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Homepage Archives Open in new window Index (03/2001) AMP (02/2001) AMP (04/2001)   Vol. 35 March 2001 
Ask Mark Parker!
As seen in the March 2001 edition of W&ET Magazine


Question Please tell me whatever you can concerning this token (?) from the 1868 presidential campaign of Horatio Seymour. It's approximately 34mm in diameter, made of brass, and has some sort of filler inside. On one side there are what appear to be actual photos of Seymour and his running mate, Frank P. Blair.

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Answer Your find is what's known as a political shell badge, due to its construction: thin, die-stamped metal shells, with a cardboard layer sandwiched between them. (Store tokens of the same type are called shellcards.) This particular design- eagle, shield, & banner, with framed ferrotype, or "tintype," images- was a stock pattern used both by Seymour and his opponent, Ulysses S. Grant, and also in the presidential campaigns of 1872 and 1876. Holed or looped for suspension, some of the badges came with U.S. flag ribbons and an eagle pin at the top; however, I don't know if any of Seymour's did. If it hadn't spent the last 133 years or so underground, this would be a $1,000 item. Instead, it's closer to $300, but that's still a pretty respectable reward for a day's detecting.


Question I dug this solid brass lock in Ashtabula, Ohio, and have been told that it's a railroad switch lock around 100 years old. The shackle is stamped PFW&CRR, and the lock is also marked with the manufacturer's name (illegible) and "Adrian, Mich." Can you identify the railroad, and perhaps the maker as well?

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Answer PFW&CRR is the reporting mark of the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne & Chicago Railroad, a line established in 1856 and eventually included in the Pennsylvania Railroad system. The lock dates from the late 1800s and was made by the Illinois Manufacturing Co., which had a factory at Adrian, Michigan at that time. My sources say it's worth $150-200... maybe more.


Question In last month's column you identified a button from one of the early academies in North Carolina, so I thought I'd ask you about this one found in Goldsboro, North Carolina. It's from the NC (North Carolina) Military Institute and is listed in Albert's book as #SU 272. On the front, the school's name surrounds a hornet's nest; the backmark is "SCOVILL. MFG. CO. WATRBRY." The front is somewhat dented, as if the button might have been stepped on when lost.

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Answer The North Carolina Military Institute opened in Charlotte on October 1, 1859, and closed at the outbreak of the Civil War. Its superintendent was Daniel Harvey Hill, a West Point graduate, Mexican War veteran, and college mathematics professor who later became a Confederate brigadier general. Despite their youth, NCMI cadets served the Southern cause with valor and fervor, and their buttons have been found on many a field. Given its rich history, your find is one that would rank right up there on any relic hunter's list. Even with the push (dent), it's still got a lot of appeal, and should be good for $350-400. Personally, though, I'd hang onto it and let the other guy go find his own!


Question Searching on private property in California, I unearthed this unusual, oblong Oriental coin. It's 1-7/8" long and 1-1/4" wide and made of copper or brass. What is it, how old is it, and how much is it worth?

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Answer Fortunately-or unfortunately- those are the only questions that I can answer about it! It's a Japanese 100 mon copper, undated but c. 1835-70, and lists for $5-7 in F-VF condition.


Question This candy tin, found in an old home, has a full-color picture of the ocean liner R.M.S. Queen Mary on its lid. Around the sides are pictured three other ships, the Sylvania, the Queen Elizabeth, and the Mauretania. Also on one side is advertising text: "Bensons - England's Finest Confections - Cunard Souvenir Tin - Bensons Confectionery Ltd., Bury, Lancs., England." It is in what I would consider extremely fine condition. I know that it is at least 25 years old, and that such tins are collectable, but I would appreciate any further details you might provide.

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Answer It's evidently between 34 and 45 years old, a time frame based on two facts. First, one of the ships is the R.M.S. Sylvania (II), which was launched in 1956 and renamed in 1968. Second, the R.M.S. Queen Mary's last Cunard Lines passenger voyage was in 1967. (She's now permanently berthed at Long Beach, California, and in 1993 was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.) According to a specialist in ocean liner memorabilia, your tin would retail for $35-45.


Question Last month, while hunting in an old hayfield, I found what looks like a small (9/16") brass or bronze token. On one side there's a large five-pointed star, with the word "STAR" at the top and "H B & H" at the bottom; on the other,"PAT. JULY 23, 1872" and a couple of very small stars. It has a reeded edge, similar to that of a dime; and there is a square hole in the center- possibly added later to cancel the token when it was redeemed. Do you recognize it?

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Answer Yep. You'll be de-lighted to learn that it's actually the adjustment knob/wheel from an old oil or kerosene lamp burner. However, because of its size, shape, and design, this little whatsit is easily mistaken for a token. The "reeding," of course, was added to help the user get a better grip when turning it. Star was the name of the model, and H B & H stands for Holmes, Booth & Hayden, a Waterbury, Connecticut firm which specialized in the manufacture of lamps, burners, and other brass wares. (During the Civil War they also made military buttons, shoulder scales, and hat insignia.) It won't add any cash to your stash, but at least we've solved the mystery, and that's always worth something.


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