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.
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 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.