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/ (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.