USA tokens?"
     While at the Baltimore Expo in early November I found some.
     In particular, I spied a rectangular piece with rounded corners from Newburgh, New York. I had a chance to buy it, but passed. My wife would be happy to know this, but I decided to not mention it -- why fan the flames of denunciation?
     But like many collectors who have been in this situation, I am still thinking about it, quietly.
     It is a simple piece with UPC/NB on the obverse. The reverse is blank. The letters were punched in separately, so they are uneven in a way that announces its improvised production -- of course, they are incuse. The letter punches are thin as seen in printing. No two tokens are identical, but all are cataloged as B7042 or Bason-96.
     It is rare? Yes.
     When did you last see one?
     The Presbyterians organized in Newburg, NY, in the 1770s. There is mention of a wooden church being erected in 1793. In 1817, the congregation had about 100 members. In 1855, about half this number withdrew to organize the Calvary Presbyterian Church -- a new brick church was built and dedicated in 1858.
     On the national stage, the Associate Reformed Church and the Associate Presbyterian Church joined together to form the United Presbyterian Church (UPC). Consequently, the Newburgh token is likely to date sometime after this merger. But which church? Calvary?
     Both Bason and Burzinski list a similar token from New York City (attributed to a church on West 44th Street). This other one is also rectangular with rounded corners. It is simply punched too (but with periods added): U.P.C. Is this relevant? Your guess is as good as mine.
     In any case, both are rare. But they are an acquired taste -- not pretty, just a once-functional bit of Presbyterian history. There are not many collectors of USA CTs out there to start with. In fact, one dealer once quipped that there are so few USA CTs available in the marketplace that it is hard to keep the motivation high enough to seriously collect them. But I am sure, this CT is on someone's want-list.
     I wonder how many collectors of USA CTs are out there?
     One aspect of the marketplace that I have noticed is that there are clearly defined subgroups of CT collectors with few cross-overs.
     Those collecting the Scottish series are legion, as there are more than enough tokens to go around. Consequently, prices are reasonable. And, motivation to get a few more is high. On ebay, you can see these collectors bidding over and over again. The usual suspects show up for each auction.
     In contrast, other CT series are collected by distinctly different groups. And the pricing structure is different too -- that is, they cost much more.
     In fact, if we look at ebay prices for the past three months, the top three tokens reflect three different collecting groups. The highest priced tokens have come from Jamaica (sold for $338 on November 17), New Zealand (sold for $250 on September 1), and Ireland (sold for $197 on November 9). There was almost no overlap between bidders on these pieces, or between these bidders and those who have bid on the top Scottish pieces. I counted only one cross-over bidder among the competitors.
     Is there a separate group of folks waiting for a USA CT to come up for auction? The last USA piece that sold on ebay was an Allegeny, PA, token that sold at a BIN price of $225 on August 8. In contrast, a New York oval, dated 1799, did not sell in January at a start price of $995. Several bidders vied for the New York pieces offered by StacksBowers in mid-August -- but of course, these were exquisite pieces from a great collection. Four pieces sold for prices between $190 and $425 a piece.
     How much interest would the Newburgh, NY, piece bring?


  1. For a series of items to be "widely collectable", they have to possess several characteristics, some of which the U.S. communion tokens do not have. In a nutshell, the U.S. communion tokens are too rare. And when you look at all of the communion token series (by country), and at all of the characteristics that make a good collectible, the Canadian communion tokens stand out as the champs. They have the perfect levels of rarity (a wide range of ultra-rare to rare to scarce to common), they are better designed that the U.S. tokens (with a wide range of eye-catching designs), the prices are just right (not too cheap and great rarities are somewhat expensive), they have interesting histories that in some cases are closely related to the U.S. (some of the tokens were used in both the U.S. and Canada), they are "British" (Canada was a set of independent British colonies until 1867), they have several great books describing them including one with excellent photographs (the U.S. tokens do not yet have this), and I could go on all day with the comparisons....
    I happen to collect both the U.S. and Canadian communion tokens, and have done so for many years, and I WISH the U.S. tokens had the "collectability" of the Canadians. Perhaps it is time to start a blog for the Canadian communion tokens....

  2. I agree: The USA CTs are difficult to chase after. It is like hunting mountain lions in Virginia -- you end up hunting for deer or fox. By the way, I do not actually hunt. You make an excellent point concerning the Canadian series; the marketplace has matured and is comparable to other token series (US hard-times and civil war tokens, merchant tokens and so on). All these series boast of illustrated catalogs and relatively stable pricing structures (and rarity ratings). And the link to Scottish CTs is inescapable, remembering that at least one-third of Canadians can claim Scottish descent. And so we have Glasgow-styled squares, ovals and rectangles just as we find in the Scottish series -- I think one of the first Canadian CTs was a Glasgow-styled square from Truro, Nova Scotia (made from dies brought over from Scotland). But let us not forget the Scottish series itself: it is older, more varied in design, and has a frontier-feel to it; that is to say that the series offers many surprises for the collector who likes to discover things. I will profile some CA CTs in future posts -- among my favorites are the Johns Haven pieces (both rectangles and ovals) that were brought over to Canada from Scotland. In addition, if you look back, you will see the East River CT described, also from Nova Scotia: this piece is one of my favorites for its bold primitive presentation. Thanks for your comments.