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.

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