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Homepage Archives Open in new window Index (02/2005) AMP (01/2005) AMP (03/2005)   Vol. 39 February 2005 
Ask Mark Parker!
As seen in the February 2005 edition of W&ET Magazine


Question I found this 1-1/4" x 1-15/16" silver badge at a c. 1900 home which formerly served as a hotel along the railroad inland from Charleston, South Carolina. An elderly man from India told me that it looks southern Indian or Sri Lankan, but would say little else about it. Can you solve the mystery?

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Answer It's a c. 1930s-70s Siamese/Thai nielloware pin or brooch. The niello process involves carving out areas of silver, filling them in with a mixture of sulfur and powdered metal, and then baking them to produce a black-enamel effect. A lot of this jewelry was sent or brought home from Viet Nam and Thailand by U.S. servicemen. Nielloware motifs are typically taken from Asian religion and mythology. Your find depicts Mekkala, the goddess of lightning, from The Ramakien, the Thai version of The Ramayama, an epic work written by the Indian poet Valmika. Based on moral lessons drawn from Buddhist and Hindu traditions, and dealing with the Dharma or "Wheel of Life," it is a legend known throughout Southeast Asia. Nielloware brooches of this size can fetch $35-50 in nice, wearable condition. As is, yours wouldn't warrant the expense of restoration, but it's still an intriguing and attractive find.


Question Mark, can you tell me anything about this medal? It's 2" in diameter and has a portrait of "Christopher Columbus, Born 1456 * Died 1506." The other side has an eagle at the top, a scene of some buildings with two women in the foreground, and the words, "Souvenir World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, U.S.A., 1892-1893. Near the bottom in smaller letters is, "1492-1892 IV Centennial."

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Answer Back in 1892, at the Esposizione Italo-Americana (Italian-American Exposition) at Genoa, Italy, a large Cristoforo Columbo medal of nearly identical design was issued by Mayer & Wilhelm of Stuttgart, Germany. Measuring 90mm, it was struck in bronze and also in aluminum, which was considered the new "wonder metal" at that time. Later, they modified it to create a smaller, 50mm medal with English inscriptions for the World's Columbian Exposition (Chicago World's Fair) held in 1892-93. On the reverse, the arms of the City of Genoa were replaced by an American eagle, and the two women point at a sunrise over the exposition grounds, instead of at Columbus's three ships as on the original medal. This version, too, was struck in both bronze and aluminum, as well as in a white-metal alloy. If problem-free, it would likely be worth $25-35+; the hole, of course, detracts from the value.


Question What can you tell me about this 2-1/4" x 2-1/2" buckle that I dug at an old railroad depot? The three links make me think that it may be related to the Independent Order of Odd Fellows.

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Answer Oddly enough, it is! It's a regalia plate worn by a member of the Patriarchs Militant, the uniformed branch of the IOOF, and probably dates from the turn of the last century (19th/20th). Established in 1885 under the leadership of Gen. John Underwood, they were organized along military lines and often marched in parades. Members are known as chevaliers, and local units are called cantons. The crown of the emblem signifies that the Patriarchs Militant degree is the highest conferred in Odd Fellowship, and the crossed shepherd's crook and sword represent one of their two mottoes, Pax aut Bellum-"Peace or War." (The other motto is Justitia Universalis, or "Universal Justice.") The three links, as you noted, are a familiar IOOF symbol, standing for friendship, love, and truth. Today, the Patriarchs Militant remain a vital part of the fraternal order. While I couldn't find a published price for this particular plate, most others are well under $50, and many less than $20.


Question This Theodore Roosevelt watch fob was found, appropriately enough, by my husband, Theodore, while we were searching around the ruins of a homestead in western New Mexico. It's made of brass or bronze, about 1-1/4" x 1-3/4", and presumably dates from the early 1900s. Any additional information would be appreciated.

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Answer For some reason, this particular Roosevelt fob doesn't seem to be well documented. It could be from either the 1904 presidential campaign, when he headed the Republican ticket, or the one in 1912, when he ran as the third-party Progressive (Bull Moose) candidate. My guess would be the latter. Figural fobs of exactly this sort were also issued for William Howard Taft and Woodrow Wilson in 1912; but as far as I know, there is none of the same style depicting Roosevelt's 1904 opponent, Alton B. Parker. The only earlier example that comes to mind is one for William Jennings Bryan in 1908. Most, if not all, of these were made by the Greenduck Co. of Chicago. As an uncommon variety featuring one of the nation's more popular presidents, it would retail around $50 as found; non-dug and near mint, double that.


Question Although this looks like a Spanish 8 reales dated 1805, it's not silver. Also, there is something on the neck area- maybe part of the shank for a button. Ever seen anything like it?

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Answer Yep, and your remarks are right on the money... er, button. Faux coin buttons were fairly popular in the 19th century, and since Spanish silver was the recognized standard in world trade, imitations ranging from the dime-sized real all the way up to "Spanish dollars" or pieces of eight, were a natural choice. One major manufacturer was the well-known firm of Trelon, Weldon & Weil of Paris, France. While some buttons were silvered, adding to the illusion of actual coinage, others were plain brass. It's been suggested that they were often intended to serve as ornaments rather than functional buttons, and many adorned the costumes of South American gauchos. What's it worth? $20-30 in good condition.


Question This antique gun was found in a yard in Marion, Indiana. There are no visible markings on it. Thank you for any help you can provide in identifying it.

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Answer It's a mid 19th century French (or possibly Belgian) unofficial copy of a Lefaucheux Brevette type small-caliber, spur-trigger, pinfire pocket pistol. The spring around the ejector rod is a later addition, not part of the original design. Similar pistols were used by both sides during the Civil War, and one like yours would likely have been privately purchased. They were mass produced and relatively inexpensive- in effect, the 1860s equivalent of today's "Saturday night specials." Actually, their biggest drawback was the cartridge itself, which was prone to accidental discharge when dropped or carried carelessly so that its projecting pin was struck. Since there's something decidedly undesirable about having ammo ricocheting around in one's pocket, it's not too surprising that the pinfire fell into disfavor and was replaced by the less risky rimfire and centerfire cartridges. Despite having been buried (evidently in some sort of protective wrap or container), the pistol appears to be in better than relic condition, and according to professional militaria appraiser George Weller Juno it might bring $300 from an interested collector.


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