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?


  1. Greetings from Ireland. I'm compiling a history of 1st Bailieborough Presbyterian Church at the moment. The church is also known locally as Corglass which is the name of the town-land its located in. The reference books on Communion tokens state there is no known token for this church. I believe there is and I saw one for sale on Ebay many years ago but I can not recall the inscription on it. ( I wish I had purchased it even though it sold for £100 or more). Tokens do exist for Second Bailieborough Presbyterian Church they are round with the letters B.S. which denotes Bailieborough Second. The first church was established in 1714 and the second one about 1770 so I find it hard to believe the second congregation had a token but the first hadn't. Has anyone out there got one or know of someone who has? All I want is an image of one for my book that's if one does exist. Many thanks in advance. Regards, Leslie McKeague. Web:

  2. Hey Leslie, I found two listings in Burzinski for Bailieborough PC and none for Corglass. The listings are B1052 and B1053. The first one is a round CT with BS arranged vertically on the obverse; the reverse is blank. It is also cataloged by Milne as M19C. The second one is a round CT with B (dot) S arranged horizontally within a toothed border; the reverse has a circular design. It is cataloged by Milne as M20 (and has a drawing to show it). I hope this is helpful.