The CT Guidebook

The guidebook is a labor of love. I wrote the introductory book that I had wanted to read when I started, as no guidebook of this type was available at the time. Sure, Alexander Brook, Rev. Thomas Burns, Rev. H. Whitelaw and many others have provided nice introductory sections in their books, but these pages are usually discovered by chance or after the collector has already decided to get serious about CTs. Then, you have to search for these old reprints.
     What my guidebook does is welcome the new collector into the fold while also embracing the seasoned collector like an old friend. I take the time to explore the literature that is available and to provide an overview of the collecting field. The book takes a novel approach by classifying tokens by shape and examining the regional subtypes from this vantage point. Like a springboard that lands you in the deep end, the book prepares and prompts the reader to go forth, discover new things, and enjoy the plunge into a new collecting world.
     The book has received a very nice review. See the review by Wayne Homren on E-Sylum at this link: Book Review on E-Sylum at
     As noted in the blog, the guidebook can be ordered directly from Also, check Amazon and other big sellers. Finally, I have a few on Ebay.
     Here are a few excerpts to provide a flavor of the writing and content. As mentioned in the blog, this is an overview of the CT series (for Scotland, Canada and the United States). I hope you enjoy the excerpts! Some of the formatting got a bit weird when I copied it to the blog -- sorry about that!

Here is the Table of Contents

1       Bits of Lead and Tin
2       A Tradition Develops
3       Fencing the Tables
4       Molding and Striking
5       Many Churches
6       Lay of the Land
7       The Collecting Field
8       Squares
9       Rounds
10      Rectangles
11      Ovals
12      Odd Shapes
13      Table Numbers
14      Canadian Tokens
15      United States Tokens
16      Caring for Tokens
17      The Marketplace
18      Last Words
19      References

From Chapter 3: Fencing the Tables

We now focus on the communion service itself. It was a grave and joyous moment when a token was pressed into the palm of a parishioner. It is this emotional connection that imparts mystique to the token. As collectors, we revel in this mystique: we want our pieces to be provocative. And they are.
The communion service was a stirring event that infused a hardscrabble existence with the promise of salvation. After all, life was precarious in Scotland during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, as plague and blight killed farmers and potatoes. In some congregations, the sacrament was only performed a few times in a decade; hence, the opportunities to participate were few and far between. As you can imagine, attendance was highly anticipated.
Many would travel to neighboring parishes to attend the communion service. This allowed them to experience communion more often. In rural areas, the event was held after the fall harvest in what became known as the sacramental season. All labor was suspended to allow for the pilgrimage. Often the crowds were so large that the services were held outdoors to accommodate them all.
        Churches pooled their resources to meet the demand, often borrowing communion plate and inviting neighboring ministers to give sermons. The hosting communities provided room and board for the visitors with attics and barns full. Next to the great market fairs, the sacramental season drew in the largest numbers of humanity.
         The event typically lasted several days ...

On the Sabbath, the Table was set. In small rural churches, the table might be no more than a roughhewn plank stretched across the front row of pews and covered with a white linen cloth. Sometimes the plank was set in the center aisle upon wooden horses. For larger congregations, multiple tables were set in the churchyard. But each table was barricaded in some fashion. Often a paling fence with two openings was erected. One or two elders stood as sentries at each gate.
The sermon was uplifting, yet intimidating, as the communicants were beseeched to probe their very souls to be certain of their worthiness. Some trembled with such fear that they shied away from the Table altogether. Others boldly stepped forward. It was a solemn affair, standing in line, gaining entrance one by one, as the elders inspected each token, and dropped it into the bag with a dull click. A second elder consulted the communion rolls to assure that no one could sneak by with a counterfeit.
Yet, some folks did try to sneak by. Church records have revealed instances where an outdated token or a worn halfpenny was passed to gain entrance. These folks were strongly reproved when discovered. In addition, some parishioners with valid tokens were refused at the last moment when recognized by another member of the congregation as being a drunkard, a fornicator, or a witch.
         Following communion, the participants …

From Chapter 7: The Collecting Field:

All of the above catalogs classify tokens by their place of origin or use. This is the traditional method for studying tokens. Knowing where a piece is from provides a starting point for understanding its history. A token that is unattributed is called a “maverick” for good reasons; it is essentially homeless and mute. Indeed, advanced collectors typically adopt a regional approach by focusing on tokens from a specific shire, province or town. The beginning collector, however, may feel constricted by a regional approach, particularly if you want to explore the range.
Many collectors are enticed to collect by date. This is particularly true for those who have defected from the numismatic date and mint tradition. Dates impose order on the collection. In addition, dates are intriguing, as they firmly anchor the token in time. Nonetheless, it is important to remember that not all communion tokens were dated. Many exceptional tokens exist that defy easy characterization by age alone. Consequently, collecting by dates can be constricting.
The organizing scheme that I advocate for the communion token neophyte is to consider the various shapes of the tokens. This approach has several advantages. First, the shapes of the tokens have evolved in distinct ways over time. Second, there are regional preferences for some shapes. Of course, some regions experimented with several shapes capriciously – this, too, is interesting to explore. Third, shapes are easy to grasp and allow relatively quick classification of a wide range of tokens. Finally, shapes are enjoyable: one of the compelling aspects of the communion token series is the wide variety of shapes and sizes produced.
Let us look closer. In the early years of the seventeenth century, small squared or rectangular tokens were widely produced. These pieces were generally small and allowed just enough room for a few letters and maybe a date. Round ones were also popular, but they never gained prominence over the square or rectangular designs. By 1840, all three of these early shapes were on the wane ...

From Chapter 8: Squares:

This group of tokens includes some of the most charming bits of antiquity in the whole series. Most square tokens were made from handcrafted molds that produced thick pieces that rest heavily in the palm. Boldly cut letters and numbers harken back to an era far removed from ours. The shape itself is primeval. No wonder the squares are among the most sought after. About one quarter of all communion tokens are square.
The oldest tokens were cast with warped and unequal sides. A few pieces survive without any identifying marks and cannot be attributed. Fortunately for collectors, most pieces were marked with one or several letters to signify the church of origin. Usually the first letter of the parish followed by a K (for Kirk) is all that identifies these early tokens. Square tokens like this can be found from all areas of Scotland.
Some tokens show the first and last letters of the parish name or some other combination of letters to insure that each token was distinctive. Clever monograms were created as well. In addition, serrated and beaded borders uniquely embellished the design. This way, tokens from distant parishes could be easily identified when collected at the communion service. For example, there are over a dozen tokens with a single D to designate the parish: Dalry, Dysant, Duthil, Dowally and so on. Yet, no two are alike.
These simple, undated squares represent just over half of the group. Unadorned incused lettering accounts for about one-fifth of the undated squares; hence most squares were produced in relief. A popular method of manufacture involved …

Nearly half of all squares have dates, with this feature becoming more frequent over time. The earliest dated token was not square, but round, and was dated 1648. As such, squares cannot claim to be the oldest, but a few of them are dated before 1690. The dates typically reflect when the token was made; however, some dates are known to indicate when the parish was established or a particular minister took charge. A decade or more might elapse before a new batch of tokens with a fresh date would be produced, so the gaps can be large for a specific parish; for example, Logie in Fife produced a small square in 1711 and a larger one in 1773, a generation later.
Collectors find the dated squares captivating, as they unequivocally announce their antiquity. For the scholar, dates provide key information for understanding the evolution of the tokens. They also appeal to our inherent urge to generate sequences. A diligent collector can find a square token for every date in the 1700s with only three or four gaps. This is a challenge few of us can resist. However, dated squares dwindled during the first three decades of the nineteenth century and were all but gone after 1830. Put another way, only about 15% of dated squares were produced after 1799.
A representative set of square tokens would start with a few incuse, single-letter pieces and …

From Chapter 17: The Marketplace

Economic and personality factors influence how much a particular token will cost you. Communion tokens trade hands in a thin market, but a devoted group of collectors keep it vibrant. On any given day, you can win one at a bargain price or find yourself bidding outrageously in a competitive fury. These extremes are expected when tokens are bought and sold daily on the Internet. Since dealers with fixed-price lists are seldom encountered, on-line bidding is the norm.
         There are several types of collectors who shape the marketplace. A few generalists want them all; however, most collectors have adopted a strategy to narrow their hunt. One way to start out is to assemble a type set that includes examples of all shapes and design variations. Even this approach is honed down with experience, as personal preferences take over.
         Some collectors prefer a particular shape and oldness. Consequently, they devote themselves to their niche and stop at nothing to get what they want. Indeed, a few heart and diamond collectors will pay anything to add another one to their cabinet. Another popular area includes early squares and rectangles dated in the 1700s. It is hard not to like these venerable pieces. Some collectors might challenge themselves to acquire one of each date in the eighteenth century, thereby shaping the market in unpredictable ways.
       Alternatively, the focus might be to find every token used in Fife or Nova Scotia. This sharpens the hunt and offers a chance to complete a set. Perhaps the collector is from one of these regions or has visited there. This strategy appeals to the armchair traveler who wants to explore the history and geography of the place. A related approach might be historical from the start, as when a collector acquires tokens in order to trace the developments that took place within the Presbyterian Church.
         Some collectors embrace a topical theme. Tokens depicting church buildings, communion plate or unusual Bible verses are actively sought. A couple of tokens from Port Glasgow picture a sailing ship that is likely to attract a wide sweep of collectors who are interested in coins and tokens with vessels on them. These “ship” collectors will pay whatever it takes to add something as esoteric as a communion token to their fleet.
         All told, this multifarious group of collectors is what makes the establishment of a valuation scheme for communion tokens as much a study in psychology as economics. Sure, supply and demand still matter, but in a thin market, the heartfelt collectors set the pace, bidding wildly. For example, consider the collector of Fife tokens …

         If you compare the Scottish and Canadian communion token series with other popular exonumia items, such as merchant tokens that are “good for” milk, bread, soda and beer, the communion tokens are in the same ballpark. Many popular American Civil War tokens are similarly priced in circulated condition. Thin markets impact these other token arenas as well, such that prices fluctuate widely at the whim of certain collectors. All of these factors notwithstanding, there are some general guidelines for determining the value of a particular communion token.
Condition or Grade. Condition is everything. Sharply struck tokens with smooth, uniform surfaces and great eye-appeal bring the highest prices. Older tokens seasoned with a smooth ashen patina are particularly sought after. In this regard, we can all appreciate how difficult it is to age gracefully. Alternatively, corrosion and damage is avoided like the plague.
Age and Dates. Collectors are fascinated with tokens that are older than they are. As a general rule, old tokens are better than new ones. There is “sweet spot” however. A primeval token marked by an incused figure and no date is not nearly as desirable as a dated piece with bold serrated borders and artful hand-cut lettering. The date itself is extremely important, as it anchors the token in time. Collectors like numerals that boldly announce how many centuries have passed.
         Distinctiveness. Beyond just beauty, some tokens are …

1 comment:

  1. Loved your book. It's launched my new-found interest in CTs.