Sunday, March 30, 2014

Market Watch

Just got back from Baltimore Coin Expo. I have lots of news about this! There were a few dozen tokens, including the Holy Grail of CTs -- two of them! I was fortunate to take a few CTs home; however, I left many on the table including the HGs. More on this (plus pictures) in the weeks to come.
     For now, I will review the ebay marketplace for the week of March 23 thru March 29. It was a busy week due to a large offering of CTs on Saturday.
     All told, 87 CTs were sold this week. This figure includes a paper token and a lot of five pieces in rough condition. The bulk of the pieces (77 to be exact) sold for C money with only 10 additional CTs selling at or above $20. One of these sold in the B range at $50 (actually the hammer was just shy by a few cents).
     A large group of CTs were sold by benachie (from Aberdeen) yesterday -- a whopping 56 pieces. He stated that this group came from a collection of 700 tokens that have been sitting since the 1970s, so more big auctions are on the way. Most of this group crossed the block in the C range. Bidding was active with over a dozen folks participating overall. It was an opportunity, as most of the CTs were nice.
As the use of metallic tokens passed out of fashion
in the mid to late 1800s, paper cards took their place.
     The one B CT sold came from this grouping: a small Fife rectangle from Forgan dated 1774 and cataloged as BK434. Four bidders entered the fray with two of them fighting it out at the end, casting 18 bids to reach the $50 mark. This specimen had a flat ashen patina with nice eye. Here is the link: Forgan 1774 CT.
     A paper communion card sold at the beginning of the week. We do not see many of these for sale. This one was from Wesleyan Methodist Church and was dated 1859. Autence Bason provided a catalog of these; however, I do not have this section of the guidebook. I did find several listings for Wesleyan Methodist Church in Pennsylvania (the seller is from PA, so I took a guess), but I will leave it to someone reading this blog to write in an let us know if it is from the keystone state or somewhere else. The card sold for one bid: $20.
     Other news includes the upcoming Simmons Gallery auction of the Bob Merchant collection (Part 3). This sale closes in May, so we have much time to discuss it. I will provide a review of the sale in upcoming posts.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Off-center Communion Token & the Machine Age

We have seen many blundered dies over the past year. Of course, the round token from Balmerino comes to mind -- retrograde 2 and upside-down 5 in a 1725 date is hard to beat (BK138). And how about the retrograde 6 on the Humbie token just a few weeks ago (BK521).
SFC CT struck off-center by 15%. I wonder if any
double-struck or extreme off-center pieces (30+%) exist?
     Today we have an off-center strike. As CT production became the business of professionals, the chance for these machine errors increased. Still, they are not encountered very often. Quality control was quite good.
     This cut-rectangle from Stockwell is off-center by about 15%. It was not bad enough to be thrown into the melt bin. But maybe it came to a similar fate -- that is, it was set aside by one of the elders. After all, it is new old stock with the glint of luster in recessed areas.
     This CT is cataloged as BZ6601. Many NOS examples of this one are available in the marketplace. I found a fixed price listing for a similar one (but centered) for under $20.
     This token was used by Minister J.S. Alexander on the last year of his tenure as depicted on the token itself: 1842 through 1860 -- he was the first minister, as the church was built in 1842. It became a Free Church in 1843. Stockwell FC was located in the city of Glasgow, but due to population movements, the church was closed, sold, and the building converted to a warehouse in 1886.
     From a historical perspective, this piece underscores the transition to commercial token-making. No longer did the elders work with the local plumber or blacksmith. And I doubt that they stood by at the factory that struck these cut-rectangles. They were probably made to order and packaged securely in a box. It was the beginning of the end.
     This error is not as romantic as those caused by a die-cutter tremors, or lack of tools, or poor mental flexibility preventing one from cutting molds accurately in reverse. No, this piece was done by a machine -- probably steam-powered.
     Token size had become all but standardized by this time: nearly all cut-rectangles measured 27x19mm. In the decades before, there were minor variations of one or two millimeters, but not now. In fact, 63% of all Glasgow CTs were cut-rectangles, and just over 50% of these measured 27x19mm -- nearly all of this latter group were post-1850 issues.
     If you have a more "severe" error CT from the post-1850s era, please share it.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Off to the Baltimore Coin Expo

Here are some remnants of Lester Burzinski's
collection from the last Expo. There were more
CTs than even I could handle. You can see all
the slabbed CW tokens under the glass below.
It is that time again. The Whitman Baltimore Expo is this coming weekend: March 27-30th.
     Hopefully my trusty Honda will get me there -- it just turned over 200,000 miles. The engine light has been on for years, but I checked under the hood, and the engine was still there. It is a 4 hour drive, so I will need to make up some travel CDs to get me there.
     Once again I plan to search for CTs and give a report of how many tokens were available at the show. I am also bringing some large cents and a few silver coins to sell or consign at auction.
     If I am fortunate, I will come across a CT or two for myself -- it is hard to beat the ebay marketplace. Nonetheless, I always allow myself to impulse-buy a book or some odd token.
     I also plan to eat a few crab cakes. I know where the best ones are made: thick & buttery with lots of backfin.
     I will meet up with a few other token & coin collectors to catch up on the news. If you are going to Baltimore, let me know on this blog, as I would be happy to say hello on Friday or have lunch together.
     I have to be home on Sunday to complete my chores: my wife will have big list: for example, picking up and burning sticks.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Market Watch

This market watch reviews ebay sales between March 16 and March 22. It was a busy week with regard to sales, but not as many bidders were in the gallery. Consequently, many nice tokens sold for low prices.
     There were 98 CTs sold this week with 76 of them selling for under $20. Just 22 CTs sold above this mark with 19 in the B range and one more in the BB range. In addition, two pieces sold at "best offer" with the initial asking prices set at $110 and $90 -- we can guess that these latter two sold in the BB or low A range.
     A series of 28 pieces from comtok sold on March 20 and 21 with all but two of them bringing C prices due to slow bidding. This reflects how unpredictable the CT marketplace can be, as just a few bidders can make all the difference. There were some attractive 18th century pieces in this group. I was one of the ones who missed out by my inattention.
     Another group of CTs were sold on March 22 by cobwrightfortishe. He always has great CTs and is one of my favorite sellers. This series was composed of 18 pieces from the 19th century (but for one CT dated 1907). Bidding was mild for these later pieces that represented a nearly complete run from KL(44)-23 to 43. This was an opportunity to fill in gaps for  collectors looking to complete sets by piece, parish or shire. Most went for C money.
     All told, this week's sales offered many opportunities to jump into the CT collecting hobby.  There were many CTs to choose from at bargain prices.
St. Andrews is the oldest Presbyterian congregation in
Auckland, dating back to May of 1847. The church was
completed in April of 1850 and the name of St. Andrews
was adopted in 1860. Burzinski lists three CTs from this
region; this is the only one from the city of this name.
     New Zealand CTs led the way toward strong prices this week. The highest priced token was listed at a BIN price of $110 but a lower offer was accepted. This piece was a cut-rectangle from St. Andrews in Auckland (BZ589). It was silvery with light toning -- essentially unused or new old stock as some like to say.
     Another NZ CT was offered at $90 by the same seller with a best offer accepted. This one was an oval from Green Island Church in Otago (BZ3001). By the way, the parish is not on Green Island itself, but rather is located inland on the big South Island of NZ.
     Burzinski lists 33 CTs from NZ. Two of them are stock tokens. The remaining CTs come from 26 different churches. Only two churches used more than one token. Consequently, the NZ series is not very large.
     In the Scottish series, a Cawder round, dated 1791, with the S/Love/Love reverse brought active bidding that pushed the hammer price just beyond the BB mark at $51. Seven bidders cast 12 bids with four of them competing until the end. This is a popular piece from the small shire of Nairn (BK148). The reverse is often pictured in articles about CTs -- note that I have one pictured in the upper R corner my blog pages. Burzinski identified only 20 CTs as coming from Nairn.
     Also of note, a modern -- quite modern -- heart CT from Dayton PA sold for $35 with three bidders vying for it. This piece was dated 1969.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Exigent or "Quick" Communion Tokens

Sometimes you just have to make do.
     If you need tokens -- and have few resources at hand -- then just cut up some sheet metal and stamp them out! This may seem easy to do, but in the 19th century the elders could not make a trip to the hardware store and buy sheets of metal. Hence, molding lead was the most available method.
     But if your congregation was near an industrial center in the heyday of iron smelting, maybe you could find some hammered or rolled strips of metal from which to cut your tokens. It would be quick, and it would not require too much fuss. Also, if you were slim on resources, this might be the only way to go.
Cut sheet-iron with a stamped S
from Glassford parish -- an exigent
issue by the Free Church?
     This appears to be what happened in Glassford, a small parish just south of Glasgow, in Larnark.
     A parish church was erected there in 1820, replacing an older one from the 17th century. An extension church was also built in nearby Chapelton in 1839. But in 1843, much of the congregation at Chapelton moved out to form the Free Church. They had no roof to gather under, so they worshipped in the open air. For a time, a school was used. It was not until 1888 that a new church was erected.
     Brook cataloged a small molded rectangle (10x8mm) from the first church at Glassford: it was a sunken panel piece engraved with KG for the parish (BK478). Kerr & Lockie added another piece to the catalog with KG on the obverse and 1763 on the reverse -- this one was square (KL113A).
     Then, we have a series of irregularly cut pieces of sheet iron from the 19th century. Kerr & Lockie (1942) list seven (maybe eight) of them ranging in size from 12 to 21mm. One of them has no inscription. Four of them have GSS stamped in the metal -- interpreted as Glassford Sunday School -- with a number below: I, 1, 5, and 10 are listed. There is another piece with just a 10 and no letters. Also, there is one with just an S. Finally, there is a pieces with G/1822 on obverse and No 3 on reverse -- the composition is not mentioned (probably lead).
Modern style CT from the Glassford
Parish Church (from Burzinski).
     In this post, I picture the one with only an S (KL42-603; BZ6112). Each piece was made in two steps: cut, then stamp. As such, each piece is unique. But the simplicity of design makes them all very similar.
     So, which church used them? And why the exigent production?
     The iron industry rapidly developed in the Glasgow region in the 1780s. One of the larger manufactories was the Clyde Iron Works that was established in Tollcross in 1786 -- just north of Glassford parish. But iron was widely available in the 1800s: there were over 200 iron works operating by mid-century. Sheet iron would not be hard to find by this time.
     So, did the Free Church -- out in the cold, without resources -- avail themselves of this metal to produce some CTs? It is an interesting theory. The Kirk itself was well-established and used a nicely designed cut-rectangle in 1850 (BZ2809). But the FC had to make do: meeting in the open air and then in a school until a church was built in 1888.
     Kerr & Lockie (1942) commented: "Glassford provides an example of the use of sheet-iron, though the crude pieces concerned appear to have been diverted from their original purpose to serve as communion tokens only in an emergency." In their subsequent article (1944) where they cataloged CTs of the Free Church, Glassford is not mentioned.
     All this begs the question: Are the sheet-iron pieces from the FC? Or, was there an exigency that required a stopgap production of primitive CTs in the Kirk? Any thoughts?
***Please see the comments below. The origin of the sheet-iron tokens is still a mystery -- for example, what does the S mean? If you have anything to add, please step forward and share your thoughts.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Market Watch

This market watch reviews all ebay sales during the period between March 9 and March 15. It was a relatively busy week with 106 CTs sold in 80 sales. A number of group lots were sold with three, four, and five pieces selling at a time.
     The bulk of the CTs sold for C prices: 89 pieces in all, representing over 80% of the total. There were many good deals out there this week -- but spurious pieces were also slipped into the marketplace (I urge you to take a close look and decide for yourself).
The West River congregation in Pictou County was
established in 1795 or shortly thereafter. Many of the
members of this church formed the Salem congregation.
This is a stock token design made to order.
     Only seventeen CTs sold for over $20. Fifteen of these crossed the block in the B range (under $50), whereas two pieces sold for more in the BB category. Both of these top CTs sold at BIN prices.
     A Canadian CT from the Salem Church in Greenhill, Nova Scotia, sold quickly at $72. This cut-rectangle with stock reverse (cataloged as NS228 in Charlton) is listed at $70 in VF condition -- this one was at least that and was worth all the money. This CT is one of the more scarce issues among the nearly 30 cut-rectangles from this province. Here is the link: CT from Salem Church at Greenhill in Nova Scotia.
     Another CT sold fast at the $63 mark. This one was a piece from Middlesex (part of larger London) in England (BK4430). It was a boldly designed square with sharp borders and block lettering. The obverse was all business: Ac/CON./LON. The reverse put it bluntly: TOKEN. It is a presentation akin to CTs from Aberdeen, but with attractive ornaments: in this case, a bundle of wheat stalks and a leafy vine with a small cluster of grapes.
Is this one from Wells Street APC?
     There are many Presbyterian churches in and around London. This piece appears to come from the Wells Street Scotch Church (in Marylebone) that was established in 1733. A similar piece using the same obverse die is clearly attributed to the Minister Alexander Waugh (BK4429) -- he was a scholarly man with a DD who served at Wells Street until his death in 1827. His memoir is available on Amazon, and there is a bio available on the Electric Scotland website. Hopefully, the new owner of this token can find out if this CT came from the W-S church, or if the obverse die was shared by neighboring congregation.
     Of note, another trio of Crown Court CTs with packaging from Burzinski sold for $121. Seven bids were cast by 4 bidders to get this set. This the third CC trio of CTs sold in 2014: a set sold for $201 in January and another set sold for $173 in February -- the photos are different in each listing, hence three sets. The price has dropped within the B range, although I imagine the silver CT is probably worth BB or A money.
     Finally, I close with an ALERT. Several group lots of of primitive CTs from Abernethy, Dornoch, Ladykirk, Longside, among others, have been sold, and they just keep coming. We have to ask: How likely is it that a hoard of simple CTs (all with incused letters or one/two letter initials in relief) that appear to be uniform in color and condition (like new) exists in the USA when large established collections from Scotland do not have similar pieces. These pieces are not from the same shire or neighboring ones, so how did the hoard come to be?
     Several of big collections have been sold on ebay in the past year, so I implore you to use the photos accompanying these sales to discover how a particular CT should look. Check out my previous posting on Fort William CTs to see what I mean.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Triangular Communion Tokens

Triangles. It is impossible to have fewer sides.
Here are three of the four triangles
that spice up the Scottish series.
     There are few of them in the Scottish series. They are fewer than hearts, but folks do not clamor for them in the same way.
     All told, there are nine triangles. This is three times the number of pentagons (bet you didn't know that right off). Like the hearts, we can reduce the number of triangles by removing varieties from the count: this leaves four different triangles. Each is from a different parish, representing three shires. Hence, there are triangles from Kirkbean in Kirkcudbright, Lamington & Wandel in Lanark, Aberlady in Lothians, and Humbie in Lothians.
     As you can see from the picture, I do not have one from Aberlady.
     They are unusual, but not rare. The Kirkbean triangle seems to be the most frequently encountered, whereas the Humbie piece is more elusive (and desired for its 1699 date). I have seen the L&W piece for sale on several occasions in the past few years, so it is available.
     The Kirkbean pieces (BK648) are all the same: they show a monogram of the parish name KB -- a bold casting sprue mars the field above the letters. There is also a square CT with the same monogram; the square one could have been used at the same time with each shape designated for men or women respectively (or some other distinction like two communion services on consecutive Sundays).
Humbie CT with retrograde 6.
     There are four L&W varieties -- three of these are size varieties (17x16, 19x17, 21x21; cataloged as BK701, KL46-40, KL52-36 respectively) with an L on obverse and a cross on reverse. A fourth variety has a C on the reverse (BK702). Is the C for church? It could be that this latter one is a distinct piece representing a different communion service.
     The Aberlady pieces come in two varieties, differing in the placement of incused letters: K/AB (BK11) or AB/K (KL7). It is actually the orientation of the letters that distinguishes the two pieces, as the K is always nearer the point (and the point is either up or down).
     Finally, the Humbie pieces are also two with one of them showing a retrograde 6 in the date (versus a normal 6). The digits are crudely cut and squeezed at the top. It appears that the engraver started with a neatly spaced 1 but ran out of room by the time he got to the second 9. He seemed to have trouble shaping the curves. It looks like he went over the loop in the 6, perhaps not realizing it was retrograde, as it is boldly cut into the die. And those misshapen 9s are not much better. I wonder what rude tool he was using.
     Perhaps the triangle represented the Trinity: Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Market Watch

This market watch reviews all ebay sales from March 2 through March 8. As compared to last week's doldrums, this week was buzzing with activity.
     Sixty-five CTs were sold this week with 41 pieces trading hands for under $20, and 23 pieces bringing B money. Only one CT was bid past the $50 mark, edging into BB territory.
     Sunday started off with two large offerings: 16 CTs from cobwrightfortishe and 16 CTs from gordon5260 (also a UK dealer). I have had good dealings with both of these sellers.
     The first grouping was comprised of 14 pieces from the 18th century plus two triangles dated 1699 from Humbie in East Lothian -- neat little tokens. Most of the pieces were primitive with several incused or single-letter molded designs represented. The hammer prices ranged widely from $10 (one bid only) for a corroded CT from Kilmuir (BK604) to $64 for one of the Humbie CTs -- this was the most paid this week. The second grouping of 16 had more variety with more 19th century pieces in the mix.
HK for Humbie Kirk. This piece is
dated 1699. Triangular CTs are
few in the Scottish series: only four
parishes produced CTs of this shape.
     The Humbie pieces (BK521) represented two varieties from the same communion service. Both were two-side pieces: HK on obverse and 1699 on reverse. One of them had a retrograde 6; the other was normal -- Brook mentioned both varieties but only assigned one catalog number (he illustrated the retrograde variety). Burzinski gave each piece a number (BZ3179-80) and made up a BK number for the normal date (BK521A). This latter piece may be rarer (does anyone have an opinion?), as it attracted 10 bids from five bidders. In contrast, the retrograde variety sold cheaply at $29. Condition was also a factor, as the normal piece was nicer.
     Triangles are an odd sort. There are only nine of them (including all varieties) in the Scottish series. The CTs from Humbie are the only ones that are dated. Everyone should have at least one triangle in their collection as the shape is intriguing. I promise to do a posting on these soon.
     Cobwrightfortishe offered another grouping of CTs mid-week. This time a series of mid-nineteenth century cut-rectangles from Aberdeen were placed on the block. The pieces represented a run of KL numbers (from the 1944 catalog): KL44-1 through 11, and KL44-15 through 21. In all, 18 pieces were auctioned with five bidders taking pieces home.
     Top hammers were for pieces that included pictorials: burning bush or church. In particular, one piece -- a pictorial piece from Bon Accord Free Church (KL44-2) -- was bid up to $45 with five bidders casting 12 bids. This one was in excellent condition with some luster. Here is the link: Bon Accord FC CT.
     Bon Accord FC was established in 1845. The name is the motto of Aberdeen and is French for "Good Agreement." Apparently, this phrase was used as a password by Robert the Bruce in the 14th century during the Wars for Scottish Independence -- his army had laid siege to the castle of Aberdeen before destroying it in 1308. The motto is currently part of the city arms.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Back Story of Communion Tokens

Books and a bit of sugar; who's making the tea?
Once we have secured our tokens in protective flips, checked the listing in the guidebook, noted important characteristics on a card, and pinpointed the church our maps, then what?
     We dive into the history and ride the wave.
     Communion tokens are the real thing: relics that were there. They were in the church. They were held by parishioners. And they were handed to an elder on the big day. But, the tokens themselves are mute. We have to find other voices to make them come alive.
     There are several ways to explore this past. Church histories provide a direct route if you can find them. In addition, there are many books that describe everyday life in Scotland during the 18th and 19th centuries. I have also found that the history of Scottish politics is intertwined with the Reformation.
     For the armchair historian with a few tokens spread out on the table, I recommend traveling down these roads. I have been reading several books during this past year that have provided the back story of communion tokens. Certainly, Burns and Brook provide the specifics. But today, I will mention a sampling of books that provide context. I think you will find them compelling.
     Two books focus on the old Kirk. Bygone Church Life in Scotand edited by William Andrews (reprinted from 1899) is a fascinating collection of essays on church discipline to the indictment of witches. Old Church Life in Scotland: Lectures on Kirk-Session and Presbytery Records by Andrew Edgar (reprinted from 1885) also provides several chapters on discipline plus a detailed exploration of the communion service (including the use of CTs).
     A broader focus on daily life in 18th century Scotland will also provide you with the details you crave. For example, Parish Life in Eighteenth Century Scotland by Maisie Steven (1995/2002) is an analysis of the "Old Statistical Account" completed by John Sinclair in 1799 -- this book provides a portrait of the common folk who filled the pews and benches. On the more esoteric side, The Ballad and the Plough by David Kerr Cameron (2008) is a study of Scottish farming culture at the turn of the 18th century -- I am reading a few pages of this one each night, savoring the journey back in time.
     Finally, I include a thick tome aptly titled: The Reformation: A History by Diarmaid MacCulloch (2003). This out-stretched analysis provides more than you need to know, but it helped me appreciate how the Scottish Reformation fit into the unfolding drama sweeping across Europe -- from Zwingli to Calvin to Knox, the Scottish experience rose out of the convulsions in Geneva.
     These books make the CT collecting journey more colorful. And there are many more books out there that I have not mentioned, have not read, or have not discovered. All of them are readily available from the big booksellers -- and the first two are probably on-line for free download. So if you need an information fix, start with one of these. Or, pick your own route; after all, it is your collection -- make it speak to you!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Market Watch

This market watch reviews all ebay sales held between February 23 and March 1. There was little action in the marketplace this week with 21 ebay sales accounting for 27 CTs sold (a lot of seven pieces made for the difference).
     Eighteen CTs crossed the block with little fanfare in the C range (under $20), whereas eight more pieces were bid into the B territory. Only one CT brought BB money.
     The highest price paid was for a Canadian cut-rectangle from Earlton in Nova Scotia (NS-214). It was a modern piece, professionally struck, that was used sometime after 1861 during the ministry of Rev. William McMillan. Two bidders vied for this one on the last day of the auction, casting six bids to raise the hammer quickly to $53. The VF valuation in Charlton is $70, so there was still room at the top. Here is the link: Earlton NS CT.
     I have not profiled many Canadian pieces in this blog, but it bears mentioning that this CT series is popular and has direct links to Scottish history. The area around Earlton was part of a land grant made by the Philadelphia Company in 1765. It was hoped that English pioneers would settle there, but the allure was not there. The Scottish settlers were not so daunted and began clearing the land in 1813. Many settlers from Sutherland, Ross, and Caithness arrived a few years later. Earlton was named for the Earl of Dalhousie. It was frontier farming and logging community.
     Also this week, I want to make some comments about BIN offerings on ebay. Many pieces are priced at the top of the retail range. And a few pieces are listed at outrageously inflated prices. New collectors and readers of this blog beware.
     Over the years, I have found that there are many attractive CTs (including quite a few 18th century pieces) that are offered two and three times a year. With such a thin marketplace (that is, few serious CT collectors), many of these common pieces can be had for C and B money. I have profiled a few hoards; consequently, some pieces survive in bulk -- perhaps the entire church inventory.
     We all know that the collector can ill-afford to be inpatient. You do not want to spend big dollars on a CT only to see a similar piece two months later go for half. I recommend that you check the "sold" archives to get a read on the market. Trust the auction prices except when two bidders get the fever.
     Here is a case study. A high-end retail price of $40 was paid this week for a small Fife rectangle from Kemback dated 1765. This can be an attractive CT, but this specimen was shadowy with granular surfaces that were nicked here and there. A much nicer one sold at auction on February 16th for $23 with only three bids. Plus, an exquisite piece was hammered down two week prior for $33 after nine bids. So be patient, and let the pieces come to you. Of course, if you must have it, then we all understand. Also, watch out for fakes -- bid on the primitive CTs after having studied photographs of real ones.