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Homepage Archives Open in new window Index (12/2001) AMP (11/2001) AMP (01/2002)   Vol. 35 December 2001 
Ask Mark Parker!
As seen in the December 2001 edition of W&ET Magazine


Question I recently found this "San Quentin Death Row Guard" brass belt buckle. As it happens, I work at a prison, and as you can imagine, the buckle has become quite a conversation piece among fellow correction officers and myself. Is it genuine? And if so, how much is it worth?

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Answer Imitating the design of a late 1800s Anson Mills pattern cartridge belt buckle, this is perhaps the wildest of several fantasy "prison guard" buckles which first appeared around 30-35 years ago. There are two San Quentin varieties; others include Alcatraz, Kansas and Wyoming state prisons, and Fort Smith, Arkansas. Although once alleged to be authentic, these have since been thoroughly debunked, most notably in J. Duncan Campbell's New Buckles of the Old West. Most collectors consider fantasy buckles a plague and nuisance; a few, however, enjoy them for what they are. I'm sure there's a dealer out there somewhere who'd be delighted to put a triple-digit price tag on it, but the estimate here is less than $50.


Question Mark, here's a gilt button that I dug in Bourbon County, Kentucky. I think it's a Lafayette button, but couldn't find much information about it. The backmark is " . L. H. & SCOVILL / EXTRA*" with the "&" reversed.

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Answer Known as the "Lafayette Medallion Button," it was introduced by Leavenworth, Hayden & Scovill of Waterbury, Connecticut as a retail item in 1824, capitalizing on Americans' enthusiasm for the beloved French general's return to the U.S. The portrait on the button was created by Charles Cushing Wright, of Durand & Wright, and according to an October 1824 New York Commercial Advertiser ad for the buttons, "The likeness was executed by [Wright] from a plaster cast taken a few weeks ago by Mr. Frazer, which is pronounced by artists to be very superior." On some examples, Wright's signature, Wt. Ft.- an abbreviation of Wright Fecit, Latin for "Wright made it"- appears in tiny lettering at the base of the bust. Value, as found? Around $150-175.


Question I found this "US" horse bit in an old barn that had collapsed. Is it from the Civil War?

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Answer In a word, and no horsin' around... yes. It's a Model 1863 U.S. Cavalry bit and appears to be in generally nice condition, apart from the fact that it's lacking the crossbar between the branches at the lower end. Lately I've seen similar ones selling for $175-200. Incidentally, for readers wondering what one of the bit's brass "US" rosettes/bosses, might bring- a question we get fairly often from new relic hunters-they're retailing right now for $40.


Question I hope you can help me find out about a medal that I found in West St. Paul, Minnesota. One side reads, "Manufactured by the Eureka Tempered Copper Co. Northeast, PA. World's Fair 1893"; the other, "The John Scott Medal. To the Most Deserving. Awarded to the Eureka Tempered Copper Co. for Their Improvements in Casting and Hardening Copper, on the Recommendation of the Franklin Institute, 1891."

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Answer It's an advertising piece issued by the company and was evidently struck for distribution at the World's Columbian Exposition (world's fair) held in Chicago, Illinois in 1892-93. The John Scott Award, presented to "the most deserving" individuals whose inventions advance the "comfort, welfare, and happiness" of mankind, was established in the early 1800s by a designated contribution of John Scott, a Edinburgh druggist, and was to be presented by a committee of the City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Among the recipients in 1891 were Luzerne Market and Almer Thomas of the Eureka Tempered Copper Co. Your find might fetch as much as $35-50, although I found another version of it (without "World's Fair 1893") priced at a rather conservative $25.


Question Please identify this medallion, one of several objects that I found buried in a little wooden container. The shield has an eagle at the top, stars & stripes in the background, and three bands across it, stamped as follows: J. W. MATTHEWS / ALBION / I.T.

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Answer It's a late 19th or early 20th century personal tag. The design is a fairly common one, made to be custom-stamped with the purchaser's name, address, or other desired data- in this case, J. W. Matthews of Albion, Indian Territory. Offhand, I'm unable to offer any information about Mr. Matthews, but I can tell you that Albion is a small community (pop. 88) in Pushmataha County, Oklahoma. As you probably know, Indian Territory items are extremely collectable, and some research on this one could prove rewarding. However, original, blank tags of this type are reportedly still obtainable, and unfortunately there's to way to prove that the lettering wasn't added last weekend. The best price I could obtain for it came from Gary Henderson, 214 Frontier, Las Cruces, NM 88011. E-mail: Gary's a very serious collector of older personal tags, and has over 1,200 (!) of them to prove it. His offer? $40.


Question This ornately designed coin bears the words "Empire Cherifien" and a five-pointed star on one side, and an eight-pointed star and "1 Franc" on the other. There is no date. Can you shed any light on this unusual find?

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Answer What you've got is a 1 franc piece issued around 1921-24 for circulation in the French Protectorate of Morocco. Empire Cherifien refers to the fact that Morocco is, and has been since 1600, governed by a sherif dynasty (the Alawite) descended from Mohammed. Now an independent kingdom in northwest Africa, Morocco was under French "protection" from 1912 until 1956. That explains the franc denomination on the coin, which is made of nickel and was struck in either Paris or Poissy, France. Although elegant and exotic in appearance, it's worth only a humble couple of bucks in Fine to Very Fine condition.


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