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Homepage Archives Open in new window Index (02/2004) AMP (01/2004) AMP (03/2004)   Vol. 38 February 2004 
Ask Mark Parker!
As seen in the February 2004 edition of W&ET Magazine


Question I located this "Long Live the President" button while searching along an old lane. I know it's a rare Washington Inaugural- Albert # WI 18 A, Fifteen Star Pattern, 20 mm, rated R7- but as you can see, the front is corroded and pitted, although it's readable, and the shank is missing from the back. I was just wondering if you think it's worth telling anyone about it.

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Answer You just did! And yes, condition notwithstanding, it's an important discovery in terms of documentation of the Washington Inaugurals. Unfortunately, it's also a classic case of the great divide between historians, who will no doubt find it appealing; and collectors, who are sure to call it appalling. In a highly publicized auction last year, the smaller, 15 mm variety of the same button in Extremely Fine condition brought a staggering $17,000. How much might yours fetch? I asked both a buttons specialist and a professional appraiser of Americana, and their best estimates were nearly identical- $1,000-1,200. Of course, there's always an outside chance that its extreme rarity would persuade someone to ignore its problems and offer far more. You may also be wondering whether an expert conservator could enhance its eye appeal and marketability. Possibly, but attempting to "improve" any rare piece is a serious risk at best, and there's no undoing the outcome. My advice? Keep it as is, and let its next owner make that decision.


Question This star & crescent item, about 1-1/4", was found at a Civil War site. There's still some gilt on the crescent, but the star is heavily rusted, with a bit of one point missing. It may have had a pin on the back or a loop at the top, but there's no sign of any attachment now. What is it?

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Answer For a diehard relic hunter, there's an easy reply: "A Seventh Corps badge!" However, a curmudgeonly columnist in the habit of hedging his bets has to add, "Maybe." Why? The problem is, many of the symbols selected as Civil War corps badges were also widely used in civilian ornaments and jewelry: hearts and stars... diamonds, moons, and clovers (okay, purists, "lozenges," "crescents," and "trefoils")-in fact, quite a few of same shapes you can find floating in your kid's breakfast bowl of Lucky Charms. That said, let's keep a good thought and call it probably a Seventh Corps badge, probably worth several hundred dollars. And let's also agree that folks on both sides of that cautiously straddled fence are bound to disagree!


Question Mark, can you identify this coin that I recently recovered? It's very thin and resembles hammered silver coins I've seen.

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Answer You've got a gros de roi, a 15th century royal French coin issued during the reign of either Charles VII (1422-61) or Louis XI (1461-83)- the latter, I'd say, although many details are worn away. If so, the complete obverse legend, or inscription, should be +LVDOVICVS*DEI*GRACIA*FRANCORV*REX, Latin for, "Louis, by the grace of God, King of France"; the reverse, +SITxNOMENxDOMINIxBENEDICTVM, "Blessed be the name of the Lord." If it were in Fine to Very Fine condition, it would likely retail for $250-350. As found? Well under $100.


Question This winged skull insignia isn't one of my own finds but belongs to a friend. We'd appreciate any information about it.

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Answer It's the distinctive insignia (DI) of the 5th Bombardment Group, U. S. Army Air Forces, and dates from WWII or thereabout. Repeatedly redesignated, this unit traced its roots back to 1919, when it was organized as the 2nd Observation Group in Hawaii. In 1924, when it adopted this official coat of arms, it was known as the 5th Composite Group. The winged death's head symbolizes the wartime role of the air forces, and the Hawaiian motto, Kiai O Ka Lewa, refers to two mythological birds known as the Guardians of the Upper Regions. According to some sources, the words also served as a battle cry among ancient Hawaiian warriors. Various makers' marks appear on the DI's, including AMCRAFT (American Metal Crafts Co., pre-WWII), A. H. Dondero, and N. S. Meyer. Modern replicas also exist, some of them struck from the original dies. Price tag for an authentic example in nice shape? $50.

Special thanks to leading AAF militaria appraiser John Conway of Manion's International Auction House, Inc.


Question I dug this 1930 Georgia chauffeur's badge at an old homesite in Atlanta. It's made of brass and in great condition, except for the pin missing on the back. Does it have any value?

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Answer Well, it won't put a Rolls-Royce in your driveway, but it'll fill up your pickup a few times even at today's pump prices. Registered chauffeur's badges were first authorized in Georgia in 1915, at an annual fee of $2. The oldest badges go for $350 or more, while those of the late '20s and early '30s range from $150 to $250. I couldn't track down any listings for the 1930 badge, but those from 1929 and 1931 are valued at $200-250. So, even minus the pin, yours should be in the same price range.


Question This fancy little brass "whatsit" has been stuck in the corner of my junk box for a long time, and today curiosity finally got the best of me. Actual size is 1-1/8" wide, 1-5/8" tall, and 1/2" thick. I guess the best way to describe it is, it's like the cover of book, with all the pages missing. It has a few tiny scratches and dings, but otherwise it's pretty nice. What the heck is it anyway?

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Answer Sold as a souvenir of the Century of Progress Exposition (world's fair) held in Chicago in 1933-34, it's a slide-on cover for a penny matchbox. Its futuristic design, resembling Saturn coming unraveled, was the official expo logo. There's also one like it dated 1934. Other enameled brass or copper matchbox covers from the fair pictured such attractions as the English Village and Pueblo Español. This'll strike your fancy, too: it's a $30-40 find.


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