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Homepage Archives Open in new window Index (07/2001) AMP (06/2001) AMP (08/2001)   Vol. 35 July 2001 
Ask Mark Parker!
As seen in the July 2001 edition of W&ET Magazine


Question These flat, one-piece buttons were found in Virginia. What can you tell us about them?

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Answer Actually, this question represents inquiries from two readers- one in New York, who found the larger (1-1/8") button while detecting in Ashburn, Virginia; the other, a resident of Hartfield, Virginia, who dug the smaller one (1/2") of virtually identical design. As far as I can determine, this particular variety has not been previously reported, which makes the sudden, simultaneous appearance of two (and in two different sizes) rather remarkable. Their design and construction suggest that they may date from around 1780-90, when "chicken-legged" eagles of the same style appeared on certain American military and patriotic buttons, and some Washington Inaugural buttons. I have reviewed the photos with a number of experts on buttons and militaria, and the consensus seems to be that these are indeed late 18th century, probably of American manufacture, possibly of identical workmanship, and patriotic rather than military. Obviously, pricing them is difficult without any prior sales or appraisals, but one source estimated each at $1,000+.


Question Fifty-three years ago, during excavation for a new building in Queens, New York, two fire marks were found. This is one of them. It is cast iron, with black & gold paint, and measures 7-1/4" x 10-1/2". Through research, I have identified it as a mark of the Philadelphia Contributorship, and I believe it to date from about 1802. Please advise me as to its possible value.

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Answer Fire marks, large metal plaques made to be attached to insured houses, originated in England. In 1752, Benjamin Franklin established the Philadelphia Contributorship to insure houses against loss by fire, and an emblem of four clasped hands was used as its mark. Only two or three years ago, I saw this "No. 906" fire mark listed for $375. Unfortunately, more recently it has been cataloged as a modern (20th century) fantasy item. Identical examples are selling on internet auctions sites for less than $50, and one price guide puts the value under $30. For more information, your best bet would be to contact The Fire Mark Circle of the Americas, 2859 Marlin Dr., Chamblee, GA 30341-5119.

You can also find them online at


Question This ring, about 1-1/2" in diameter, has the name "GEORGE AUGER" on top and various symbols on the band. An archaeologist believes it to be a Jesuit ring. Another source says it's an early Lutheran ring; still another, a Hessian scarf band. Also, the symbols match those on Blackbeard's mug, and a well-known museum dates it from the late 17th to 18th century. Who's right? I hope you can finally solve the mystery.

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Answer It's a "circus giant's ring," a novelty souvenir bought by someone who saw George Auger. The 7' 5-1/2" Auger came to the U.S. from England in the early 1900s and later joined Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey. He became a national celebrity and can be seen in photos hobnobbing with early film stars such as Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks. Also known as Capt. George Auger, he was enlisted by the Army to help recruit servicemen during World War I. He died in New York in November 1922. Similar rings were issued by a number of other circus giants, including Jack Earle, J. G. (Jim) Tarver, and Al Tomaini. In some cases, they were actually made by the giants themselves, at odd hours or during the off season, in order to pick up a little extra cash. Most are pretty much alike except for the names- crudely designed and cast, usually of "pot metal" or lead-like alloy. Value? $25-50 in good condition.


Question I dug this 1918 "National Motorcycle Gypsy Tour" watch fob at an old house site near Cape Girardeau, Missouri. What, exactly, was the Gypsy Tour, and what is the value of the fob?

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Answer Motorcycle "gypsy tours" began as unofficial get-togethers in the early 1900s. As the sport became more organized, these events did, too; and official Gypsy Tours are still held today. Certainly the 1918 Federation of American Motorcyclists' event was one of the early ones. On a given day, members nationwide would meet at various designated regional sites and then travel en masse to a second location, often 100+ miles away, where other activities would be held. I'm told that this item was really part of a ribbon badge when issued; and that after winning, participants cut it off the ribbon to wear as a fob. A complete badge would be worth hundreds of dollars. And the fob? Well, some collectors say $350 or more; others, maybe half that. Shop it around for the best offer.


Question Mark, could you please help me to find out more about this "COOPER" political token? It's made of copper or brass and is about the size of a quarter.

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Answer It was issued for the campaign of John Gordon Cooper (b. 1872, d. 1955), who served as a U.S. Representative (Republican) from Ohio, from March 4, 1915 until January 3, 1937. In 1928, the Republican Party issued a "HOOVER" token of the same style for the presidential campaign of Herbert Hoover; so, there's a very good chance that Congressman Cooper's came out that year as well. "Good for 2 Years of Prosperity" back then, it's now good for... $25-35.


Question This 1-1/2" x 1" red, white & blue enameled, pin-back badge has a cartridge box with "Forty Rounds" and a U.S. box plate at the top, and the words "First at Vicksburg" at the bottom. It was recovered at a Civil War camp in Shelbyville, Tennessee. Do you have any information about it?

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Answer The distinctive insignia (DI) of the 13th Infantry, U.S. Army, it was approved for use in 1923. Although not of Civil War vintage, it does borrow much of its symbolism from that era: the cross of the Confederate battle flag; the 15th Corps badge ("Forty Rounds" cartridge box); the general's shoulder straps of Sheridan and Sherman, both of whom had ties to the regiment; and, of course, the Vicksburg motto. If the metal is silver, then the DI is likely from World War II and in the $25-50+ range (or would be if the enamel weren't damaged). If not, it may be more recent and less valuable. In fact, they're still available in brass, new, for less than $10.


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