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Homepage Archives Open in new window Index (05/2005) AMP (04/2005) AMP (06/2005)   Vol. 39 May 2005 
Ask Mark Parker!
As seen in the May 2005 edition of W&ET Magazine


Question Could you help me identify this button that I found in the Pensacola, Florida area? The front shows an eagle holding an oval shield with an anchor on it, and surrounded by 13 stars. The back says, "No. 4 Extra Fine Gilt W. Wallis." It still has some gilt on it, but the shank is gone.

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Answer It's an early 19th century U.S. Navy button and is cataloged in Albert's book as #NA 44. However, the backmark is an uncommon one. The firm of William Wallis of Birmingham, England was active from about 1797 to 1830, and supplied buttons to Adam W. Spies & Co., importers of military goods. (Originally based in Birmingham also, Spies later established offices in New York City and after the 1830s specialized in firearms rather than buttons.) Even though the missing shank detracts from the value, the button's scarce mark and attractive appearance make it a $225-250 find.


Question I dug this 1773 Spanish 1/2 real in a park in southeastern Georgia. Later, comparing it to coin book photos of similar pieces, I noticed one difference: the "M°" and "FM" are upside down and facing in the opposite direction. Any information on this would be much appreciated.

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Answer Regarded as a variety rather than an error, the inverted mintmark (M with an ° above = Mexico City) and assayers' initials (the F and M stand for Francisco de la Pena and Manuel de la Pena, respectively) were struck on 1/2 reales in 1772 and 1773. Similar inversions appear on Mexico City 1, 2, 4, and 8 reales, as well as on gold escudos from the same period. There is no premium for the coins, which bring about the same as those with normal, upright marks- in this case, $5-10 in Very Good to Fine condition.


Question Mark, I found this brass watch fob at my grandfather's house in Hagerstown, Maryland. The reverse reads, "Sharples Separator Company / West Chester, Pa. / Tubular / Cream / Separators / and / Milkers." How old is it, and how much is it worth?

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Answer I believe that it dates from around 1905-15. The Sharples tubular cream separator, a sort of centrifugal skimmer which separated butterfat from raw milk, was marketed from the 1890s to the 1930s. Later, the same technology was used by Sharples in other industrial processes such as oil separation. Sharples is now a division of Alfa Laval, a company having its own origin in the manufacture of DeLaval cream separators. In the past, I've seen this fob priced at $60-75.


Question After finding an 1856 British penny in an Omaha park, I ended up swapping it for this Birmingham penny token which depicts a large building and is dated 1814. The back has a shield in the center, with "One Pound Note Payable at the Workhouse for 240 Tokens." Was it a fair trade?

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Answer It's hard to say without seeing both coppers- or at least sharp close-ups of them. However, if both were in, say, Fine condition, the penny would be worth $25-30; the token, $12-15. Let's hope the grades, if not the odds, were in your favor. As for the token's history, the Birmingham Workhouse, built in 1773 to accommodate 600 persons but often packed with more than 1,000, was a poorhouse whose hapless captives- paupers, incompetents, orphans, widows, the aged and chronically ill- worked either on site or at nearby factories. Relief was provided, in part, in the form of vouchers or tokens of various denominations. Although an 1817 act of Parliament outlawed private coinage and tokens, those of the Birmingham Workhouse were exempted and continued to circulate until 1820.


Question While coin hunting in Portland, Oregon, I came up with what I think is some sort of fraternal fob or medal. It's gold or gold plated, measures 3/4" x 1-1/2", and has an attachment ring at the top. It has a knight's helmet with a movable visor on top of a black cross, and in the center is a monogram composed of the letters R (white), C (green), and O (red). The reverse has a circle divided into three equal sections of red, green, and white, and within each section is an arm or hand. Any ideas?

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Answer Your find was worn by a member of the Order of Railway Conductors, a fairly self-explanatory organization which was founded in 1868 as the Order of Railway Conductors and Brakemen (ORC&B), changed its name in 1878 to the Order of Railway Conductors (ORC) of America, and eventually reverted to ORC&B in 1954. This style of fob or "emblem charm" was popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and in fact a similar ORC example appears in a 1927 jewelry catalog. Described as having a "solid gold shell, [with] raised enameled emblem," it sold for $10.75- an amount equivalent to over $100 today. Evidently, it's held its value fairly well over the years: ORC and other railroad brotherhood fobs/charms of this type often list for $75-100.


Question While searching around an old farmhouse, I located this little toy tank under a tree where children must have played. Can you comment on its collectability and value?

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Answer Worth $5-10, it's a fairly common cast-lead toy of the 1920s and early '30s, and is modeled on the French Renault FT-17 light tank of WWI. Despite a dubious start- only 3 of 21 survived the first battle, in part because of their rather vulnerable wooden (!) sprocket- the FT-17 went on to become an effective little fighting machine, and over 3,000 had been been built by late 1918. After the war ended, quite a few countries continued to rely on it, and it saw service in various regional and national conflicts, including the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39. When WWII began, the FT-17 accompanied the French infantry once more. Even the Germans made use of captured FT-17's for security patrol vehicles as late as 1944. The toy version that you found is of uncertain origin. Some have been attributed as products of a smelting plant in Roanoke Rapids, Virginia; others are said to have been made in toy home-casting molds. However, it is not, as some have claimed, either a Tootsietoy or an oversize Cracker Jack prize.


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