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Homepage Archives Open in new window Index (11/2002) AMP (10/2002) AMP (12/2002)   Vol. 36 November 2002 
Ask Mark Parker!
As seen in the November 2002 edition of W&ET Magazine


Question I dug this stamped brass button in southwestern Pennsylvania. The design is a snake surrounding 13 six-pointed stars. I have seen it in button books but would be interested in anything you can find out about its age, value, etc.

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Answer One of a number of late 18th century patriotic buttons featuring rattlesnakes, it's listed in Albert's book as #PC 4. In addition to those varieties with 13 stars, there are some depicting the snake protecting 13 eggs instead. A few add other patriotic symbols such as a Liberty cap, and there are even examples which include the French fleur-de-lis. Little seems to be known about their exact origin, however. Frankly, I'm one of those who tend to value such finds in terms of historical interest and appeal, rather than marketability, but you can put a $600 price tag on this one without apology.


Question Mark, I found this Hillsborough Military Academy button while relic hunting in South Carolina. It still has a lot of gilt on the front, and the shank's intact on the back. Could you give me some background information on it, and maybe a price?

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Answer The cuff size cataloged as Albert #SU 150-A, it's the most common of the academy's buttons but still highly collectable, and in this condition would likely retail for $450-525. Hillsborough Military Academy was established in Orange County, North Carolina on January 12, 1859. Although inevitably disrupted during the war- in one instance, 45 of its cadets left to help defend Charleston, South Carolina- the school remained in existence until 1868. Its founder, Col. Charles Courtenay Tew, a gifted scholar and educator who graduated first in his class at The Citadel in 1846, served as an officer of the Confederacy in the North Carolina 2nd Infantry and was killed at Sharpsburg, Maryland on September 17, 1862.


Question The father of a co-worker of mine found this unusual ring at a dump site. On the sides are the letters "ROA," in the spaces between crossed keys with a star in the center. The face of the ring has rows of tiny numbers separated by dots, apparently some sort of code. Please identify it if possible.

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Answer It's a Radio Orphan Annie Silver Star Member "Secret Message" Ring, offered in 1937 as a premium of Ovaltine drink mix, sponsor of the Radio Orphan Annie program based on the comic-strip character Little Orphan Annie. To achieve Silver Star status, kids were supposed to tell at least three friends about the benefits of drinking Ovaltine, get each friend to give them an inner seal from an Ovaltine container, and then mail in the seals. Members received an official folder of "Special Secrets," and each year there was a different Silver Star ring. The secret message on the ring, which could also be deciphered with the 1937 Radio Orphan Annie "Sunburst" Decoder Badge, reads, "I am a Silver Star Member of Orphan Annie's Secret Society and belong to the inner circle of her special friends." In Fine condition, the silver-plated ring is worth- "Leapin' lizards, Daddy Warbucks!"- $200-250+.


Question Here's a "Michigan College of Mines, Houghton, Mich." badge that I recently recovered. It's in pretty good shape but has a few spots of corrosion, and the pin is missing. Any idea how old it might be?

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Answer The earliest date would be 1897, when the Michigan School of Mines (established in 1885) changed its name from "School" to "College." Thirty years later, it was again rechristened, becoming the Michigan College of Mining and Technology (now Michigan Technological University, better known simply as Michigan Tech). So, splitting the difference, an estimate of c. 1910-20 won't miss it by much. Dug and damaged but still very displayable, the badge might bring $20 or more from a collector of the college's memorabilia.


Question I'm hoping you can identify this item for me and verify its authenticity. I showed it to a WWII veteran, who was quite surprised to see it and hinted that it is extremely rare. Any help will be greatly appreciated.

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Answer Your brass plaque is a souvenir from Bastogne, Belgium and supposedly made from a German artillery shell casing. At the top is the emblem of the U.S. 101st Airborne Division. Below, a German soldier receives the famous reply of Brig. Gen. Anthony McAuliffe, acting commander of the 101st during the Battle of the Bulge. Defending Bastogne on December 22, 1944, he was handed a demand for surrender by the Germans... and promptly replied, "NUTS!" When the smoke settled, Bastogne remained safely held by the Allies. The plaque's church scene is based on an actual occurrence as well. Landing during the early a.m. on D-Day, paratrooper John Steel of the 505th PIR, 82nd Airborne, became entangled on the steeple of the church at St. Mére-Eglise in Normandy. Miraculously, he survived by playing dead and was rescued by the townspeople some hours later. According to militaria specialist John Conway of Manion's Auctions, "These plaques, produced in Belgium after the fact, were probably sold for a few years after the war. I've heard that they were 'issued' to Airborne survivors, but I doubt it. I've seen two or three varieties- some round, others octagonal, but all with the same basic design. The going rate for them is $50, but you'll sometimes see higher prices".


Question Any chance you could identify this coin or token that I located at an old log farmhouse in Berks County, Pennsylvania? It's 20mm in diameter and thinner than a Memorial cent. Most of the lettering is illegible, but on one side the fraction 1/4 appears above a word ("STU..."?) with the date 1740 underneath.

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Answer It's a copper 1/4 stuber from the Archbishopric of Cologne, Germany. On the obverse is the crowned CAC cypher (monogram) of Clemens August von Bayern, who ruled from 1723 to 1761. If it were in better condition- say, Very Good- it would be worth $3. As is, it doesn't have much numismatic value, but so what? Anytime you come home from a hunt with a 262-year-old coin in your pocket, I'd say you've had a pretty good day!


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