Wednesday, January 14, 2015

What makes for "Desirability" in CTs?

Here is a post that comes from our newest blog member. Welcome David.

I have been stimulated to give some thought as to what constitutes 'desirability' in this field of collecting. Apart from collectors who pursue a thematic approach, such as collecting tokens of a particular region, 
religious denomination or diversity of scriptural quotations, that which determines the acquisitive drive for the generalist collector is probably a combination of rarity, aesthetic appeal and an associated interesting 
history or story. Rarity, as has been noted before in the blog, is often uncertain, as it is a judgement usually based on the frequency with which a 
token appears in the market place, knowledge very much dependent on the experience and vigilance of the collector. The regular market reports of 
this blog assist in making such assessments. Aesthetic appeal is a composite of design, shape, metallic composition, condition and legends. The stories connected with a particular token or its church form the other component of this trilogy. Individual collectors will give their own weightings to each of these elements.

Two nineteenth-twentieth century Scottish tokens already noted by previous contributors may serve to illustrate these issues. There is general agreement that the two St Kilda Free Church tokens are rare. This assessment 
is based on the knowledge that they served a very small population for whom church attendance was virtually mandatory. They are seldom offered for sale: BZ 6482 has appeared rarely, an example fetching a high price when sold on ebay in July 2014, but I have not seen BZ 2277 (with legends in Gaelic) 
offered for sale. The latter token reflects the native language of the St. Kildans - very few spoke English. The tokens were the subject of a brief paper by Henry Garside published in Spink's Numismatic Circular in 1916 
(Vol. 24, pp. 37-38), where they were described as "two very rare communion tokens in the National Collection, British Museum".

A fine example of a token with much aesthetic appeal is that of Glenapp (BZ 2896).  This token, while not of the same order of rarity as the St Kilda tokens, is nevertheless scarce and eagerly sought. It is one of few tokens 
struck in bronze, its singular design was created by the architect who also remodelled the picturesque Glenapp church, and its symbols of Paschal Lamb on the obverse and Celtic Trinitarian trefoils on the reverse, offer scope for religious reflection.  I recall reading that a minister of the church used its iconography for a sermon. The style of trefoil on the token is reproduced on the Celtic decoration of the Church's lectern.

Unattributed tokens have collector appeal, not only on account of their probable rarity, but because they also offer scope for research and reverie. If they are also unpublished, there is scope to make a small contribution to 
the corpus of knowledge. It is not uncommon to come across unattributed tokens of the eighteenth century or earlier, but quite unusual to find one of a later period.  I include images of a token dated 1837 (see token picture above) that I have been unable to locate in any published reference. In style it is similar to a Free Church of Scotland token of St Luke's Church, Edinburgh, dated 1852 (BZ7596), although the rectangular shape accommodates the design horizontally rather than vertically. I understand the congregation that became St Luke's had its origins in 1836, their church being known originally as the Young Street Chapel. I am wondering whether this 1837 issue may be a surviving token of Young Street Chapel. Perhaps the majority 
of tokens were destroyed after the presumably later but undated issue came into use, these new tokens being stamped 'St. Luke's Church, Young Street, Edinburgh' (BZ 2342).  When the congregation joined the Free Church after the Disruption in 1843, tokens picturing their new church building resulted in the attractive issue dated 1852.  Only two rectangular shaped Free Church tokens are noted by Kerr and Lockie (PSAS, LXXIX, p. 27), one being that of St Luke's Free Church, perhaps lending some support to the possibility that 
this last issue may have reverted to the prototype provided by the 1837 tokens, perhaps for sentimental or other reasons. The 1837 token is of white metal and measures 28 x 18 mm.  Identifying the building it portrays, or 
some documentary evidence, would clearly be of value in attributing the token to a particular church.

A very large print of the whole city of Edinburgh, circa 1860, drawn from an elevated perspective, shows a building on the southern side of Young Street, very similar to that portrayed on the token. I reproduce a small segment of the print (see above) greatly magnified. The building in question is that in 
the centre of the image. 

I would value any help in confirming or dismissing this tentative 
attribution of the token to Young Street Chapel.


  1. Young Street Chapel / St Luke's
    The token certainly seems to fit the illustration and given the similarity in style of reverse layout - text in band,date in corners, placing of table number your attribution seems very probable. The difference in orientation is easily explained by the physical characteristics of the buildings - one long, one tall.
    Although the minister and elders went out at the Disruption they remained in the Young Street premises until 1849 when they were ejected and the building was again used for worship by the Established Church as St Luke's Young Street. This congregration continued there until the early 20th C . By then the area had suffered depopulation and the minister was transferred to a newly built church at Comely Bank, Young Street being reincorporated into St George's.
    Following their expulsion the Free Church congregation built Free St Luke's in Queen Street. the building being accurately represented on the 1851 token.
    It may be that they had taken the 1837 bag with them and these were melted to produce the new token - the CoS having lost the tokens may have produced the undated issue post 1849. This of course is pure speculation.
    My typing finger is tiring but I shall post some comments on St Kilda and Glenapp - I have a copy of the minister's notes - at a later date.

    1. Thank you for your very informative comment. According to 'The Sessional Papers printed by order of The House of Lords' Vol. 51, p. 132, published in 1837, (accessible on the internet), The Young Street Chapel had at that time 102 communicants, perhaps giving some indication of the size of the original mintage of tokens.
      I look forward to your comments on the St Kilda and Glenapp tokens.