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.


  1. That's the grail of the American series. What are considerd the most desirable of the Scottish tokens? The Canadian series?

  2. The American token is really nice and a magic combination of rarity, a reasonably early date, a degree of intrinsic value and very appealing art (reminds me a little of the Australian 'Silver Charlotte Medal') and I'm not sure any Scottish token combines all these things. There are fairly recent tokens, I like Burz. 7229 Wishaw in silver and Burz. 2896 Glenapp in bronze. Lovely pieces of art to be sure but not rare. Rarity is difficult/impossible to establish for Scottish items and the early items whilst hugely appealing are usually fairly crude. I imagine every collector will have their own favourite/grail. Perhaps others will share their choices here?

  3. OK. I see a top 10, or top 20 here! I will have to think on this. Of course, I gravitate towards the primitive ones, so something like BZ278 would be on my list: bold and old with nice chalice and bread. I would love to see what others add in.