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Homepage Archives Open in new window Index (03/2005) AMP (02/2005) AMP (04/2005)   Vol. 39 March 2005 
Ask Mark Parker!
As seen in the March 2005 edition of W&ET Magazine


Question A friend suggested that I write to you about a small, gold-colored coin that I found, as shown in these enlarged Xeroxes. One side reads, "A. BECHTLER 1 DOL: *"; the other, "CAROLINA GOLD. 27. G. 21. C." Actual size is a little smaller than a dime, approximately 5/8". Can you tell me something about it, and what it might be worth?

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Answer "Nothing could be finer than some gold from Carolina in the..." Hm? Oh, all right - down to business. It's a c. 1842-50 Bechtler gold dollar and, if genuine, would likely be in the $1,250-1,750+ range in VF-XF condition, based on recent auction prices. In 1830, Alt Christopher Bechtler, a German metallurgist and jeweler, set up shop in Rutherfordton, North Carolina. At that time, the surrounding region was one the nation's major goldfields; however, very little bullion ever made it to the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia, a distance of about 500 miles, much of it wilderness trails. Bechtler seized the opportunity to begin a private mint, coining America's first $1 gold pieces as well as $2.50 and $5 denominations. Even the U.S. Mint assayers acknowledged these were of full and reliable value, and as a result Bechtler gold became the Southern standard for decades afterward. When Bechtler died in 1842, his son August and a nephew, Christopher, Jr., continued issuing coins, especially gold dollars like yours, in enormous quantities. Assays showed these to be less consistent in content and generally lower in value than the earlier Bechtler varieties. Counterfeits struck in brass also began to appear. Since it's impossible to authenticate or properly grade your coin from photocopy images, I would encourage you to have it checked by one of the professional numismatic services such as ANACS or PCGS.


Question I uncovered this badge from "The Millstone Vigilance Company, New Jersey, Incorporated 1880" while detecting at a residence in Middlesex, New Jersey. It is copper or bronze, 1-3/4" x 2-1/8", and numbered "5" at the bottom. The Millstone Historical Society has confirmed the existence of this organization, said to have been a group of 30-35 men and women who, for a fee of $2 per year, would protect clients' farms from theft of livestock, property damage, trespassers, etc. Other vigilante companies are known to have existed in this part of the state, but apparently no one has seen another badge like this one. I would appreciate any information about it, including its value, although as a retired police officer I will probably donate it either to the historical society, or to the New Jersey State Police Museum.

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Answer As you've obviously done a fine job of researching its history already, there's little I can add in that regard. However, W&ET did ask a specialist in early New Jersey badges, Chip Greiner, about it, and he shares your excitement about this remarkable recovery: "This is indeed a rare find, as "Horse Thief Detective' or "Vigilance' badges are very scarce for New Jersey. Most are found in Ohio or Pennsylvania. The fact that it is from a rural area of the state and dates from the 1880s makes it quite an attractive piece. Even without the attachments on the back (should they be missing), it would be worth several hundred dollars. I have been collecting New Jersey and railroad police badges for 32 years, and this is the first one I've seen. It's certainly a wonderful find!" - Chip Greiner, P.O. Box 125, Bogota, NJ 07603. E-mail:


Question Mark, can you identify this 1" silver coin for me? I'd like to know where it's from, how old it is, etc.

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Answer The design is that of a tetradrachm of ancient Athens, Greece. The obverse depicts the goddess Athena, and the reverse an owl - in fact, the coins were popularly known as "owls" - also symbolic of the goddess. The Greek letters AQE - alpha, theta, epsilon - represent the first three letters of the city's name. Among the most highly esteemed and widely traded coins of antiquity, they were minted in huge quantities, particularly during the period 449-413 B.C., when all the wealth of Athens was needed to fund costly projects such as the construction of the Parthenon, as well the Peloponnesian War. Although they're far from rare, their value remains high simply because they're so popular, both among serious collectors and those who prize them as curios or for use in jewelry, Not surprisingly, countless millions of counterfeits and replicas have flooded the market for centuries. Authentic ones can fetch anywhere from a few hundred dollars in the lower grades, to several thousand for choice specimens.


Question This is one of six thin brass, tongue & wreath buckles that I found at an old gold rush campsite on our family's ranch. Any info would be great. Thanks!

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Answer What you've got is a mid 19th century Militia waist belt plate designed to be worn on a thin leather or cloth belt with a dress uniform. Although some undoubtedly saw field service, their lightweight construction was never intended for such rugged, long-term usage, and more often than not dug examples attest to that fact, being incomplete &/or damaged. Fortunately, yours seems to have survived in fine condition. Price tag? $400.


Question I found this Chinese (?) coin while I was stationed at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. The metal has a reddish hue, and I believe it is bronze. The coin is 1-5/16" long, 1-1/8" at its greatest width, and 7/8" at its narrowest. What is it?

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Answer The answer you're after comes from Luke Roberts, associate professor of Japanese history at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and a specialist in Japanese numismatics. He identifies your find as a fantasy created in the 1920s by Odabe Ichirou, a Japanese metalsmith. It purports to be a 50 mon coin issued for the payment of workers who built a gun emplacement in Shinagawa in 1853, to defend Edo (Tokyo) against Commodore Perry's return. Odabe reportedly produced many fantasies for sale at Japanese festivals.

Although Dr. Roberts didn't offer an opinion of the coin's value, another well-known numismatist, John K. Kallman of told W&ET, "If the coin were new rather than worn, it would probably sell in the $10-25 range; as is, around $5."


Question This unusual medallion was discovered at a site in Osceola County, Florida. On the front is a picture of a mother holding her baby. There are angels on either side of them, and below are three men in a rowboat. The back is blank. The metal is nonmagnetic and has some sort of plating which has begun to flake off in places. So far, my efforts to research it have been unsuccessful, and I would be grateful for any help that you can provide.

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Answer It's a medal of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, and was very likely lost by a member of the Cuban community there in Florida. Its story begins in the early 1600s, when two Indian brothers, Juan and Rodrigo de Hoyos, accompanied by a 10-year-old African slave named Juan Moreno, were rowing across the Bay of Nipe off the northeastern coast of Cuba. According to tradition, they were on their way to collect sea-salt to take back to El Cobre, a Spanish colonial copper mining town, when they spied something floating in the distance. As they drew near the bright object, they saw that it was a small statue of the Virgin Mary holding the infant Jesus, and that it was attached to a plank bearing the words Yo soy la Virgen de la Caridad - "I am the Virgin of Charity." When they returned to shore with the statue, it became an object of veneration among the island's Roman Catholics, and has remained so ever since. In 1916, Pope Benedict XV declared Our Lady of Charity to be the patron saint of Cuba. Cubans revere her as Cachita, and celebrate September 8 as her special day. She is also venerated in the Santeria religion, whose followers worship her as the Yoruba goddess Ochun. I have no information concerning the monetary value of this item.


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