Thursday, August 21, 2014

Counterstamped Communion Tokens: maybe, maybe not.

Here are a couple of pieces to ponder.
Virginia Halfpenny N20-X. Image from StacksBowers.
     The first one is a 1773 Virginia halfpenny. The piece is deeply counterstamped R.P.S. in bold letters across the obverse. A recent Colonial Newsletter (CNL) article by Roger Moore proposed that this countermark stands for the Reformed Presbyterian Synod of Virginia. It is a rare piece, but others might be out there. Of note, Bason does not list any CTs with this letter combination, but of course, there are many pieces marked by the initials RP and RPC (with and without periods).
     The notion that coins or tokens were used as communion tokens is not so far-fetched. The round Port Glasgow tokens (BZ5774 / KL(40)244) appear to be stamped over a (yet-unidentified) token. There are probably others too -- let me know if you know of any. Certainly, the use of a countermark was practical. I am surprised that it did not occur more often. Or, maybe it did, and we just do not know about it. However, to my knowledge there is no documentary evidence to support the notion that coins and tokens were counterstamped by the Presbyterian Church.
Massachusetts Cent.
Image from StacksBowers.
     On a more tangential note, the Albany Church Pennies (1790) were counterstamped over worn coppers in at least a few (if not all) cases (e.g., 1771 halfpenny). These pieces were not communion tokens, but were traded for "good" money prior to the church services, so that these "pennies" could be placed in the collection plate. They were reused over and over again in this way to insure that "good" money was collected by the church. Keep in mind that this was the First Presbyterian Church in Albany. At the time, over half of all coppers circulating in the USA were either counterfeit English pieces or under-weight tokens of dubious quality. As many of you know, the ACPs are known in two varieties and are quite rare (all told, probably about a dozen known from a production of 1000 pieces -- a 1.2% survival rate).
     Here is another piece that could be a communion token. This time a Massachusetts Cent provided the host coin. The deeply impressed countermark -- PC -- could stand for Presbyterian Church. Again, we have no documentation. Bason only lists two CTs with these letters -- only one of them signifying Presbyterian Church (the other CT is from Peters Creek, PA).
     Still, we know that early USA CTs were quite primitive, as most everyone was busy carving out a life in the frontier. It would not be a surprise to learn that counterstamped coins and tokens were used as communion tokens.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Market Watch for July

This market watch reviews ebay sales for July. It was a relatively slow month with 210 CTs trading hands. This figure does not include a large number of questionable tokens that were sold off in large lots throughout the month (more on this later).
     Several large auctions dominated the mid-summer activity with comtok offering 20 pieces on July 1st and 48 more on July 10th -- all from his personal collection.  Cobwrightfortishe offered 15 more pieces on July 8th from the Macmillan collection. UK dealer richardigr offered 30 CTs on July 28. In addition historyincoins sold numerous pieces throughout the month at BIN prices.
     As is typical, most pieces sold inexpensively in the C range (under $20): 118 CTs in all. There were 78 CTs crossing the block in the B range (under $50) with some very nice pieces in the mix.  Only 15 CTs sold at or above the $50 mark: 11 CTs in the BB range and two each in the A and AA ranges. There were many opportunities to pick up some nice pieces this past month as bidding seemed slow overall -- many pieces sold uncontested.
     Top honors go to a New Zealand CT from Tapanui. This oval sold for a BIN/BO price that was under the original listing of $400. So, how low did it sell for? No one knows, but since the start price was way up there, we can reasonably guess that it easily sold for over $100, planting it firmly in the AA category. Here is the link: Tapanui New Zealand CT.
     The second AA CT sold came from the comtok auction: a very nice cut-rectangle from St. Kilda in the Outer Hebrides (BZ6482). As noted in the listing, this congregation was as small one (population 180 for all of St. K); consequently, few tokens were likely made. This piece had a nice patina and smooth surfaces (but for a tiny obverse scratch). Five bidders cast nine bids with two big bids to decide the contest in the closing moments -- this one sold for $109. Here is the link: St Kilda CT.
     The next CT was also sold by comtok: this one was from Uig on the Isle of Lewis (BZ7015). It was a superb little oval, dated 1836. I cannot imagine that Uig was a large congregation either, so few pieces were probably produced. Six bidders vied for this one with consistent bidding; after nine bids the piece was sold at $71 in the A range.
     The final piece that brought over $75 was one we have seen several times before on this blog: the 1678 Brechin round. This is a popular one, as it is the oldest dated piece that is readily available. This one was dark (as is typical) but with most of the 78 showing at the bottom. It was listed for a BIN price of $100 but a BO took it home -- was it over $75? Not sure, but I counted it as such. Prices for these are all over the place ($50 to $90) depending on who wants it and how badly.
     There were many other nice pieces sold this month including a 1831 Kirriemuir round CT for $32 -- this one can spark quite a bit of excitement if enough bidders are in the room -- we have seen them sell in the A and AA range before.  Also, a cut-rectangle from Crossford brought a healthy $67 (from two bidders!) -- these late series pieces are hotly contested by serious collectors intent on completing a shire set. If you want to know which pieces are missing from these sets, then watch these auctions (particularly cobwrightfortishe) and learn. A few nice Glasgow-squares were to be had (e.g., New Cumnock, Largs).

     Finally, we come to a distasteful subject: questionable CTs. A USA dealer -- cronus-coins -- offered and sold large groupings of CTs with simple (mostly incuse) designs. For example, 57 CTs from Bedrule (BK103) were sold on July 27. These round pieces are marked by an incused BK. The CTs pictured were pristine -- perhaps a bit too pristine, as most of the pieces coming from Scotland are clearly used up.  Only one bidder took the bait and paid $100 for the lot.  Here is the link: Fifty-seven Bedrule CTs.
     On the same day, cronus-coins sold 26 CTs from Galashiels (BK452) for $55 -- also a simple token marked by an incused GK. This lot, too, was composed of pristine tokens. Although hoards of unused CTs are known to exist, how likely is it that there are two hoards of CTs that not only have the same leaden appearance, but are also from different shires -- not to mention, of such simple design that they can be easily manufactured. But wait, there's more: how about 18 pristine pieces from Kilmuir (BK604) or 10 from Saltoun (BK988) -- both lots sold earlier in the month. And why are there no common cut-rectangles or ovals being offered -- these are the most frequently encountered hoard (or should I say, NOS) pieces.
     We can add Lairg, Ladykirk, Kildalton, Kilmonivaig, Keith, Kemnay, and IB tokens to the list of questionable tokens. Since all were sold, we can expect to see them again (unless the buyers were getting them to destroy). But then again, maybe they are authentic ... check the ebay "sold" records and judge for yourself. If you are like me, I will get mine from an established dealer in the UK, and prefer those with a provenance (e.g., ex-Macmillan or ex-Burzinski).