Sunday, November 30, 2014

CT Museum at the Presbyterian Heritage Center

I recently received several photos from Claude King who visited the museum at the PHC located in Montreat, NC. He has been collecting CTs and visiting the blog for the past year or so.
     The pictures he shared will be of interest to all CT collectors. If you are like me, after looking at these pictures, you will want to plan a trip to Montreat this summer to see for yourself. The link to the PHC website is here: http://www.phcmontreat.org/index.html.
     Montreat, NC, is located just off I40 in the western part of the state; the town itself is north of I40 just east of Asheville -- it is adjacent to the Appalachians (to the west) and national forests all around, so I am sure that the countryside is beautiful.
     The first picture of the earliest dated CT -- from Perth Kirk -- is quite interesting, as it is dated 1604! This predates the CP/1648 round CT from Crossmichael by nearly a half-century (BZ1606/BK240). I mention in my guidebook that the earliest reported (but with none surviving) dated CT is from Glasgow with a date of 1588 -- this report comes from the work of Burns, Whitelaw, and others.
     In particular, Burns quotes from the Kirk-Session in Glasgow on the 13th of April, 1588 as follows: "The session appoint some to speak to the Baileys about making a new stamp and carts for tickets." And quotes further that each ticket (i.e., token) should be marked "with this sign, 1588." We do not know what the "sign" was from this quote, but the reference to the date, and the direction to have the date stamped on the ticket, is clear.
     These researchers have also indicated that the Crossmichael CT is the oldest (or as Burns puts it: "one of the oldest" -- perhaps holding out for the chance of finding an older one) dated token that survives. Of note to collectors, one of these rare CTs was sold in May 2014 by Simmons Gallery from the Bob Merchant collection. It was bid up to 156 BP or about $250. This is actually quite cheap as far as rare coins or tokens go. Also, I should add that the attribution is listed as "uncertain" by Burzinski -- and Burns, too, raises some questions about this.
     So here we have one dated 1604. It is a rectangular piece with straight corners and bold rim. The lettering appears to be hand-cut -- particularly with the out-sized T in PERTH. Certainly the year is well within the range given above of 1588 to 1648 -- we would expect to see dated tokens during this period. Do we need to re-write all the CT guides? Is this the date of use, or the date of the church founding?
     Still, we have to ask: How did all previous catalogers, including Burzinski, miss this one? Burzinski traveled to Scotland several times -- did he ever visit the PHC?
     The other picture shown is of a CT die. This one is made of iron (per the description) and is completely embedded in a large block of wood. There is only one die, so the apparatus had to be sturdy enough to withstand repeated use. It is a one-sided die, such that the blank reverse was impressed by the wood block that was fit over the lower one with the die imbedded -- you can see the small square burn marks on the upper block. Two guide poles insured a regular fit.
     Molten lead cools very quickly, so it probably took a minute or less for the lead to harden enough to be picked out. Any extra lead would flow out of the mold through the small channel at the edge of the die. The shiny CT sitting next to the die looks new -- did they use the die to make one?
     The description identifies this die as coming from Bloomington, IN. Bason listed only a dozen CTs from Indiana with six of them coming from Bloomington. This one (Bason28/BZ5997)) is described in his text as a small, straight rectangle of 13x9mm, made of lead, and noted to be thick. As the photo shows, the token is one-sided with the letters RP in relief, surrounded by a slight border.
     Many thanks to Claude King for sharing these photos. He has sent some other photos of Charleston CTs (including a slave token) that I will post later this month. In the meantime, enjoy these on Claude's behalf. If you click on the photo, it will enlarge it for better study.


Saturday, November 8, 2014

Market Watch

This market watch covers all CTs sold on ebay and other sources (when I stumble on them) for the month of October, 2014. It was an active month considering that 169 CTs were sold on ebay and nearly 500 were offered by Simmons Gallery (more precisely, 519 lots with 346 sold at auction -- not including post-auction sales which I do not have). About 15 or so of these latter pieces appeared to be metals/tokens, not CTs. In sum, we had about 169+336 (best guess) CTs sold this past month.
     For the CTs sold on ebay, we had 129 pieces go for less than $20 in the C range. Another 36 sold below $50 in the B range, whereas only 4 CTs sold above this mark, but below $75 in the BB range. Many good deals were to be had, as bidders were sleeping for some auctions. Comtok sold 62 CTs this month in three series on 10/13, 10/22, and 10/28. Also a series of octagonal pieces from Lesmahagow were offered with sequential table numbers ranging from 1 to 13, but missing Table 4. Some great deals were to be had: for example, a pair of Burntisland rounds dated 1744 (BZ875) sold for $8 a piece (two different varieties were represented). They were in great condition. Nice buys -- it was not me (wish it was).
     Topping the BB list was an oval dated 1829 from the St. Andrews Scots PC located in Buenos Aires, Argentina (BZ6434). I have never seen this one before. It attracted four bidders with five bids to win the piece at $73.
     Next on the list was a Nova Scotia CT from Earlton. It sold at the BIN price of $62. This one was cataloged as NS214 -- the price was correct, and maybe a bit low, according to the Charlton guidebook that provides a range of $70 to $90.
     Two Scottish CTs made the BB list. First, a Haddington (in Lothians) shield token dated 1818 (BZ7572) was hammered for $56 after four bidders casted seven bids. This is a popular token that usually comes very nice (probably NOS). Second, a 1795 castle piece from Edinburgh (BZ5296) was hotly contested with 11 bids from six bidders. This one, too, is a popular token and has sold for much more on ebay in the recent past. The castle motif is attractive and emblematic of the city, and Scotland overall. Both of these pieces came from comtok's offerings.
This is the oldest native CT from Canada according to the
Charlton guidebook. He apparently brought the molds
for this token from Canada. It is listed as NS304.
     The Simmons Gallery auction closed on 10/20 -- this was the fourth auction of CTs from the Bob Merchant collection -- he certainly had a big collection! There were 519 lots with 346 listed as sold on the first go-round (note that post-auction sales are not included). This sale deserves a more complete description, but for now I can say that all the Scottish pieces went for reasonable (that is, low) prices. The top bids went towards three Canadian CTs, three Jamaican CTs, and a maverick Mission Church token dated 1872 that was attributed to West Indies or African mission -- the latter piece sold for about $300.
     I was fortunate to get one piece from Truro in Nova Scotia (BZ6966/NS304) that sold for just over $80. In the Charlton guidebook, it is valued at half this price, but try and find one. If you have been reading this blog, then you know how much I like the Glasgow-styled squares: this is one that was made in Canada. I have not seen this one for sale before and had been wanting it since I mentioned it in my guidebook -- I included a picture. As you can see, it is a rather primitive piece with nice patina. I like that Nova Scotia is spelled out. Love it!
     As you can see, this blog has been quiet. I think readers would enjoy hearing what favorite CTs you have added to your collection lately. If you got something from ebay or Simmons Gallery, let us know.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Market Watch for September

The leaves are turning and dropping to the ground. As with the season, the CT marketplace has slowed somewhat, but it remains colorful. One-hundred and ten pieces were sold in September with 94 of them coming from comtok who is selling off part of a collection.
     Most pieces have been selling inexpensively with only a few (or one) bidder(s). Eighty-six CTs crossed the block for under $20 in the C range -- many uncontested. There have been some very good deals in this mix with more than a few 18th century pieces finding a new home. Twenty-one CTs sold in the B range that includes all trades between $20 and $49.  Only three tokens sold above the $50 mark: one each in the BB, A, and AA ranges.
Obverse of Ladykirk CT
     Tops among these three CTs was a crude, diminutive rectangle from Ladykirk. This is an attractive, albeit primitive, piece for its simple incuse lettering -- LK -- on the obverse and the bold four-digit date -- 1716 -- punched deeply into the reverse. It is a rugged bit of church history that conjures up all sorts of images of the past. The piece is cataloged as BK696 (or BZ4334-6 [3 varieties] ... in this case BZ4335 that comes with curved 1 and large loop on the 6). Only two bidders vied for this one, casting 11 bids to push the price up to a whopping $130. Yes, this figure is not a typo: $130. Here is the link: Ladykirk CT for big bucks.
Reverse of Ladykirk CT
The straight 1 plus the small loop
on the 6 suggest BZ4334.
A curved 1 with big 6 loop is
BZ4335, & no first 1 is the last.
     On the same day (Sept. 29th), comtok offered a pair of these same pieces: LK//1716. The obverses were pictured (whereas in the previous sale the bold dated reverse was shown). One bid was all it took to get the pair for $15. So what do we make of this huge discrepancy?
     Looking back at previous sales of Ladykirk CTs we get these data. In February of 2013, the Bob Merchant specimen was sold by Simmons Gallery for about $25. Another piece sold on ebay in November of 2013 for about twice this much. In addition, several lots of very nice ones (with smooth, ashen surfaces) were sold cheaply, raising suspicions that these were spurious -- in particular, the specimens illustrated by Burzinski were rough, corroded bits with white sulfide frosting like the ones illustrated here. As such, very nice pieces with light (fishing lure) color need to be purchased cautiously.
     All arguments not withstanding, a hammer price of $130 for a Ladykirk CT is extremely strong. In contrast, the pair offered by comtok was a great buy. Here is the link for the pair of Ladykirk CTs: Two for the price of one.
     Moving on, a Clackmannan heart, dated 1731, attracted 6 bidders, casting 10 bids, to produce a healthy sale price of $76. Two bidders really wanted this one, but they showed restraint, as the hammer price was consistent with previous sales. These hearts also tend to be mildly corroded -- I have never seen one with smooth surfaces across a half-dozen sales. This one was average to above-average with no distracting marks. It is cataloged as BK187 or BZ1460.
     The final CT that brought a price over $50 was a Glasgow-styled square from Prince Edward Island: an 1832 New London piece in excellent condition (PE-216). It crossed the block at $69 with only two bids -- just shy of book values of $70-90. This was a far cry from the hot battle reported in this blog last November when two bidders cast 19 bids for a similar one, pushing the price to $86.
     All told, it was an interesting month. The characteristics of a thin market were in plain view: bidding wars with price spikes juxtaposed with lackluster interest towards many very nice pieces selling cheaply. And, let's not forget the heart: it was contested by two rational buyers who knew its value.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Market Watch for August 2014

August was a slow month for CT auctions and sales. The end of summer usually brings vacations, and so it was in the CT marketplace -- most vendors were closed for the weekend. All told, there were 105 CTs sold this past month. This figure is exactly half of the tally for July, and June was tops with over 350 pieces sold.
     There were two familiar auctions in August, as comtok continued his series of sales with 17 CTs crossing the block on the 15th. One of them was a rare heart from Canisbay in Caithness (BZ7672 or KL(40)303); it brought forth only three bidders, selling for $34. It was a corroded piece with snowy-white surfaces. Yet, all hearts are scarce to rare, and certainly popular. Here is the link:  Heart-shaped CT.
     Also, cobwrightfortishe continued his series of sales with 14 late-series CTs (six ovals, eight cut rectangles) on the 30th. All of these were nicely toned pieces with few, if any, distractions.
     Fifty-five CTs sold for under $20 -- many of these were nice and appeared to have been over-looked by collectors who were on vacation. But this might not have been the case, as nearly as many CTs sold for strong prices that give evidence that the CT marketplace is alive and well -- and that the die-hard collectors are always watching. As such, 42 pieces sold in the B price range, whereas eight more crossed the block in the $50+ range. Of these, four sold for under $75, and four more sold in the A and AA ranges. The top two pieces brought 3-digit prices: $230 and $188 respectively.
Bason 333 is listed as from the 1st Reformed Presbyterian
Church in Pittsburgh, PA. This stock token was also used
in South Rygate, Vermont, and listed as Bason 416.
     The top piece that sold for $230 is no stranger to this blog: an American CT from Pittsburgh PA (or Vermont) cataloged as BZ6067 or BA333. This round one is a stock piece, minted in lead but looks like German silver. It is a popular piece with a detailed burning bush, certainly scarce, but often seen in US CT collections. Thirteen bids were cast by seven bidders, but only two of them held on after the elusive $200 mark was passed. This is a nice piece -- I paid more for mine, so in my reckoning, this was a good deal. I think any US CT is worth $150-$200 or more (usually more). Here is the link: RPC Burning Bush US CT.
     The second AA CT that sold is also known to readers of this blog, as it has sold four times in the past year. Here I am referring to the SMS Jamaican piece cataloged as BZ6333. This one was sold by stevehayden who has been selling off the last remnants of the Burzinski collection and other CTs once owned by renowned exonumia dealer Steve Tannenbaum. Five bidders casted three times as many bids with four of them staying with it as the price moved past $140. It only sold for about $40 more at $188. It was nice piece with dark, brownish toning and some minor roughness. Previous sales suggest that this was market-correct for this piece.
     Next came an Irish CT from Belfast, Antrim. It was an attractive piece with bold B (with period) over-top the date of 1776. Nine bidders went for it initially, but only four of them pushed on to a selling price of $90. I think this was a deal! It was listed as a "Scottish" CT but was unattributed. The CT catalogs as BZ655. Here is the link:  Irish CT from Belfast.
     Finally, the fourth CT that sold for over $75 (maybe?) was listed for $100, but it was sold at a undisclosed best offer. It was a squarish piece, somewhat battered and worn, from Castleton in Roxburgh, cataloging as BZ1452 or BK176. It is not pictured in Burzinski -- this can be an indication of rarity, as he had a nice collection (but I cannot say for sure). Still, it looks to have brought solid money.
     I noticed that several B pieces in the $30 to $40 range sold that had been listed for several weeks (or more), so it appears that someone decided to bite the bullet (as it were -- both are lead) and just get them. All of them were very nice pieces, and I had wondered why they were not selling. By the same token (no pun intended) there are many very nice Canadian -- seldom seen piece, mind you -- that are listed currently. If it were not for my determination to stick to a particular plan, I would buy them all. So there you have it, go get those primitive Canadian pieces: they do not come around that often. In fact, I have not seen many of them for sale even once in the past 3 or 4 years.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Counterstamped Communion Tokens: maybe, maybe not.

Here are a couple of pieces to ponder.
Virginia Halfpenny N20-X. Image from StacksBowers.
     The first one is a 1773 Virginia halfpenny. The piece is deeply counterstamped R.P.S. in bold letters across the obverse. A recent Colonial Newsletter (CNL) article by Roger Moore proposed that this countermark stands for the Reformed Presbyterian Synod of Virginia. It is a rare piece, but others might be out there. Of note, Bason does not list any CTs with this letter combination, but of course, there are many pieces marked by the initials RP and RPC (with and without periods).
     The notion that coins or tokens were used as communion tokens is not so far-fetched. The round Port Glasgow tokens (BZ5774 / KL(40)244) appear to be stamped over a (yet-unidentified) token. There are probably others too -- let me know if you know of any. Certainly, the use of a countermark was practical. I am surprised that it did not occur more often. Or, maybe it did, and we just do not know about it. However, to my knowledge there is no documentary evidence to support the notion that coins and tokens were counterstamped by the Presbyterian Church.
Massachusetts Cent.
Image from StacksBowers.
     On a more tangential note, the Albany Church Pennies (1790) were counterstamped over worn coppers in at least a few (if not all) cases (e.g., 1771 halfpenny). These pieces were not communion tokens, but were traded for "good" money prior to the church services, so that these "pennies" could be placed in the collection plate. They were reused over and over again in this way to insure that "good" money was collected by the church. Keep in mind that this was the First Presbyterian Church in Albany. At the time, over half of all coppers circulating in the USA were either counterfeit English pieces or under-weight tokens of dubious quality. As many of you know, the ACPs are known in two varieties and are quite rare (all told, probably about a dozen known from a production of 1000 pieces -- a 1.2% survival rate).
     Here is another piece that could be a communion token. This time a Massachusetts Cent provided the host coin. The deeply impressed countermark -- PC -- could stand for Presbyterian Church. Again, we have no documentation. Bason only lists two CTs with these letters -- only one of them signifying Presbyterian Church (the other CT is from Peters Creek, PA).
     Still, we know that early USA CTs were quite primitive, as most everyone was busy carving out a life in the frontier. It would not be a surprise to learn that counterstamped coins and tokens were used as communion tokens.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Market Watch for July

This market watch reviews ebay sales for July. It was a relatively slow month with 210 CTs trading hands. This figure does not include a large number of questionable tokens that were sold off in large lots throughout the month (more on this later).
     Several large auctions dominated the mid-summer activity with comtok offering 20 pieces on July 1st and 48 more on July 10th -- all from his personal collection.  Cobwrightfortishe offered 15 more pieces on July 8th from the Macmillan collection. UK dealer richardigr offered 30 CTs on July 28. In addition historyincoins sold numerous pieces throughout the month at BIN prices.
     As is typical, most pieces sold inexpensively in the C range (under $20): 118 CTs in all. There were 78 CTs crossing the block in the B range (under $50) with some very nice pieces in the mix.  Only 15 CTs sold at or above the $50 mark: 11 CTs in the BB range and two each in the A and AA ranges. There were many opportunities to pick up some nice pieces this past month as bidding seemed slow overall -- many pieces sold uncontested.
     Top honors go to a New Zealand CT from Tapanui. This oval sold for a BIN/BO price that was under the original listing of $400. So, how low did it sell for? No one knows, but since the start price was way up there, we can reasonably guess that it easily sold for over $100, planting it firmly in the AA category. Here is the link: Tapanui New Zealand CT.
     The second AA CT sold came from the comtok auction: a very nice cut-rectangle from St. Kilda in the Outer Hebrides (BZ6482). As noted in the listing, this congregation was as small one (population 180 for all of St. K); consequently, few tokens were likely made. This piece had a nice patina and smooth surfaces (but for a tiny obverse scratch). Five bidders cast nine bids with two big bids to decide the contest in the closing moments -- this one sold for $109. Here is the link: St Kilda CT.
     The next CT was also sold by comtok: this one was from Uig on the Isle of Lewis (BZ7015). It was a superb little oval, dated 1836. I cannot imagine that Uig was a large congregation either, so few pieces were probably produced. Six bidders vied for this one with consistent bidding; after nine bids the piece was sold at $71 in the A range.
     The final piece that brought over $75 was one we have seen several times before on this blog: the 1678 Brechin round. This is a popular one, as it is the oldest dated piece that is readily available. This one was dark (as is typical) but with most of the 78 showing at the bottom. It was listed for a BIN price of $100 but a BO took it home -- was it over $75? Not sure, but I counted it as such. Prices for these are all over the place ($50 to $90) depending on who wants it and how badly.
     There were many other nice pieces sold this month including a 1831 Kirriemuir round CT for $32 -- this one can spark quite a bit of excitement if enough bidders are in the room -- we have seen them sell in the A and AA range before.  Also, a cut-rectangle from Crossford brought a healthy $67 (from two bidders!) -- these late series pieces are hotly contested by serious collectors intent on completing a shire set. If you want to know which pieces are missing from these sets, then watch these auctions (particularly cobwrightfortishe) and learn. A few nice Glasgow-squares were to be had (e.g., New Cumnock, Largs).

     Finally, we come to a distasteful subject: questionable CTs. A USA dealer -- cronus-coins -- offered and sold large groupings of CTs with simple (mostly incuse) designs. For example, 57 CTs from Bedrule (BK103) were sold on July 27. These round pieces are marked by an incused BK. The CTs pictured were pristine -- perhaps a bit too pristine, as most of the pieces coming from Scotland are clearly used up.  Only one bidder took the bait and paid $100 for the lot.  Here is the link: Fifty-seven Bedrule CTs.
     On the same day, cronus-coins sold 26 CTs from Galashiels (BK452) for $55 -- also a simple token marked by an incused GK. This lot, too, was composed of pristine tokens. Although hoards of unused CTs are known to exist, how likely is it that there are two hoards of CTs that not only have the same leaden appearance, but are also from different shires -- not to mention, of such simple design that they can be easily manufactured. But wait, there's more: how about 18 pristine pieces from Kilmuir (BK604) or 10 from Saltoun (BK988) -- both lots sold earlier in the month. And why are there no common cut-rectangles or ovals being offered -- these are the most frequently encountered hoard (or should I say, NOS) pieces.
     We can add Lairg, Ladykirk, Kildalton, Kilmonivaig, Keith, Kemnay, and IB tokens to the list of questionable tokens. Since all were sold, we can expect to see them again (unless the buyers were getting them to destroy). But then again, maybe they are authentic ... check the ebay "sold" records and judge for yourself. If you are like me, I will get mine from an established dealer in the UK, and prefer those with a provenance (e.g., ex-Macmillan or ex-Burzinski).

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Errors and mysteries



Errors and Mysteries
Things are not always as they seem, even when written up in books by respected researchers. Let me show you what I mean.
When an American dealer was selling dies for Communion tokens, I bought the one pictured, for the obverse of the token for Penrith and St. Mary’s. The token is listed in Copinger as number 224, Penrith, Cumberland. The reference continues in Cresswell as number 4903 and Burzinski as number 5586. As far as the identity is concerned, we are home and cool, right?
Not necessarily!
I have a decent collection of English Communion tokens, but not this token – part of the reason I chose this die. So I thought I’d check into the church that issued it. I looked up Penrith, and found it quickly. As is often the case with English Presbyterian Churches, I checked to see if this congregation was not part of the United Reformed Church. It is. Wonderful!
Then I looked for St. Mary’s. No map indicates the existence of a town named St. Mary’s in Cumberland or anywhere near Penrith. Maybe it was a country church, or simply a church name, I thought, but searches continued to come up empty.
The logical next step is to contact the congregation. I emailed Penrith URC and had some delightful exchanges with the congregational secretary, who is very much up on the history of the church. He confirmed that there is no St. Mary’s, told me that Penrith has never been in a joint charge with another congregation, certainly not in the 1800’s, and further, there was no evidence that Penrith Presbyterian Church had ever issued or used a Communion token.
From curiosity to mystery!
A search ensued for other Penriths, and I found one in New South Wales, Australia, and, not far away, a St. Mary’s. Continuing research showed that Penrith and St. Mary’s Presbyterian Churches were a two point charge from 1860 through into the early 1880’s. Logic suggests that this is not an English Communion token, but Australian. Two Australian collectors have looked at the evidence and agree with the findings. Kirkwood and Sons in Edinburgh, makers of the die, tell me that they do not have the old records anymore, so cannot confirm or deny that the token is Australian.
However, to complicate matters, there is no record of Communion tokens being used at Penrith or St. Mary’s. This is not necessarily conclusive as I have seen Session minutes from a Canadian Presbyterian Church that never mention tokens, but the church has a bag of them! My guess, shared by an Australian collector, is that the token was ordered, but never actually used. Further searches for the tokens themselves seem to indicate that they are not often seen. I have found record of only one, and that in a Museum in Scotland. Perhaps it is a proof from Kirkwood who sold off many of their proofs a few years ago. I have tried to find out whether the token the Museum has is new or used, something that might help confirm my guess, but they don’t do such searches, so I may have to go to the Museum next time I am in Scotland.
If anyone out there has an example of the Penrith and St. Mary’s token I’d be interested to hear from you. comtokcanada@gmail.com
By the way, I sent the die to Kirkwood and had restrikes of the obverse made. The reverse is not the same as the original – so there is no confusion. The re-strikes are in my Australian collection.


Sunday, July 6, 2014

Market Watch June 2014

June was a busy month with 361 CTs trading hands. Plus, a record sale price was recorded when a Jamaican CT sold for a whopping $621.
     Several big sales dominated the market square this month: comtok offered 91 CTs whereas richardigr offered 136 pieces (a new dealer we have not seen on ebay recently); cobwrightfortishe offered 20 more pieces. These serial auctions accounted for over two-thirds of the sales.
     As expected, most CTs crossed the block for less than $20 underscoring the bargains available. All told, 290 pieces sold for C money. Among these CTs were several nice Glasgow-styled squares, a few eighteenth century, dated pieces with moderate wear, and many late series pieces. Cobwrightforthishe offered a nearly complete run of KL(44) pieces cataloged between KL130 through KL150 -- most of them in excellent condition. Comtok also sold pieces in an orderly fashion, organized by shire and parish.
Obviously, this is a rare piece that is missing from at least
ten collections and is sorely needed by three collectors.
Burzinski notes that this token comes from a small village
in the center of the island.
     Sixty more CTs sold in the B range, plus another seven were bid past the $50 mark into the BB category. At the top of the bill were four pieces that brought A and AA money.
     The top CT was a Jamaican piece from Carron Hall Church (BZ1315) offered by well-known exonumia dealer and Civil War token expert Steve Hayden. He has many CTs in his inventory, most of them from Burzinski's collection. This piece attracted 10 bidders, casting 21 bids. They were all flirting until the end, when three bidders got serious and pushed the price above $500 on the last day. The hammer of $621 is the highest CT sale price recorded since this blog has been published (no others have exceeded the $400 mark in the past 12 months). Not even the hearts can compete. Here is the link: Carron Hall CT from Jamaica.
     The second CT to bring gasps from the on-lookers sold for $365. This one, too, was a Jamaican piece (BZ6333) -- but one we have seen several times in the past year. It is the SMS oval piece that was profiled last fall in this blog. Five bidders vied for it with 18 bids deciding the final outcome. Here is the link: SMS CT from Jamaica.
     The third CT in this month's lineup was another SMS specimen. This one had been listed at a BIN price of $595 price for over six months. It finally sold at an undisclosed best-offer price. Certainly the marketplace has spoken since at least four SMS ovals have traded hands in the $300 range over the past year. Unfortunately, this specimen had a scratch across the first S which was quite obvious to even the casual eye. Still, it is a rare token.
     The fourth CT was in the A range: a Scottish piece from the island of Coll in the Inner Hebrides. It was offered by cobwrightfortishe (KL(44)144 or BZ1543), attracting five bidders who cast seven bids. As is typical, two of them battled urgently as the hammer came down to end the sale. The piece sold for $82 -- a high price for a late-series Scottish CT. Here is the link: Coll CT from Inner Hebrides.
     Of note, a Canadian round from Cornwall in Ontario (CW234-A1) crossed the block for $65 with four bidders casting twice as many bids. This is the first one of these seen in the marketplace for over a year.
     On balance, we see the usual pattern in the marketplace: many inexpensive -- but nice -- CTs selling briskly with three to five bids each, plus a few non-Scottish rarities providing the high-points. The collectors are active, and all reasonably priced CTs are finding new homes.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Welcome Covenanters

Our CT Covenant is growing.  And a few others are watching.
     This blog spot is our Glen. Fortunately, we do not have to gather in the cover of dusk. Or worry about the King's troops. In fact, our activities are center-stage for all to see and enjoy. In fact, this blog spot has had over 10K hits in the past year -- it is a well-trodden path.
     Covenanters (and onlookers) do not have to produce a token to enter the Glen -- "Token," the elder would bark, as he stiffly held out his hand. But, I bet our pockets and drawers are full of CTs.

     Feel free to try a short posting to see if everything works. Consider sharing a picture of your newest acquisition. I'm sure many of us will recognize it ... especially if you are on ebay much.
     The marketplace has been active, so I am sure that some of us are adding new pieces on a regular basis. I managed to get a few pieces just yesterday, and I am looking forward to the ritual of examining, cataloging, and packaging them into tidy flips with a small descriptive card.
     The hammer prices have been very reasonable this month. I think the FF will provide a review of the action at the end of the month.

     But for now let me share a recent find that was reported by a metal detectorist in the "backwoods" of PA. Our lucky treasure hunter was searching for coins in a wooded area in the Hartslog Valley of central PA. He found a CT from this rural outpost. As he put it, he was unsure if this tiny lead token of 6 x 10 mm was historically significant, but now he knows that he has something special and rare -- not just a dog or cattle tag! Of note, reissue CTs of this variety (Bason-243) exist -- I cannot tell if this is one of them.
This one looks to be in nice shape,
especially for a "grounder" -- it is
cataloged as Bason-243.
     In any case, the found CT is neatly inscribed with thin, block letters adorned with delicate serifs. The sawtooth borders (Bason says: "dog-tooth") provide an attractive, folk-art frame. The small rectangular size is quaint but easily slips between the fingers (at least in this case).
     According to Bason, Hart's Log Church was first described in 1786. As quoted from Bason: "In 1814 as a result of a political feud the Alexandria Church seceded from Hart's Log Church. In 1830 churches of Hart's Log and Alexandria were united. Lead from which these tokens were made was likely dug from Canoe Valley, adjacent to Hart's Log Valley." The town of Hartslog is now called Alexandria.
     There is a website that describes the church: Check it out at Hartslog Church Site. This site has photos of the church site. Also, be prepared, as there is fife and drum music!
     Apparently, the church name is derived from a hollow log used as a trough by trader John Hart in the late 1740s for his pack animals. The log was located on a pioneer trail known as the Frankstown Path. The Hartslog church was constructed nearby; it was a log structure with no windows and a dirt floor -- cold in the winter and stifling in the summer. The parishioners sat on split-log benches, facing a rough-cut pulpit while swallows fluttered overhead.
     CT history does not get any better than this! Makes you want one of these HL rectangles, doesn't it?

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Market Watch for May 2014

It was a vibrant month in the marketplace. There were over 320 CTs sold on EBay and over 500 lots offered in the Simmons Gallery auction that closed mid-month. These numbers add up to over 800 CTs on the hammer
     The large numbers of CTs sold were bolstered by several big sales that were conducted on EBay throughout May: xonumia sold 36 CTs between May 19-20, 22 CTs between May 21-22, plus two group lots of 17 and 20 CTs; comtok continued this month with 37 CTs on May 3rd, 26 CTs on May 14-15, and 12 more CTs on May 26; and finally, cobwrightfortishe sold 18 CTs on May 15 plus 14 more CTs on May 30.
     Examining these EBay sales, most CTs sold (257 pieces or nearly 80%) were hammered down for under $20, placing them in the C category. Another 49 CTs crossed the block in the B category (under $50), whereas only 18 CTs sold above this mark. Ten CTs sold in the BB range, five more in the A range, and three CTs (all sold with one bid) garnered AA money.
This is a true diamond CT.
It took until 1949 for this CT to be cataloged
by K&L in the Proceedings. It is a Free Church
CT attributed to N. Albion St. Chapel.
     The top three AA CTs were all English pieces sold by the same NZ dealer on May 26: 1) a round Crown Court piece from London, dated 1848, brought $130; 2) a second round piece, this one from Lloyd Street Church in Manchester, dated 1801, brought $130; 3) a cut-rectangle dated 1861 from Trinity Church in London came in at $104. All three were described as ex-Burzinski (cataloged as BZ1696, BZ4617, and BZ4436 respectively).
     The five A CTs all sold within the tight range of $75 to $87, but the bidding patterns were quite different. The most expensive piece was a Glasgow diamond, dated 1783 (KL49-46). This is a true diamond with acute and obtuse angles (not a rotated square). Nine bids were entered by eight bidders to push the hammer to $87. Most interesting was the bidding pattern: it appears that each player took a single stab at it, but no one stood their ground and defended their move. In the end, the price was fair given that a similar one sold last year for $96.
     In contrast, a Glasgow-styled square from Port Glasgow, dated 1761, soared skyward with only two bidders doing battle. This one sold for $75 after 23 bids from four bidders -- but 21 bids came from one player chipping away at an early high bid from the winner. It was a beautiful piece with the Arms of Glasgow in the center, all bold and steeped in a dark patina (BK914A) -- it does not come around often. Here is the link:  Port Glasgow CT.
     Another battle was waged over an oval from Brechin (East Parish), dated 1836. Here, three bidders made 27 moves to inflate the hammer to a whopping $81. It was an attractive piece with simple design and unusual verse (BZ999). But was the price too high? Another one was sold by Simmons Gallery last year for 6 GBP (under $10), and a second piece went unsold yesterday that was offered with a BIN of $16.50. Maybe the $81 piece was a variety(?), or it was just a bidding war!
     The two other A CTs were from England: a cut-rectangle from Warrenford (BZ7127) and a super-cool square from Etal (in Northumberland) with incused heart (BZ2467) -- the latter sold at a BIN of $83, the former traded hands for $79.
     I will leave the Simmons Gallery auction for later, or perhaps someone else can provide some analysis on this sale. Finally, I thank TH for helping with this Watch.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

The next big thing: Write a Post!

This blog has run its course in the current format. 

     This blog was started a year ago to provide a meeting place for CT collectors. I published a starter guidebook soon afterwards. As most of you know, our field of collecting did not have a beginner's guide or a meeting place. We are a small group, spread across the globe -- quietly collecting for the most part.
     Many collecting specialties have websites that allow members to independently post their experiences and questions -- I am member of several of these. These sites have active discussions about what folks are finding and liking. Plus, they have auction reviews and historical tidbits. This is perhaps what is needed for those of us in the CT field.
  
     Up to now, this blog did not offer enough access and flexibility for new writers who want to share their collecting experiences or expertise. This is about to change. I am inviting others to post articles and pictures on this blog, just as I have.

Check out the new page!  It will provide details about joining the blog and becoming part of the CT Collectors' Covenant.  

     Also, do not forget that there is a gathering being planned for CT collectors at the Winter Baltimore Expo. This would be a great time to meet up, share ideas, and do what all great collectors do: eat steak and salad and talk tokens and coins.

One of my favorite CTs for its bold
figures and archaic first digit.
This is BK563 from Kemback, Fife.
     My experience with this blog has been an adventure. When this blog started in June 2013, there were 182 hits by the end of the month; this jumped to 47 hits in July and kept rising to a peak of 1376 hits in January 2014. Since then, there have been 1107 and 1396 hits for February and March respectively, with a decrease to 835 hits with the new weekly format introduced in April.
  
     Our CT marketplace is active. This past April, we had 225 ebay sales. Two-thirds of these sales involved CTs trading below $20 -- there were many nice pieces in this group. I think we all realize the importance of this market segment for getting new collectors involved. On the opposite end, we had some stellar pieces bringing strong hammer prices -- for example, the Covenanter token that sold for $355 on April 9th.
     Some books are selling too: two copies of Brook, two copies of Bason, and one copy of Milne sold last month on ebay. I am selling a few guidebooks on Amazon. This tells us that new collectors are entering the field. In addition, several large collections are being pruned at present: Merchant, Macmillian, Sutherland, and still some Burzinski CTs are crossing the block.
  
We are fortunate to have such a great hobby. I end with a quote from my book, One Coin is Never Enough (2011):
"... as coin collectors, we believe in magic. We love our coins and treat them accordingly no matter how irrational it appears to onlookers. The coins in our collections are special. They have stories to tell, and we marvel at their survivorship, rarity and beauty. Through the act of collecting them, we transform the mundane into the marvelous."

  

Sunday, April 27, 2014

A Communion Token Progression: Brutish to Stylish

Which one do you prefer? 
I seek out communion tokens from the same parish to see how they evolved across time. As you know, CTs from a specific kirk can be separated by years or decades.
     Sure, we know that squares, rectangles, and rounds became ovals and cut-rectangles. But a more intimate story can be found when the same basic design (and shape) was improved or modified across decades in the early period.
     With this frame, I am contemplating two tokens from Fala in Midlothian (BK405-406). There is a story here; we cannot be sure what it is, but it is worth our efforts, as this is what amuses us. Is it the story of two engravers? Is it a story of better tools? Was the first one used as a model for the second? Is the crude one the first one? I will at least assume the latter.
     The crude token is undated. It is a simple square with bold lettering that is coarsely engraved. The letters -- FK -- are bold with few adornments. The F was given a serif on the upper crossbar, but the rest seems hurried. The F was given quite a bit of room too; after all, the bars need space to project outwards. Perhaps the engraver started with grand designs in his head, but gradually found that his hands and tools were not up to the task. By the time he got to the middle crossbar (which is low) and the base (uneven), he was forced to confront his limitations.
     With such a bold F, the K is squeezed such that it runs off the rim. The diagonal bars barely have room to breath. Still, he tapered the diagonals to provide a modicum of style. One other element is puzzling: what are the dots meant to signify?
     Some years later, the elders called for another piece. And so, another engraver was hired. This time, he had expert hands and more precise tools.
     The first thing I notice is the regularity of the die: the square is true. No border is evident, as the mold was neatly cut out. The die was a two-part affair so as to provide more info on the reverse. Finally, the piece was made with a broader face, and thicker too.
     The FK was placed on the obverse. The attention to detail is immediately obvious. The F and K have air -- perhaps too much in the middle. The letters are delicate with a taper from bottom to top. The F has delicate serifs -- only the base is lacking (but it is stout).
     The K is also lighter at the top. The serifs are a bit bolder but less competently shaped. The best part, however, is the gentle curve on the lower diagonal bar -- a knee joint that pulls the eye immediately to it -- it is the first element you take notice of. It seems human.
     The reverse is lightly rendered, but the style is consistent. The I (for J) has delicate serifs. The G also has a soft finial. The letters stand for John Gourlay who served as minister from 1764 to 1773.
     The date is neatly spaced with big loops defining the double-sixes.
     All told, the comparative artistry is what makes these CTs worth having. There are many pairs (or longer series) of CTs in the Scottish series that invite side by side comparison like this one.
     Do you have a pair of CTs with a similar story to tell? Share it.

Friday, April 25, 2014

CT Meeting this Fall? Plus, some Auctions.

I was exchanging emails with Bob Merchant, and we agreed that the Winter Expo in Baltimore might be a good place to get together. Perhaps some others would like to join in -- A CT Meeting.
     Baltimore, MD, is a clean city with many hotels and restaurants near the Convention Center. The crab cakes are the best. The Whitman Expo is scheduled for October 30th to November 2nd. This is probably the best US show on the east coast (although I have not yet been to FUN in January). There is also a summer Expo running from June 26th to 29th, but this show is slower -- I rarely go to it unless I am hot to sell something.
Here is another piece from the Expo in March.
All info is on the flip. When did you last see this one?
     As I have reported on this blog, there are some CTs to be had at the show -- see picture. Of course, if we get together, we might end up trading a few pieces. In any case, the crab and tuna is good.
     If you collect colonial coins then the Winter Expo is the place to be, as StacksBowers conducts the C4 auction (Colonial Coin Collectors Club) at this meeting. I am a member of C4 and dabble in US colonial coins from time to time. However, I am quite serious about Spanish Colonial cobs from Potosi!
     Bob Merchant reminded me that the 3rd installment of his collection is being auctioned by Simmons Gallery in early May. As many of you know, Bob has a huge collection, judging from the hundreds of lots already sold in 2013. Up for auction this time are 514 lots! Most of the pieces are 19th century CTs ranging from KL495 to KL1193. This run of  CTs is most impressive with two-thirds of them up for grabs. The starting bids are low at 6 BP, and the estimates are only at twice that. Check it out: Link to Simmons Gallery.
     The late series CTs represent a great collecting opportunity. I have noticed that cobwrightfortishe has recently been selling 19th century ovals and cut-rectangles at bargain prices on ebay. He sold 18 pieces on April 12th with most of them going for under $15 -- he has another 20 pieces coming up for auction tomorrow (in about 10 hours from now).
     The same sort of bargains can be had with the Simmons Gallery auction: I purchased over a dozen pieces last Fall for very reasonable prices -- these CTs were from the 2nd installment of Merchant's collection.
     So there you have it. Some auctions to follow and a possible meeting next Fall at the Expo. I'll talk more about the meeting as it gets closer.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Weaving stories about Communion Tokens crossing the Atlantic

Happy Easter!
     One of my favorite activities in collecting is discovering stories. Of course, no story rivals the one that is celebrated today.
     I believe that one of the motivations for collecting objects is to make sense of the world by weaving stories. As collectors we arrange objects into sets to do this. Some folks collect CTs from a particular shire, others focus on dates and various themes in history. I fancy myself to be a type collector, so a story I like to discover concerns the range of decisions that parishes made when CTs were made.
     But, the CTs I most treasure are the ones with stand-alone stories. Of course, they all have stories -- you just have to discover them. The CTs I got directly from church hoards, or from the church yard, are among my favorites. They were used, stored away or buried, and then found -- this is a common story with many parallels in life. More dramatic is the story told by the Covenanter CT profiled last week. So too, the engraved silver piece from South Carolina boasts of a story-line interwoven with the American Civil War.
Two CTs from Johnshaven. The oval one was used in
Antigonish (Nova Scotia) sometime after 1818.
     One story I like concerns the CTs that came over from Scotland to Canada. This is a story of new beginnings.
     As it turns out, several Scottish ministers came to Canada with a bag of tokens. One example of a bag of tokens being brought over involves the pieces from Johnshaven in Kincardine.
     Burzinski lists two pieces from this parish: BZ3462 -- a rectangle  that is attributed to Rev. David Harper (1769-1789), and BZ3463 an oval dated 1808 that is attributed to Rev. Thomas Trotter. The latter is from the APC, so it represents a different congregation.
     The oval piece is listed in the Charlton catalogue for Canadian CTs as NS-200B. So, here we have a token that is both Scottish and Canadian.
     Rev. Trotter emigrated to Nova Scotia in 1818 and settled in the frontier settlement of Antigonish -- a small community located on the northwest side of the island. The placename has been translated by some to mean "where three rivers fall into the harbor." Sounds idyllic, but I am sure that life on the frontier was hard. New beginnings tend to be a challenge.
     According to Charlton, Rev. Trotter started his tenure with a meager congregation of less than twenty Scottish pioneers. His bag of tokens consisted primarily of the ovals from ten years before. It is possible that other tokens were in the bag too. The Charlton guidebook shows a small rectangular piece with rounded corners marked with a large C that might have been in the bag as well, as they were also used at Antigonish.
     These are not the only instances of Scottish CTs being listed in the Canadian catalogue. Other Scottish CTs used in Canada include a bag of Dalry squares dated 1788 and a few 17th century pieces from Tongland -- both are listed in Charlton as CW-278A and CW-278B. They were used in Lanark, Ontario, sometime after 1823.
     Along these same lines, CT dies made in Scotland were brought over too. The Glasgow-style squares of Truro were made from dies carried over from Scotland (NS-304). I'll save this story for another time.
     I purchased my Johnshaven pieces from a Canadian dealer. I wonder if they were in the bag that was carried across the Atlantic by Rev. Trotter? Or did mine come over recently? I want to believe that it was the former scenario. Either way, it is an interesting story and provides a nice link between the two collecting domains: SCTs and CCTs.
     What stories are you telling with your CTs?

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Covenanter Communion Tokens

A Covenanter CT was sold on ebay this week. These are rare pieces -- I have never seen one offered before, so I decided to take a closer look in this post rather than wait for a market review.
     The auction ended four days ago with quartet of determined bidders pushing the hammer price to $355 after 13 bids. The CT was sold by comtok who relayed to me a "feeling of loss" just after listing his prized piece. I know this feeling: after all, we have to pass our tokens on to the next collector at some point. I am sure the new owner is excited -- that can be comforting for the seller.
     This particular Covenanter CT carried the phrase: holi/nes.to (obverse); the/lord (reverse). It was a cast rectangle, in lead, with hand-cut letters -- all in lower case. The piece was from Burzinski's collection and is the plate specimen. It is the only Covenanter CT pictured in his catalog.
     This token, along with four other Covenanter CTs, are illustrated in Brook. All of them are mavericks. As such, Brook did not number them (but Burzinski did: BZ7511 to BZ7515). As Brook put it: "None of them mentions a date or the locality whence the tokens emanated, nor do they bear the initials or names of the ministers by whose orders they were made."
     Burzinski listed a sixth Covenanter CT as BZ7516. This one is round. It was apparently documented by Rev. H.A. Whitlaw but destroyed in 1909 -- so none are known to exist(?).
     So when were these tokens made and used? Brook explained: "Although the struggle against Episcopacy commenced in 1638, it was not till the Restoration in 1660 that the ministers had to leave their churches. Previous to this there is no doubt they used the existing tokens of the churches where they officiated and celebrated the Lord's Supper. When field conventicles began in 1663 it became necessary for them to have tokens of their own, and it was probably at that date or a little later that these tokens were made."
     Let me provide a little clarification of this history. Most of you are probably aware of the tumultuous history of the Scottish reformation. Protestant opinions reached Scotland soon after the movement gained momentum in Germany. The heretical ideas challenged the ascendency of the Roman Catholic polity and were summarily squashed. One of the first such actions was the burning at the stake of Patrick Hamilton on February 28, 1528. More executions followed. Even the bold and fiery John Knox was threatened with an assassination plot, but he was unmoved: "As for the fear of danger that may come to me, let no man be so solicitous; for my life is in the custody of him whose glory I seek" [June 16th, 1559 at St. Andrews].
Five Covenanter CTs illustrated
by Brook.
     It was this devotion among the early Presbyterians -- fueled in no small part by the recent history of struggle, that led to a series of pacts made to bound themselves to the Presbyterian doctrine and polity. The covenant of 1581 forwarded by John Craig, known as the National Covenant or King's Confession is considered to be the pivotal event, as it harshly denounced Popery and the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church. It was endorsed by James VI of Scotland and enacted into law.
     When James VI became the King of England in 1603, he lost interest in the cause and eventually reversed his position. In 1618, the Articles of Perth were introduced to force the Presbyterians to adopt practices consistent with the Anglican church. James I reminded the prelates that the sword was in their hands, and they should not let it rust. So too, Charles I attempted to force Anglicanism upon his Scottish subjects, introducing the Book of Canons in 1636.
     The Covenant was reaffirmed in 1638 at a Presbyterian assembly in Glasgow. The Articles of Perth were declared unlawful and the Book of Canons was condemned. But all this was to no avail.
     Following the execution of Charles I in 1649, the Presbyterians suffered during the Civil War at the hands of Cromwell, as the Presbyterians were considered to be insurgents. When Charles II ascended to the throne in 1660 (note that he was crowned in Scotland in 1651 by supporting the Presbyterians), the push to suppress the Presbyterian polity continued with a renewed vigor. In fact, Charles II renounced the covenants, declaring them unlawful in 1662 with the Adjuration Act. All ministers who refused to recognize the authority of the bishops were to be expelled in October 1662 (an extension was given until February 1663 when it was discovered that many ministers had refused to succumb).
     After February 1663 -- as mentioned by Brook -- many ministers resigned, and the Covenanters began to meet in secret. These rebel ministers preached in the glens -- the meetings were known as conventicles. It was a capital offense to attend these treasonous gatherings, but the meetings continued until the Presbyterianism was restored by law in 1688. It was at the conventicles that Covenanter CTs are thought to be used (1663 through 1688).
     Certainly one of the allures of CT collecting is their association with this history of devotion and perseverance in the face of grave danger. The Covenanter token sold this week was born of this tumult.
     No wonder comtok was reluctant to part with it. I want to thank comtok for providing some of the info included in this posting. He has many CTs coming up for sale in the next few weeks!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Communion Token from Old Pine Church in Philadelphia

Here is another CT from Baltimore.
     I was not planning on taking any American CTs home, but this one was attractive. The heart is bold on a plain field with the flames of the Holy Spirit at top.
     The token is cataloged as Bason-320 and is attributed to  the Third Presbyterian Church, also called "Old Pine" for the street name. Burzinski lists and pictures two varieties of the type as BZ5647 and BZ5648. In addition, he copied Bason's note that a newer issue exists that was used for a commemorative service in 1958. A friend of mine showed me a new one a while back that looked fresher with more even edges.
     My token looks like BZ5648 as the heart is smaller and in higher relief. So is my CT a new or old one? I will have to examine my friend's piece again to find out. Maybe you know the answer -- let me know if you have info about the two varieties.
     The Old Pine church was built in 1768. It was a fine brick building, but a major renovation in the mid-1800s transformed the old Georgian facade into a magnificent Greek Revival edifice with a  porch and Corinthian columns. The brick was covered with stucco and painted white.
     Early pastors included Dr. Francis Alison (from the First PC) and Samuel Aitkin. The latter preached at the church until 1771 when a scandal urged him to leave his post -- apparently, his new wife gave birth only six months after they were married!
     George Duffield was called to minister next. He had been hired by Alison earlier to convert the Indians along the frontier -- his missionary work took him far into the Ohio territory. Duffield was a strong supporter of American independence and often shared his political views from the pulpit. He left the church during the war and was appointed Chaplain of the Pennsylvania Militia. He was also co-Chaplain of the Continental Congress. The church itself was desecrated during the conflict: it served as a hospital, and later a stable, by occupying royal forces.
     The church was repaired and enlarged in 1857. This was when the facade was transformed into the Greek Revival style. Thomas Brainerd was the pastor at the time. He became popular as an anti-slavery activist.
     As you can imagine, Old Pine PC is a popular tourist attraction for all its history.
     So when was this CT first used? Add in if you know.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Blog Changes

This Post is Changing.

A very small CT indeed.
     The blog is opening up. What I plan to do is add access, so that others can post.
     Of course, I will push the guidebook a few times -- still have about 20 left!
     Hopefully, there will be postings added from time to time by others. And comments.
     This blog is a Welcome Mat for our CT collecting hobby, so I hope that folks keep checking and adding in. As I have said before, I invite all comments: from amplifications to corrections to personal observations.
     I am enthusiastic as ever, but I will be less visible at times. This hobby is fun and provides endless challenges. I have learned from preparing the posts. Plus, it has been healthy: less TV, less snacking, less injuries from bumping into stationary objects.
     I hope all the same is true for you.

  
  
    

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Communion Tokens at the Baltimore Expo: The Grail of American CTs

The Baltimore Coin Expo did not disappoint.
     Three of us (John, Mike & I) arrived early on Friday. I had some coins to sell, so I did business first. A few silver dollars, large cents, and pieces of eight were consigned -- now it was time to check out the exonumia aisle.
John searching through
boxes of tokens.
     Only a few dealers had communion tokens. And, as expected, most of them were the same milky-gray, scuffed pieces from the last go-round. But then, I saw it. And then, a collector showed me another one. Two magnificent pieces: hand-engraved tokens of silver that represent the creme de la creme of the American series.
     Of course, I am referring to the First Presbyterian Church tokens of Charleston, South Carolina (Bason 392). Only 300 of these pieces were individually engraved in England -- about 14 to 20 are known today. This one is well-known among collectors of early American tokens -- a crossover piece that attracts attention from collectors of colonial coins, regional material culture, and communion tokens.
     The token depicts the table with chalice and bread on the obverse with the familiar legend: THIS DO IN REMEMBRANCE OF ME. The reverse shows an fiery burning bush with the phrase: NEC TAMEN CONSUMEBATUR (translated: (the fire) which does not consume. The edge is engraved to read: PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH. CHARLESTON, S.C. 1800. All of the elements are incuse and neatly rendered with just enough variation to be primitive and elegant -- like folk art, but richer with more depth.
     This particular piece was being sold by Steve Hayden (one of my favorite exonumia dealers: friendly, relaxed, knows his business). It is the Burzinski plate specimen. Over the years, a number of folks have asked me if I had seen it. And here it was. The price was a cool $3000 -- sounds like a wad until you realize that this is less than many shiny silver dollars and gold eagles that have a lot less to say.
This one could be yours!
It is one of the first -- if not the first -- token from SC.
     I agonized, did the math. I ate raw tuna while chatting with John & Mike about it. Phoned my wife; she quipped with a sigh: "its just another coin!" I queried colonial token & medal dealers -- top shelf folks with pristine relics in their cases; they said: "Yea, I know it. It is really rare. You can't find one."
     I took a second and a third look. That's when another collector who had elbowed up said he had one to sell. And he did. It was just a few points nicer. He was not ready to part with it for less than five big ones. I could tell that he was not pleased to discover that the Burzinski piece had surfaced.
     In the end, I let it pass. And now, I am giving it to you! Go get it! It is the Grail of American CTs. If you only own one piece, this is it.
     So why did I let it go? I am not sure (oh, I could give many rationalizations ... but I spare you).
     I did, however, get a few nice American CTs: one of them, a beautiful round from Philadelphia (Bason 320) with finely grandular surfaces and even color. It has a bold heart in high relief on the reverse that I could not resist.
     As for the Grail, here is a nice link that describes the piece and its history, including a fascinating story about how the tokens were sent to Columbia, S.C. to avoid falling into the hands of Union troops during the Civil War. Apparently, they were found, mistaken as money, and pocketed. Here is the link: Description and Story of the First PC CTs of Charleston SC.