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Homepage Archives Open in new window Index (01/2001) AMP (12/2000) AMP (02/2001)   Vol. 35 January 2001 
Ask Mark Parker!
As seen in the January 2001 edition of W&ET Magazine


Question Mark, what can you tell me about this bell? It's brass or bronze, 16" high, 14" in diameter, and weighs maybe 50-60 lbs. The clapper is missing. A little below the "shoulder" at the top is the following inscription: THE + SAMVELL + S + T + J7J4.

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Answer Let's begin with two assumptions: first, that it's an authentic artifact; and second, that you recognize your responsibility regarding the archaeological potential of the recovery site, wherever that may be. Now, having said that... It's evidently a ship's bell, cast for a vessel called the Samuell in 1714 (J7J4). I'm not certain about the significance of the letters S.T. One possibility is that they relate to the date and stand for something like the Latin phrase Suo Tempore ("At a fitting time" or "At its own time"). Then again, they may be an official maritime designation or a maker's mark. Since the text is in English, it seems safe to infer that it's either an American or British ship- more likely the latter. The bell itself would be European, at any rate, since the first bell foundry in America wasn't established until 1785. So far, I've had limited success in researching the Samuell. One or more ships of the same name (sometimes with the more familiar spelling Samuel) made a number of voyages between England and the New World in the 17th and 18th centuries. Two Philadelphia arrivals postdate the bell: August 16, 1731 and August 11, 1732. Perhaps your best bet for learning more about it would be to get in touch with the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England. Certainly a genuine bell from any Colonial era ship would be worth thousands of dollars, and any light shed on its history could only enhance the value. One more thing: Don't ring it!


Question I really enjoy metal detecting and recently found this item in a wooded area near my home. It is made of brass, and the front shows a sheaf of wheat, a plow, and some other farming implements; the back is filled with lead. During the same hunt, I also dug three Indian Head cents dating from the 1870s and '80s. Any idea what it might be?

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Answer It's a mid 19th century bridle rosette, and is sometimes referred to as a "Tennessee state seal" rosette because of the design's similarity. However, the real seal has a cotton plant on the right, and also an early freight boat below; so, it's a possible but wobbly attribution. In the past, I've seen these priced between $50 and $75, and that's still a reasonable, "real world" range, according to rosettes specialist Charles Nash of Stone Mountain Relics.


Question I uncovered this "Auburn" watch fob next to an old pier at a New York beach. The back reads, "Compliments of Central Motor Car Co., 1156 S. Main St., Los Angeles, Cal."

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Answer This early 1900s fob is one of at least two varieties distributed by agents of the Auburn Automobile Co. of Auburn, Indiana. The first Auburn was a 1905 single-cylinder runabout with chain drive. A few years later, it was succeeded by two- and then four-cylinder models. By the early '20s, they were up to six cylinders and boasted all sorts of innovative features. Founded by brothers Frank and Morris Eckhart , the company was eventually acquired, along with Duesenberg, by E. L. Cord in 1924. Offhand, I'm unable to offer any information about the Los Angeles dealership listed on back of the fob, but it could make it even more collectable. Antique auto fobs are among the most desirable, and I doubt you'd have much difficulty getting $200 for this one.


Question My first time detecting, I found this unusual "Nelson Copper" medal at a local schoolyard. The school was built in 1920; prior to that, the location was farmland. At the top arm of the cross is, "Trafalgar 1805," at the bottom is "Waterloo," and on the others are the names of various countries, including Britain, Russia, Belgium, and France. If possible, please identify it.

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Answer Issued by the British ...amp; Foreign Sailors Society, this is a fine example of what's called a "relic medal"; that is, one made from metal reclaimed from some historic object or location- in this case, a ship of the renowned British admiral, Viscount Horatio Nelson, himself a man of extraordinary mettle. Whether the copper was taken from his flagship, Victory, or some other ship in the fleet, I can't say. While the Duke of Wellington was battling Napoleon's forces on land, Nelson defeated the combined French and Spanish fleets at Trafalgar in 1805. Even today, it is generally regarded as the greatest British naval victory of all time. On the same occasion, Nelson was mortally wounded, and I believe that the medal was issued in 1905, marking the centennial of his death. The Society also offered donors a "relic" copper pin made in the shape of the Victory. Considering that this fascinating commemorative is worth $35-50, I'd say you're off to a pretty good start!


Question Hunting around the foundation of an old house, I located this miniature sword which bears a double-headed eagle with a shield on its breast. Underneath this emblem is what looks like "TOL-?-DO." Could it be a knife or a letter opener? Any help would be appreciated.

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Answer Although at first glance you might suspect that double-headed eagle to be Russian, Polish, or Austrian (Holy Roman Empire), in fact it's the arms of the city of Toledo in Spain, granted in the 16th century by Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (a.k.a. King Charles I of Spain). That, of course, also clears up the mystery of the lettering. For centuries Toledo has been famed for its steel blades and swords, and they're still made there today... along with miniature-sword letter openers, which is exactly what you've got. In fact, these dandy little desk accessories have been produced for more than a century. While I couldn't find a listing for yours, most Toledo sword letter openers seem to be priced around $25-50, with a few especially ornate ones at $100-125. My guess is that yours, at least as dug, would fall into the former category.


Question I found this 1-1/4" button on a c. 1828 site. I've never seen another like it. How about you?

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Answer Well, maybe one or two. It's what's commonly referred to as a "picture button" for reasons requiring little elaboration, and it dates back a century or so. Some sources say it depicts a cottage-door encounter from the story of Tom Thumb, wherein the magician Merlin visits the home of a plowman and his wife, and, in return for their hospitality, grants the woman's wish for a son- "Even one no bigger than my thumb." Others classify it simply as a domestic-scene button. Hmm? Oh, yeah... $25+.


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