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.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Afraid that reality is not quite as interesting as your hypothesis. Free Church as you note was at Chapelton (Glassford is both a settlement and a parish - the parish includes the village of Chapelton) and the token for the FC is K&L(44)137 Bz1410 dated 1846.
    You have GSS 'interpreted' as Glassford Sunday School whereas K&L state that these are Sunday School Tickets. By and large both Brook and K&L will make it clear when they are 'interpreting' and this is not the case here. Sunday School tickets are unlikely to be a means of admission (to Sunday School) and perhaps more likely to have been rewards for proficiency in Scripture.
    The church opened in 1888 was a new build for the Free Church and replaced the original which is now the village hall (J. Frew - Chapelton history)
    I note that this brings you once again to the vicinity of Strathaven - would suggest before you set out for these shores and ask for "Strathaven" you visit - .
    Best wishes,

  3. Good comments as usual. I was hoping you would add in. Certainly the mystery of the sheet-iron Glassford CTs remains open. Who used them? And when? With regard to the GSS tokens, also made of sheet-iron, I was only referring to K&L comments about the attribution. As you know, they state in their 1942-43 article: "The letters GSS on this and the three following tokens stand for 'Glassford Sunday School.' These specimens were Sunday School tickets, used temporarily as communion tokens." As such, I referred to this interpretation. Without a primary source, this is all we have to go on, so we do not know how much inference was required -- so I always err on the conservative side by calling it an interpretation. Finally, I am happy you pointed out the 1846 Chapelton CT (K&L(44)137 -- I missed that one. It certainly shows that the FC did have the resources to produce a cut-rectangle piece. Also, I did see that the Village Hall was once used as a FC -- the question is when was it used as such and for how long. Another interesting citation is found on that has this to say about the FC in Chapelton: "The minister of the Chapelton church, in the parish of Glassford, and nearly all his congregation 'came out' in 1843. They were deprived of their church and for a time worshipped in the open air and then in the school. A church was built very soon in spite of much opposition ... . The congregation was reduced to a preaching station in 1849. Sanction was restored in 1855. A new church was built in 1888." This info comes from the Annals of the Free Church of Scotland, 1843-1900, edited by Rev. William Ewing D.D. All told, the story seems to have some twists and turns. Still, there is no evidence as to tell us who used these exigent tokens. I admit my theory was just a teaser get the discussion going. But also, I mentioned that maybe the Kirk needed CTs in a pinch. Either way, it is an interesting story that resulted in a series of unique CTs. As for Strathaven, I am not sure what was being said -- but I liked the site for its tourist info. Thanks.

  4. There are white metal Glassford tokens dated 1822. Don't you think the sheet iron one predate these? With the Free Church breaking away in 1843 I don't think the iron tokens were made by them.