Wednesday, January 29, 2014

How many serious CT collectors are there?

Collectors who came before us all left their mark.
Here we have some 2x2s from previous collections.
Have you ever wondered how many serious CT collectors are out there?
     Who else is buying CTs?
     Who is bidding against you on ebay?
     Are they devoted collectors?
     Or, are they comets that flare up, as they rush in, buying a few tokens only to disappear soon after snatching up the CT you had been waiting for?
     Sometimes after a bidding war on ebay, I wonder: Who got that one? I cannot see the other bidders. We are probably a multifarious lot. Yet, we share a passion: CTs.
     Of course, we do not like being outbid, and so we might lose our composure for an instant and shout out at these phantoms.
     Yet, if you met one of them in the coffee shop, a good conversation would follow.
     This is how it is with collectors. We compete. The loss of a token at the last second, just when you thought you had it, is part of the collecting experience. And then, you catastrophize about it, lamenting that you will go without the needed token, maybe forever. Or so it seems.
     But take solace: If you collect long enough, the tokens will come back to you. CTs are passed from one collector to another. The cycle never stops. Most of the CTs on ebay are coming from big collections. For example, in 2013, we witnessed the dispersal of large collection of Angus tokens -- someone probably spent the best years of their life assembling these. The Bob Merchant collection of Scottish pieces also sold last year. The Burzinski and Macmillan collections are still being dispersed.

     So how many of us are out there? And how often do we come out to play?
     In a survey of several hot auction venues, I examined who was in the game. It is good marketing research for all of us. After all, we might want to sell our CTs someday. And the question becomes, who will be buying them? When we all die, will a rising generation be the least bit interested?
     I examined many recent auctions (100+) to see who is in the room. I limited this analysis to the Scottish series with an emphasis on the early (pre-1830) CTs. Here is some of what I found. First off, there are about 70 to 100 buyers who have won more than one CT. But there is a collecting core of only 15 to 20 active bidders who show up most of the time. Another 10 to 15 folks come into the room with some regularity, but they seem hesitant to join the core. Within the core, there are two to four super-buyers.
     The core wins about two-thirds of the CTs offered. The super-buyers get about half of these, or put another way, they win about 20% of the pieces. As you can imagine, a grouping of rare pieces attracts most of the core players -- hence, they are not hard to find. Yet, despite this attraction, not all of the rare and high quality pieces are won by the core -- a few are snapped up by others hidden in the crowd. Let's look at this further.
     It is not unusual for a new bidder (with a low buying history) to splurge on a nice CT. Maybe their goal is to get a few really nice ones. I happen to know a new collector of CTs (who has collected other tokens for a long time); he has an eye for quality -- so when he sees something he likes, he just goes for it. In his case, he only has a dozen or so CTs, but he has purchased a few of the best ones in 2013.
     Alternatively, a seasoned bidder comes in once or twice a month and puts up the big dollars for the pieces that are needed for the collection. There is no messing with this kind of buyer unless you, too, have a collection with the same glaring hole in it! This sparks a bidding war, and the seasoned (plus very focused) collectors are prepared for it.
     So there you have it. There are about one hundred active collectors on ebay with only 15 to 20 at the core, bidding every month. Finally, a few super-buyers are picking up one out of every five pieces. Keep in mind, this is only ebay, only Scottish, and only four months of data.
     Where are you in all of this?

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Market Watch

This market watch reviews ebay sales between January 19 and January 25. The marketplace was buzzing. Big dollars were spent, as six CTs crossed the block for over $75 with four of them passing the elusive $100 mark.
     All told, 74 CTs were added pocketed. Forty-two of them sold in the C range of less than $20 with another 22 hammered down for B money. This total only left 10 CTs that surpassed the $50 mark: four of these sold in the BB range with two more going beyond $75 into the A category. Consequently, four CTs brought top bids in the AA range. As we have seen many times before, three of the top pieces were from outside Scotland -- in this case, Ireland.
     It was a fierce round of bidding on Friday when the Irish CTs crossed the block. The same buyer got them all for roughly the same price: $162 each. Coincidence? Not really. As time ran out, two competitors faced off with last minute bids that tripled the cost. The underbidder offered $160 for the final grab, but his opponent bid the sky (or at least more than $160 ... we will never know how much). Three times: the top two bidders distanced themselves from the field of five to seven players in the last moments with the exact same outcome. Obviously, they are both devoted Irish CT (or token) collectors.
     The three pieces included: an oval from Raphoe County (Donegal), dated 1860, and cataloged as B5822; a round from Kilbride County (Antrim), dated 1848, and cataloged as B3658; an oval from Ballykelly County (Londonderry), undated, and cataloged as B1104. By comparison, a stock Irish CT with the same obverse as that found on the Raphoe piece above, but with a stock reverse (that is, it was not produced for any particular church), sold for a paltry $5.
     The Irish pieces were part of a larger series of auctions by Canadian dealer comtok who also sold 22 Scottish CTs from Aberdeen. These latter pieces included all the types you would expect from this shire and city: big rounds and bold squares (some with Glasgow-styled designs), plus the usual ovals and cut-rectangles that came later. There were some nice tokens in this group, and all of them sold for C and B money -- it would have been a nice way to get started on a regional set.
Brook's Illustration
     The fourth AA CT (other than the Irish pieces) was offered mid-week by cobwrightfortishe in an auction series featuring 20 early CTs. The usual suspects crowded the floor with paddles at the ready. The top CT was a single-sided, squarish piece from the village of Inveresk (Lothians) dated 1727. The dealer described this one as very rare. So already we are off to the races (eighteenth century+dated+rare = spirited bids). But the best part was the monogram or cipher that made up the design -- adding intrigue to the equation!
     Fifteen bids were entered by 8 bidders. Four of them held on to the sound of the trumpets to produce a hammer price of $114. A deal in my opinion, as it could have gone for more. Here is the link: Inveresk CT dated 1727.
     The monogram or cipher was initially described by Brook as MIRK to represent Minister, Inveresk Kirk. Some of the letters were thought to be reversed -- hence, the cipher part (i.e., a disguised way of writing). Kerr and Lockie opined in 1940-41 that the initials were MIWIK to represent the minister Mr. John Williamson (1702-1740), Inveresk Kirk. This makes more sense, as the R in Brook's formulation is not intuitive. No records are available to support these conjectures.
     What do you think?
     My own opinion is that the reflective symmetry is hard to miss; as such, any reversals (or substitutions) were done to enhance this effect. Frankly, I only see an M and two Ks (one reversed), or perhaps a small V between two Ks.
Here is the photo
from Burzinski.
     Overlapping (versus connecting) monograms are unusual. We often see two letters sharing a stem, but rarely do we see letters superimposed on each other. When the latter is found, it is usually a parish initial superimposed on a K for Kirk as in Buittle (BK), Gordon (GK), or Kirkbean (KB -- actually an abbreviation for the parish name). One example of superimposed letters enclosed in a monogram comes from Conveth (e.g., M over A for Mr. Archer with connecting lines across the top and bottom to provide a boxed effect). Also, very few CTs show reversed letters as seen here -- but Daviot & Dunlichity shows overlapping Ds with the right one reversed so that the loops cross each other. This seems to be similar to what we are seeing in the Inveresk piece.
     But to give K&L fair play, I suppose the first I (actually a J) can be found in the stem of the K (at left), with the W at the top where the upper arms of the Ks cross and intersect with the M; the second K is reversed with the I found in the stem (as before), also reversed. Such machinations do not satisfy Ockham's Razor; nonetheless, all this mystery makes for a very cool piece.
     Finally, moving on, it should be noted that several other nice pieces were hotly contested this week including a pair of irregular squares from Insch (Aberdeen) with one of them dated 1685 (BK530 & BK531).  These pieces brought strong BB money.  A nice series of narrow rectangles from Inveraven (Banff) also attracted bidders (BK534, BK534A & BK537) to produce hammer prices in the high B/low BB range. Others too, but this is all for now.
     Yes, the winter CT season is in full swing.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

F is for Fort William or is it?

We have some Fs to consider.
The bottom piece is from Lester Burzinski's collection. It is the large one
that is cataloged as B2480. The top piece is from a Scottish collection
that was sold on ebay at the end of last year. The one to the right came
from an ebay auction where several identical pieces were offered for sale.
The question: Are these three CTs all from the hand?
     We usually think of F as a failing grade. Sometimes it is, and sometimes not. It depends on the F. Some Fs have big, sloping serifs. Some Fs are thick in the stem. The upper arm can be long on some Fs -- so ungainly that you wonder if the letter would fall forward when placed on a tabletop. An F that fails has certain characteristics too. Or does it?
     Fort William produced distinctive CTs. Two varieties have been identified by Burzinski (B2480 and B2481). Brook labeled the first of these BK587. Kerr & Lockie identified the second one nearly 40 years later as KL104. The first one is on a big flan that measures 18x17mm; the second piece is smaller at 14x13mm. Some pieces are in-between. Either way, they are meaty CTs that are thick with soft edges (that is, no borders). The single F is deeply punched.
     The letter punch was artistically fashioned with an obvious attention to detail. The big flan seems to have a slightly larger F, but the details are similar enough to suggest a common hand. In particular, we see a long top bar (or arm) with a pronounced serif (or beak) that gradually slopes downward, extending to the middle bar. Also, the middle bar has a similar look with its pronounced serif. The base of the stem, too, has a similar serifs that are bold and mimic those found on the lower arm. It is an attractive figure. And, it was made to please the eye.
     Now, with all this anatomy behind us, let us consider the dilemma before us. Since both varieties use a similar punch, we are left to wonder if a third variety exists that has a different F: one that does not boast of such a beautiful beak terminating the top bar. It comes close, but the DNA is different. The sharp point is missing!
     Looking at pictures of other Fort Williams CTs sold would suggest that a third variety with a different F has not yet been cataloged. For example, the piece sold as part of Norweb Collection in 1980 (part of Lot 43) exhibited the familiar F. So too does the one from the Macmillan Collection auctioned on ebay last year. In this post, we see two more, one from Lester Burzinski's collection (now owned by John Linhoss) and another one purchased from a dealer in Scotland: We can immediately see that they have the familiar F.
     There are other subtle characteristics too. Most (if not all) of these CTs show a scruffy face -- that is to say, the surface of the pieces shows a roughness that seems to be imparted from the mold itself or the alloy used. Perhaps a stone mold was used to provide the flan. Also, the lead itself may be impure.
     Lately, there has been several sales of tokens with a new F. This F is not nearly as fashionable. In addition, the tokens are of an odd color: silvery with a thin layer of oxidation that is similar to that found on a sink pipe or fishing weight. In short, it looks new; the patina seems too uniform.
     Do we have an imposter or a new variety? Take a look and decide.
     Does this one get a grade of F?

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Market Watch

This market watch reviews ebay sales between January 12 and January 18. It was a slow week with only 14 sales reported (three of them BINs).
     Nine pieces sold for less than $20 with four more in the B range (over $20 and less than $50). One piece stood out from the rest, crossing the block for $53. There are many listings on ebay at the moment, but most of the auctions are coming up in a few days (or ended before last Sunday) -- so, this past week was but a pause in the marketplace.
     As note above, the only CT to bring BB money was a round one from Carriden parish in West Lothians. It was incorrectly attributed (but with a ?) in the original listing, but no matter, the piece was attractive and dated 1706. Early pieces always bring out the crowds -- incidentally, there are about 17 first decade eighteenth century CTs listed for Lothians (you could almost put a date set together for this decade but for 1703).
     Six bidders stood in the cold, raising their paddles to enter 10 bids; but alas, a new bidder emerged from the crowd and grabbed it at the last minute for $53.
     Carriden parish only issued two CTs: this one and another cut rectangle in 1825. The earliest church was consecrated in 1243; it was demolished and another was built (probably at the time of the reformation). This one was also demolished but part of the foundation remains near Carriden House, a 16th century tower house that is a landmark in the region. The third(?) church was built in 1766; it still stands as a ruin. This token comes from the second church. Burzinski lists the minister as Rev. John Todd 1704-1720. The C x C on the obverse is likely to stand for Carriden Church.  Here is the link: Carriden CT dated 1706.


Friday, January 17, 2014

More Communion Tokens from the Ground

There is a website that profiles metal detector finds in the UK that includes communion tokens.
     And to start things off, we have a new CT to ponder. This one is from Dunnichen, dated 1691. It is a small square piece measuring 16mm with a diagonal cut on one corner and a broken edge at the opposite corner. The obverse legend along the edges reads: DVN/ICH/IN with the date: 1691 at the bottom. A five-point star is in the center. The reverse reads: M/HL(?).
     This CT is not listed in Brook, K&L, or Burzinski.
Unlisted CT from the small village
of Dunnichen in Angus.
     Not listed! That is correct.
     As such, it is one of a kind until someone comes forth with another. Unique or two/three-of-a-kind CTs are out there just waiting to be discovered. Sometimes they are hiding in plain view. Few folks know they are rare until two collectors discover it missing from their sets.
     Such pieces show up in the marketplace, but by that time, their singular status is known (as the seller has searched unsuccessfully for an attribution). For example, an unlisted roundish piece from Panbride (in Angus) sold on ebay last June -- it also appeared to be a dug piece.
     More examples of previously unattributed pieces can be found in Burzinski's listings, as some CTs are only known from other collections (notably the Norweb and Macmillan collections); hence, they were missed by previous catalogers. This begs the question: Did Burzinski miss any others? I would think so, as there are collections out there that he undoubtedly did not have access to. And, of course, we have new discoveries like the one described above in this posting.
     Consequently, dug CTs offer a front-seat view of what is being discovered and added to the list of known tokens. Here is the link to the site: Dunnichen CT from UKDFD site.
     This website is run by five metal detectorists. The acronym stands for UK Detector Finds Database. Just type UKDFD in your search engine to find it. The homepage describes the mission as follows:
The UKDFD is an initiative by members of the metal-detecting community to promote good practice within the hobby. It is an easy-to-use, friendly and supportive online facility for detectorists to record their finds and ensure that the information is preserved for future generations.

     In perusing the website, I found 24 CT listings with more than one unlisted CT described.  Also, a few CT friends like a Clackmannan heart were represented. There are other relics pictured and described too.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Dug Abdie Communion Token Hoard (Part 2)

Here are two CTs from the hoard. Surprisingly,
they are in nice condition but for some
sandy pitting and white salts on the reverse.
The spelling of Abdie is interesting: Y for an I.
Relics that come directly to us are particularly alluring.
     Fingertips tingle in anticipation of touching the past. We can never go there, but we can touch a piece of the action that happened there.
     One of my favorite material culture writers is Susan Pearce from Leicester, UK. She has used the phrase -- the real thing -- to characterize relics. Relics are the real thing. Everything else changes over time but relics do not. Even, our interpretations waver. But the physical object -- the relic -- is what it is.
     It is the real thing.
     The relic is as close to history as we will ever get. And frankly, history, as we know it, is nothing more than a surge of brain energy that is experienced in the here-and-now.
     We ascribe meaning to the relic: that is to say, we interpret it. According to Pearce, it is a signpost from the past, but also a symbol of whatever story we are weaving about the past. The signposts are mute, as we do all the talking.
     As collectors, we are meaning-makers. Instead of a diary full of words, we are writing our collecting histories one piece at a time. And our goal (at some level) is to represent the past as we imagine it.
     Twenty-two communion tokens dug from the shadows of a ruined stone church have all the mojo that you could hope for in a relic. These pieces are ripe for story-telling. They are signs and symbols.
     Our collecting protocol often demands that we strive to upgrade our pieces. Get the best one you can -- this is the creed. But relics that are fresh, that come directly from a hidden tin in the rectory or from the earth where they were buried, these are the objects that fascinate the most. Unadulterated by a lineage of collectors, this is as good as it gets. It does not matter that they are used up.
     Let's take a look.
The evocative ruin at Abdie.
Wikipedia (from James Allen)
     Two explorers with metal detectors were looking for relics within a stone-throw of the old Abdie ruin. The earth was rich with the footprints of history. And, relics were found. CTs that were last touched by someone long gone but who lived the experiences we wish to know about.
     We know the story. The old Kirk was abandoned in 1827. Some of the building materials, such as the roof, were auctioned off. The old bell, recast in 1671, was removed to the new church. The tokens were left behind, together in a group. We can imagine that they were left purposefully. Yet, the relics are mute on this. This is the mystery that we crave.
     All we can do (and should do) is make-up stories about them.
     The group suggests that only one kind of token was kept. No other tokens, either older CTs or those from other parishes, were part of the hoard. The number was small, prompting us to wonder if these were extras. Maybe they were the ones taken back from would-be communicants who were subsequently banned from the table. Perhaps, one elder emptied (or spilt) his tray on the ground after the service.
The hoard of 22 Abdie CTs
     In any case, we can add this evidence to those reported by others involving CT hoards. We also know that similar hoards were stored in a safe (as at Cruden) or stashed away in a tin and almost lost (as at Balquidder).
     Of course, we see many large assemblages of CTs in the marketplace, so I am sure that church hoards are not rare -- particularly among the later pieces that were mass-produced. But finding old ones in the ground, now that is quite a story!
     I want to thank my friend from Scotland for sending me this pair of tokens. I have many nice ones, but these are the ones will always be taken out and passed around for all to see. And yes, I will make up stories about them.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Market Watch

This Market Watch reviews ebay auctions & sales for January 5 through January 11. It appears that most of the vendors returned from vacation and pulled back the curtains on their stalls, as it was busy week with 111 sales (two of them including lots of three and seven tokens each).
     The week started with a bang. On Sunday, history in coins offered a heart from Airth, in Stirling. This is a rare piece, and it brought out the serious bidders. A few hours later, cobwrightfortishe offered a nice grouping of 16 pieces that had bidders bumping shoulders to get into the action. Both of these dealers are highly recommended by me. As the week progressed, a few mid- to late-week offerings pushed the number of sales higher with the block crowded on Saturday with auctions by tavytavy and jamesdicksonbooks -- also recommended.
     The tally: 73 tokens sold in the C range (including a lot of seven) whereas another 28 tokens brought B money and seven more sold in the BB range. There were a couple of A (over $75) and one AA (over &100) CTs that crossed the block.
     The star of the show, or should I say, the heartthrob of the show, was the selling of a rare Airth CT (B311) for $128. This is big CT money, but compared with rare tokens in any other specialty, it was cheap -- a deal! Only four bids were cast -- all on the last day -- with three bidders competing.
This is a primitive piece indeed!
How many are available?
Not many.
     Airth hearts come in two varieties (probably produced at the same time for a single communion service); there are no other hearts available from this parish. Both varieties are undated with rudely etched letters: AK. The lettering is different on each variety. This CT is a small (14x12mm), simple piece and likely to be early, as half of all Scottish hearts date before 1750 with none made after 1792 (unless you count Skye's commemorative piece of 1900).
     Hey, I just remembered that some time back I promised to post an exploration into the heart of the matter. This would be a good topic for February (with Valentines Day and all). In the meantime, here is a teaser: Can you name the eleven Scottish shires that have a heart? And did you know that only 5 hearts sold on ebay in 2013 (and one of those was from England) -- not many to be had.
     Also sold by history in coins was an Irish CT from Limavady in Londonderry (B5285). This oval piece only attracted one bid at the start price of $79. It was in interesting piece with a decorative edge on one side giving it a platter-look; the letters N LY were centered in low relief. A single letter T was on the reverse; it was formed from a curious assemblage of blocks -- check the link to see what I mean: Limavady CT from Ireland.
     A BIN sale produced a high price for a rectangle dated 1797 from Cromarty in Inverness (B1676). This was top dollar, as some others have sold in the BB range; this one appeared to be in VF condition. There are several varieties of this piece that differ in size and placement of the letters and numbers. It is an interesting CT for its script style that nearly runs off the borderless flan. Here is the link: Cromarty CT.
     Another CT at the top end of the bidding was a small round piece from Halkirk in Caithness (BK505). This one was alluring for its slightly out-of-roundness and for the bold, handcrafted, and somewhat goal-post styled H centered in bold relief. Four bidders vied for it, casting eight bids, to produce a hammer price of $74. Here is the link: Halkirk CT.
     Curiously, the trio of round CTs from London Crown Court were offered (again!) by the same dealer that sold them on December 3. They were profiled in the MW with a hammer price of $251 for all three (a silver CT plus two of white metal). In any case, the lot attracted 17 bids the second time around with the underbidder in the previous auction taking home the prize at $202 (or about $67 a piece). See the MW from December 8 for more info on these CTs.
     I would be remiss not to mention all the good deals in the C to BB ranges this week. Here are some examples. First, bidders had two chances to get an attractive 1811 square from Largs in Ayr (a tidy piece with Glasgow-square styling mixed with the sharp teeth of Ayr) -- both went for under $20. Second, two small rectangles from Fife, one from Crich and the other from Cupar (dated 1706 and 1772 respectively) provided bidders with a chance to get early and late specimens of this popular regional type (characterized by wee size with bold borders and crisp lettering -- same maker?) for under $40. Third, a well-worn pentagon-shaped CT from Wigtown sold at a BIN price of $58 -- there are only three pentagons in the Scottish series (the shires of Angus and Banff claim the other two).
     All in all, a good trading week in all price ranges at the marketplace.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Church Hoard of Communion Tokens Found

Since childhood, many of us have fantasized about discovering buried treasure.
     Of course one's definition of "treasure" depends on what you collect or are interested in (except for maybe gold -- we all would like more of that).
     If you collect Roman coins then your dream find could be an urn full of silver denarii spilling out at the edge of a garden plot. And for Spanish Colonial buffs, it could be a chest of Peruvian silver washed ashore after a hurricane. For CT collectors, how about 22 leaden pieces from the eighteenth century found in a grassy field shadowed by a ruined stone church?
The old Kirk at Abdie
     Well, this is true story. And we shall explore it forthwith.
     But first, some background. Brook mentioned in 1907 that: "Occasionally, probably because of their sacred associations, the old tokens were buried in the earth, or under the pulpit as at Kilchrenan, Argyllshire, and other churches." As such, he alludes to an example of the practice wherein old tokens were buried in the churchyard (or under the pulpit).
     We also know that churches kept old batches of tokens, such as those found at Balquidder and Cruden. Both of these hoards contained old and not so old tokens -- in fact, the Cruden hoard (found in a safe located in the rectory) had four different types spanning the history of the church. This latter church hoard contained CTs dated 1737, 1800, and 1844!
     Certainly many old tokens were melted to provide lead for the new ones. It was quite common for a new minister to order up a new batch of CTs. Hence, many old pieces were lost to the crucible. Indeed, the Reverend Whitelaw, writing in 1911, bemoaned the lost of large accumulations of tokens in this way. Gone forever.
     Not surprising, we often hear about isolated finds: a token dug from the ground in a backyard, and another one found in a cigar box of a long deceased uncle. Metal detectorists routinely find a diversity of pieces in vacant lots throughout the UK, just as they do here in the Old Dominion. In fact, where I live, hunting for Civil War relics is a popular amusement. Yes, the earth is littered with bits of our history!
     So our story begins at the old parish Kirk in Abdie, Fife -- also known as St. Magridin's Church. Now in ruins, this imposing stone edifice was built in the 13th century with a large aisle added to the north side in the 17th century. By 1824, it was determined that many expensive repairs were needed -- too many. Consequently, the church was last used on 11 November 1827. Some restoration of the ruin was made in 1856, but the church was not used again.
     The roofless shell stands next to a farm lane atop a slight knoll. Like many medieval churches, it is surrounded by a graveyard bordered by an outer wall of irregular stone. Rural splendor surrounds the grounds with forests, fields and a sandy bog along three sides with a farm house and yard located at the fourth. Here it was, in this place, that a distant congregation -- long gone, with no images to remind us -- gathered each Sunday anticipating the sacramental season.
Kerr & Lockie pictured the piece
in 1940 (KL3); Burzinski cataloged
the piece as B77.
     Burzinski lists four CTs from the parish of Abdie. Two undated rounds marked by the letter A are probably the earliest pieces due to their simple manufacture. A small rectangle measuring 16x13mm and dated 1725 is likely to be the third CT used. Finally, a modern oval dated 1849 also announces itself as an Abdie piece, but we know it was used at the new church located further down the lane. This church was built in 1827 to serve both Abdie and neighboring Dunbog.
     The 22 tokens found in the earth were all of the third type. As the date suggests, they were used at the twilight of this church's service. This provides a clue about how they came to be placed in the ground. Perhaps they were buried in the course of moving to the new church two years later. Twenty-two is not a large number: too small to carry away or melt, but enough to be placed ceremoniously in the ground within view of the old gallery -- a fitting tribute to centuries of worship and fellowship. Take a moment to imagine the scene: Was it during a misty morning? Did the minister or elder scout out a place? Or, did they know exactly where to bury them? We can never revisit this moment. But we can touch a piece of this action.
     We will explore the actual pieces in the next posting!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Market Watch

This Market Watch reviews ebay sales for the past week: December 29 through January 4. As the holidays continued to wind down, CT trading was slow. The weather was frigid too, so maybe that was a factor -- everyone was huddled by the stove. Consequently, there were only 18 sales this week.
     Eight CTs sold for less than $20 in the C range. Nine CTs sold above this mark but under $50 in the B range. In contrast, there was one piece that sold in the A range for $74.
     Several of the higher priced CTs were sold at BIN prices from a dozen or more pieces offered by citcns, a Canadian dealer from Nova Scotia. I have purchased several CTs from this dealer over the years with complete satisfaction.
Clearly the letters and numbers were
hand stamped, as the alignment is
quite poor with the date unevenly
spaced and running into the parish
name -- all the more quaint this way. 
     The top CT for the week was a primitive oval, dated 1850, from the St. Louis de Gonzague congregation (CE-248A1). It was a one-sided piece, broad at 42x30mm, with incused lettering that was hand-punched -- I suppose each one of them is unique with respect to the spacing of the letters. Major varieties include both thin and thick lettering -- this one was of the thin lettering type. As mentioned above, the oval sold for $74 -- a price that is just what the Charlton guidebook indicates as the value.
     Such a primitive oval reflects the use of a relatively late shape (an oval) that was handcrafted on the frontier where resources were likely to be few -- in other words, it is one of the crudest ovals you can find (hence its charm). Many Canadian pieces show this contrast.
     The St. Louis congregation was formed in the 1830s. They met in homes until a log church was built in 1842. The congregation split soon afterwards with some folks forming the Free Church. This CT comes from the Church of Scotland or the old Kirk. The minister was Rev. James Paul; he began his tenure in June of 1850. As such, this token is likely to come from  his first communion service. It is not clear if the token was used later -- or maybe the date reflects the start of his tenure.
     In sum, a slow week, but a good week for collectors who were looking for a few nice Canadian pieces. Oh, and a few Scottish pieces too -- I even got one!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

An Outlaw Communion Token for the New Year

The title sounds bad: an outlaw communion token? But let us not jump to conclusions.
     Sometimes old tokens get a new lease on life. And since the band is warming up for a New Year Celebration (plus a big parade), this turns out to be a good thing!
     Yes, we all know how CTs got their start.
     They were revered and considered sacred by their association with the communion service. With the crush of life wearing us down, it was nice to know that the promise of salvation was at the other end. The tokens we collect are part of this history of human longing.
     So what do we make of the one shown here? It is an oval, dated 1849, from the parish of Abdie in Fife. Is it a profaned piece? An outlaw? No, of course not. Why? Because it is no longer a communion token. Once stamped, it becomes something else.
     So let us rejoice -- especially in this season of earthly reverie -- it is "good for one drink" in some unknown saloon. But where?
     The token was found in a junk box of numismatic miscellany at a coin show in Winchester, Virginia, by a close friend of mine. A few other "good for" impressions were stamped on those mass-marketed angel pocket pieces you see advertised on ebay by the lot.
     So how did a CT get mixed up with all these barroom pieces? Your guess is as good as mine.
     In the meantime, let's have a cold one (soft or otherwise) and celebrate 2014!
     Now, If only I could find that saloon.