Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Pre-Glasgow Squares

Here is a favorite of many CT
collectors, as it is nicely made
with many ornaments.
Glasgow squares are distinctive. The circular design made up of concentric rings placed within a square frame is easy to identify and has a predictable geographic distribution that fans outward from Glasgow (for the most part). But the idea of a circular motif is not at all new.
     Merchant tokens -- farthing pieces in particular -- from the mid-seventeenth century were organized in a similar fashion. Of course, the tokens were round (like coins) and the rings were intuitive.
     Today I examine the similarities between an early token from Dunbog parish in Fife and a farthing token that was commonplace at about the same time. We can only wonder if these pieces share a design heritage. It seems obvious, but reading the mind of an engraver who lived centuries ago is tricky business -- in fact, I have trouble reading my wife's mind today!
     What do we mean by a design heritage. It is a mental representation, a schema that is lodged in the brain of more than one engraver. The common folk also held this schema, particularly if they handled more than a few farthing tokens. For example, most of us today find coins with lettering arched about the rims familiar. If we were asked to design a coin for an art class, many of us would employ this schema (e.g., placing Liberty or 2013 arched along the rim -- or something like that). So it was back then. This is what I mean by a design heritage. Most simply, it was a heritage born of one engraver looking over the shoulder of another. This, coupled with the familiarity of all that came before, is lodged in the cortex of this unknown CT engraver. This much, we can be sure of. But what design features are encoded? For this, we turn to the tokens themselves to see what design elements are used over and over again.
     First, a bit about the parish. Dunbog is a small parish in northwest Fife that borders the river Tay. Farming and cattle grazing is the only industry. The ruins of the old Kirk, dating back to the beginning of the Reformation, were cleared away in 1969; only the graveyard remains. A new church was built in 1803.
     The Dunbog token (BK328) was made during the tenure of Min. John Makgill who served between 1646 and 1654. Afterwards, he served at a parish in Cupar for eight more years, but he resigned in opposition to the demands by the crown to submit to the English episcopacy. These were troubled times that were characterized by much tension (and bloodshed) between the two countries. The CTs were rudely shaped into octagonal and square pieces (and Burzinski mentions a "lozenge-shaped" piece as well). The center shows the initials of the minister: M/JM (first M for minister)and the legend reads: PARISH DUVBOVG.
The farthing on left is from England, but similar pieces are likely to have
circulated (or were known of) in Scotland. Note all the similarities.
     The farthing token was issues by Jonas Whale of Colchester in Essex. I believe that he was a baker. Due to a shortage of small denomination coins, thousands of these tokens were produced between 1640 and 1672. There were common enough to be familiar north of the border (perhaps a reader can elaborate on this, and the use of similar tokens in Scotland). Production of these pieces stopped when Charles II ordered the mint to begin making regal coppers. This particular piece shows the initials of the merchant: W/JS with the location: IN COLCHESTER within the rings.
     Comparing the farthing token with the Dunbog CT, we can immediately see the similarities. The beaded borders of the concentric circles are the same. The lettering is nearly identical with large periods used as stops. The initials in the center are arranged in the same (one over two) configuration with periods flanking the top letter and a period or flower in-between the two bottom letters. Even the size of the design elements are similar such that you could place the round token atop the irregular one and cover the design completely.
     Was the Dunbog piece made by a minter who also made farthings? After all, Dunbog was a small place -- hardly a parish that you would expect to see such a well-designed CT! Typically, a stamped square would be enough for such a farming community in the mid-1600s. Certainly, the irregular flan was made by inexpert hands, so it is the die that is similar -- who made it?
     Last week, sunnyleith provided a link to an earlier CT from Anstruther Easter parish (also in Fife) that exhibits very similar characteristics. This piece bears the name Mr. Colin Adams who was the first minister of this Kirk with a tenure starting in 1641. This makes this token one of (if not the) earliest CTs with a concentric circle design template. In this case, the CT was rotated 45-degrees to produce a diamond effect -- it is square dimensionally. This token was found by a metal detector in Anstruther: imagine that, it has been sitting there -- lost -- for 350 years! Here is the link: Anstruther Easter CT from Fife.
     We can ponder: Did the first Glasgow-styled square come from Glasgow?

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