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Homepage Archives Open in new window Index (08/2001) AMP (07/2001) AMP (09/2001)   Vol. 35 August 2001 
Ask Mark Parker!
As seen in the August 2001 edition of W&ET Magazine


Question A good friend of mine found this button a few weeks ago at an old homesite in Virginia. The button is 20 mm in diameter, bears an oval portrait of a military officer within a wreath, is backmarked, "Benedict & Burnham * Waterbury Improved * Patent" and still has its shank and most of its gilt. Many thanks for any help you can give us on it.

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Answer Your friend's find is a political button issued in 1840 for Whig presidential candidate William Henry Harrison, whose earlier career included military victories before and during the War of 1812. In particular, he was hailed as the hero of the Battle of Tippecanoe on November 7, 1811. Hence his loyal boosters' cheers of, "Go it, Tip!" and "Tippecanoe and Tyler, too!" (the latter alluding to his vice-presidential running mate, John Tyler). Evidently, the buttons idea worked pretty well: over 50 varieties were produced and- along with a free-wheeling campaign that included plenty of hard cider and wild torchlight parades- helped him on to a landslide win against Democrat Martin Van Buren. Cataloged in Albert's book as PC-132-A, this is one of the rarer Harrison buttons, reportedly worth $400+, retail.


Question I dug this "M K & T RY" switch lock, which I have identified as being from the Missouri, Kansas & Texas Railroad. It is brass, has the words, "Close The Lock To Get Key Out" on the keyhole cover, and the shackle is stamped, "Dayton Mfg. Co." I took it to a local M K & T museum, and they have not seen one in this "heart" shape before. Could you tell me its approximate age and value?

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Answer The M K & T, affectionately dubbed the "Katy," used at least two types of this lock (the other version has a thinner style of lettering), and Dayton Mfg. Co. made locks of the same pattern for a number of other railroads. It dates from the late 1800s to early 1900s, and lists for $225-250.


Question Mark, I uncovered this 3" x 1-1/2" brass plate in my yard. Superimposed on the image of an old automobile is this inscription: "Licensed under Selden Patent No. 549,160 - Patented November 5, 1895." What is it?

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Answer The tale is a tangled one, and far too long to be told in full here. However, it all began back in 1877, when George Baldwin Selden, an attorney in Rochester, New York, invented something he called a "road engine"- an early-day automobile powered by an internal combustion engine. In 1879, he filed for a patent, but somehow the application remained wrapped in red tape until 1895. After that, through an uncertain concatenation of circumstances, the patent was acquired by the Electric Vehicle Co. of Hartford, Connecticut. Their name notwithstanding, in 1900 they not only began building gasoline-powered vehicles under Selden's patent, but demanded that other automakers take out licenses under the patent, too... and tag every car with a little plate like this one to prove it. Some complied, but others balked- notably Henry Ford- so, off to court they went. The case dragged on until 1911, when the patent (which would have expired in 1912 anyway) was declared unenforceable. Today, automobilia collectors typically pay $60-80 for a "Selden Patent" plate.


Question Searching the grounds of a late 17th century manor house in Saint Mary's County, Maryland, I found this unusual buckle. The metal is gilt copper or brass, with a turquoise enamel insert. There are no markings, and the enamel is chipped at the top, center. I don't believe it's extremely old or of the finest quality, but it's certainly different; and my interest is especially piqued as to the identity &/or significance of the winged, serpent-tailed, galloping horse depicted on it. Any insights on this item?

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Answer It's a lady's dress buckle of a style in vogue around the turn of the century (19th/20th). With regard to the curious critter, well, "A horse is a horse, of course, of course...," and nearly everybody knows about the myth-begotten winged one named Pegasus. Not so many, maybe, are aware of that aquatic equine, the hippocampus (half horse, half sea-serpent). But a flying hippocampus? 'Tis a pterocamp, my friends, and few there be, believe me! I suppose I ought to add that most pterocamps' wings have scales rather than feathers, but let's not quibble about subspecies. Assuming yours is a vintage buckle rather than a recent reproduction, even with minor imperfections it might bring $75-100, according to an expert on antique jewelry; and if unchipped, $125-150+.


Question One of my recoveries from a vacant lot in Evansville, Indiana was this "Special Counter Spy Junior Agent #155746" badge with a magnifying glass in the middle of it. I thought I'd send it in, because it's not the sort of thing you find all the time, and I'm sure the youngster who wore it had a lot of fun interrogating his pals. Please clue me in on its history.

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Answer Pepsi-Cola offered this toy badge back in 1949, as the sponsor of Counterspy, a popular radio program featuring the derring-do of secret agent David Harding. Despite the series' long and successful run, 1942-57, freebies were few and far between. In fact, as far as I know, this badge is the only Counterspy non-paper premium. By the way, the plastic lens in the center is actually the protective cover for- Golly, kids!- a glow-in-the dark picture of the courageous and cunning man of action. If complete and in fine or better condition, the badge would go for $50-75; as is, likely less than half that.


Question Not long ago, detecting here in Greenwood, Nova Scotia, I turned up this little 1/2" brass disc. One side shows a building with "U. S. Mint" above and "Phila. 1832" below. The other side has the complete text of the Lord's Prayer inscribed. Thanks for any info you can provide.

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Answer This is one of many such medalets created by George B. Soley, a Philadelphia diesinker who in 1876 circulated an advertising card proudly proclaiming his achievement of "The Lord's Prayer in Smallest Space Ever Struck on Metal." The date 1832 commemorates the completion of the second U.S. Mint building at Philadelphia; the medalet itself is around 115-125 years old, and is among the more common Soley "Lord's Prayer" varieties. The suspension hole is as made and does not affect the value, which is about $10.


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