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Homepage Archives Open in new window Index (06/2002) AMP (05/2002) AMP (10/2002)   Vol. 36 June 2002 
Ask Mark Parker!
As seen in the June 2002 edition of W&ET Magazine


Question I would like some information, including an estimate of value, on this "USA" button that I found not far from an old fort site. The metal is pewter, I believe, and the size is 19 mm. It's in great shape, and the shank is intact although slightly bent.

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Answer It's a Continental Army button from the Revolutionary War. The Continental Army was raised in 1777 as a national force, to be equipped and maintained by the Continental Congress, which also selected and commissioned its officers. This was in contrast to other American troops which were militia units raised by individual colonies and localities, and whose officers were often elected by the soldiers themselves. Although its buttons bear a bold "USA" monogram, the Continental Army was not the same as the United States Army, which officially dates from 1789 and the adoption of the Constitution. Based on recent listings, $300+ retail is not unreasonable for a button as nice as this one.


Question Can you identify this"Excelsior" eagle belt buckle that I dug at an old cellar hole?

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Answer Your find is a New York State Militia "panel" style waist belt plate of die-struck brass construction, and dates from around the 1840s. Since you live there, no doubt you already know that Excelsior (Latin for "Higher") is the Empire State motto. The plate appears to have an unusually nice patina, but unfortunately it also has some minor damage (bending and a few nicks or cracks); so, instead of the $500 that a problem-free one would bring, it's probably closer to $350.


Question Mark, I might have a tough one for you. It's a pig approximately 2" long and made of either brass of copper. The head is mounted on a hinge and flips open, and there is a hole in the pig's snout. Also, on the bottom there is a flat piece of metal that looks like a scrub board. Any idea what it might be?

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Answer This little piggy is a figural match safe, a late 1800s pocket container for small friction matches, or "vestas," and the ridged area on the underside is provided for striking. According to some sources, the bored-out snout is intended to hold a burning match, allowing it to be used as a handy light source when wending one's way down a darkened corridor or wherever, without risking roasted fingers. I've occasionally seen it offered for over $300, but at a more conservative $200-225 it's bound to bring home the bacon.


Question This enameled watch fob was found under a clothesline at a homesite in Norman, Oklahoma. The front depicts a chef in a white uniform, surrounded by the words,"We Can Live Without Music. We Can Live Without Books. But Civilized Man Cannot Live Without Cooks." The reverse says, "Compliments of Angelica Jacket Company. The Mail Order Store for Cooks' Linen. St. Louis, Mo." Know anything about it?

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Answer The Angelica Jacket Company was established in 1878 by Cherubino Angelica, who designed coats for railroad chefs. Some years later, in the 1890s, Angelica created the "Harvey Girl" look for waitresses in the Harvey House chain restaurants found at America's train stations. Now known as Angelica Corporation, it is the oldest service industries uniform and textile supply firm in the U.S. There are two versions of the fob, showing the chef facing either slightly to the left (as on yours) or right. Unfortunately, I can't find a published price for either. However, for what it's worth, W&ET contacted a couple of fob specialists about your find, and their estimates averaged $60-80.


Question This "UVU 1861-1865" pin has red, yellow, and blue sections between the points of a raised star, with white lettering. What do the initials stand for, and how old is the pin?

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Answer The Union Veterans' Union (UVU) was established in 1886. It was somewhat critical of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR)- another, both larger and older organization for Union veterans of the Civil War- contending that many GAR members had only brief military service and no actual combat experience. In contrast, the UVU limited its ranks to men who had seen at least six months' active duty, including time at the front, declaring, "Into our ranks no man can come who has not heard the zip, zip of the Minies or dodged the screaming shell. He must be baptized by fire before he can pass our sacred precincts." Because of this restrictive policy, as well as the GAR's healthy head start, the UVU remained a distant second to its rival. For that reason, too, its pins, badges, etc. are less common; but there is also less collector interest in them, and this late 19th century lapel pin is reportedly under $50.


Question Although this medal was found at a Boy Scout camp, I assume it to be of military rather than scouting importance. Are you able to provide any information regarding its significance?

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Answer Well, as my old scoutmaster patiently taught me to intone, "On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty..." Your medal is the Distinguished Flying Cross, authorized by Congress in 1926 as an award for any individual in any branch of the U.S. armed forces who, after April 6, 1917, "distinguishes himself or herself by heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight." When presented, the medal comes suspended on a distinctively striped red, white, and blue ribbon. An unnumbered Distinguished Flying Cross, complete and nondug, typically sells for $20-30; the medal alone, with some wear &/or discoloration, as in this instance, maybe $10.


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