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Homepage Archives Open in new window Index (01/2005) AMP (12/2004) AMP (02/2005)   Vol. 39 January 2005 
Ask Mark Parker!
As seen in the January 2005 edition of W&ET Magazine


Question Recently, while relic hunting in New Jersey, a friend found this strange stamped-brass eagle with snakes on its wings. The shield on the eagle's breast has horizontal lines at the top and vertical lines below, but no stars. However, there are seven stars on the banner at the bottom. So far, we have not been able to identify it. Can you?

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Answer Looking like something that flapped out of the bestiaries of old, this curious critter was designed as a c. 1820s-30s Naval officer's dirk belt plate. Missing are the plain wire belt loops which were attached to the snakes. Of course, the Federal eagle with shield was a standard U.S. device, and the S-link "snake buckle" was a popular feature on military accoutrements of the day, especially those supplied by European manufacturers- hence this hybrid's pythonic pinions. Although the plate lacks certain branch of service indicators (e.g., no anchor), the Navy attribution is favored by most authorities, and in fact examples have been excavated at or near early U.S. bases. Value? Perhaps $400-500 as found; and with original loops intact, double the money.


Question I found this coin with my metal detector and would like to know more about it. It is a little smaller than a half dollar and made of copper. On one side is a turtle carrying a strongbox labeled "Sub Treasury" on its back, with the words "Executive Experiment, Fiscal Agent" and the date 1837. On the other side is a running horse or mule and, "I Follow in the Steps of My Illustrious Predecessor."

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Answer When President Andrew Jackson issued the Specie Circular, which required silver or gold, rather than often worthless bank notes, to be used in the sale of public land, cries of outrage and sighs of dismay ran through the financial world. Shortly thereafter, Jackson was succeeded by Martin Van Buren, who continued these "hard money" policies and declared in his inaugural address, "I follow in the steps of my illustrious predecessor." The result was a run on the banks, rampant hoarding, a sudden scarcity of cash, and an unpleasant little phenomenon known as the Panic of 1837. To cope with the shortage of coinage, many merchants and entrepreneurs began issuing what came to known as "Hard Times" tokens, most of which were the same size and traded at the same value as the large cents formerly in circulation. Some tokens carried advertising; others, like yours, were political or satirical in nature. It is said that the burdened tortoise symbolizes the slowly struggling economy, and that the long-eared, braying galloper on the reverse represents Van Buren. Several varieties exist, and this one is in the $10-20 range in Fine to Very Fine condition.


Question Mark, what can you tell me about this old leather bag from a farm in St. Charles, Michigan? When I brought it home, it was in bad shape but cleaned up pretty well. It's made sort of like a saddlebag, measures about 12" square, and has pebble-grained leather embossed with an oval "US," a white canvas lining, and a 48" shoulder strap.

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Answer It's a late 19th or early 20th century U.S. military dispatch bag or case, used for carrying reports, messages, and other documents and valuables. What's more, it's not only made like a saddlebag, it's made from one. Evidently, the conversion was a common one: a major Midwest militaria dealer tells me that over the years he's seen many more of these recycled saddlebags than originals. Pricing it proved a bit trickier than expected. I found fairly comparable examples listed anywhere from $75 to over $150, so it might be worth your while to shop it around. And in the meantime? Carry on!


Question We would appreciate any information about this key, which was found on a beach in Alaska. The tag reads, "S. S. Yukon Room 112 Alaska Steamship Co. The Alaska Line Pier 2 Seattle, Wash. If Carried Away, Drop in Any Mail Box."

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Answer For the answer to your question, we're indebted to Ered Matthew of Cabin Class Collectibles- - a firm specializing in ocean liner and transportation memorabilia:

"It is likely that this cabin key dates from the 1930s or early 1940s. The SS Yukon sailed for the famous Alaska Steamship Co., carrying passengers up and down the West Coast of the U.S. and Canada, until she foundered on the rocks off Cape Fairfield on February 4, 1946. She had over 500 passengers on board, but loss of life was limited to just 11 persons. There were earlier vessels bearing the same name, but the design of the key and fob helps narrow the date. Alaska Steamship Co. items appeal to steamship aficionados, as well as to collectors of Alaska memorabilia, as the company played such a significant role in the state's history. Approximate value would be $30-40, although these occasionally turn up at flea market for a fraction of that amount."


Question Please identify this brass coin or token. The obverse depicts a dove with an olive branch flying over a split log, axe, and hammer, with the inscription "Dum Tacet Clamat." The reverse is denominated "One Penny," with a radiant sun face above and balance scales below.

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Answer This is one of many membership tokens issued by the Woodmen of the World, a fraternal insurance-benefit society founded by Joseph Cullen Root in Omaha, Nebraska on June 6, 1890, and still in existence today. Their motto, Dum Tacet Clamat, is Latin for, "Though silent, he speaks." Like the so-called pennies of other fraternal orders, these were not intended for use in trade, but simply as pocket pieces. Some bear the phrase Coin Test, referring to the Woodmen's practice of showing them to one another as proof of membership. Yours is one of the earlier varieties and worth $5 or more, depending on condition.


Question After receiving permission to search a fort site which was active between 1805 and 1835, I uncovered this unusual item. It is a little over 1" in size, made of lead, has numerous small triangular marks as well as a dotted border, and looks a bit like a kerchief slide. What is it?

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Answer 'Way back when flintlocks were high-tech, shooters used to sandwich a gunflint in a small piece of sheet-lead or leather before clamping it into the vise-like jaws of the cock or hammer. The softer material conformed to both the metal and flint surfaces, providing a secure grip. Often, a flattened musketball or bit of lead scrap was used, but by the early 1800s ready made gunflint wraps or jaw-pads were available, and that's what you've found. Here's a replica of an unfolded one found in the patchbox of an 1817 Common Rifle:

(Photo courtesy of Dixie Gun Works - )

The metal was wrapped around the flint, with the open center at the back, allowing the flint to touch the post of the cock jaw and leaving the beveled striking edge exposed, and the tabs were then folded over to help hold it in place. While it doesn't have a great deal of monetary value- maybe $5-10 - it's still a neat little relic, especially in the context in which you found it.


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