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Homepage Archives Open in new window Index (09/2005) AMP (08/2005) AMP (10/2005)   Vol. 39 September 2005 
Ask Mark Parker!
As seen in the September 2005 edition of W&ET Magazine


Question I recovered this belt buckle on farmland in York, Maine, where a barn had been removed. The center of the buckle displays an eagle & shield, and part of the original belt is intact. I would be interested in any information about this item.

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Answer Your find is a c. 1850s Militia waist belt plate, similar to many which also saw service during the Civil War. Of cast brass construction and lacking the sharpness of detail of die-struck plates, this particular variety, with a tailless eagle, was evidently patterned on an 1840s Militia officer's plate. Although not scarce, it's a splendid excavated specimen, and the fact that it's still "on the leather" gives it extra interest and appeal. Price tag? $500-600.


Question Mark, this Spanish coin was found in New York State. It's the size of a silver dollar, dated 1821, and looks and sounds like silver. What can you tell me about it, and how much is it worth?

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Answer What you've got is an 8 reales of Ferdinand VII, struck at the mint in Zacatecas, Mexico. During the Mexican War for Independence, the silver-mining city of Zacatecas remained loyal to Spain and continued to strike coins for the crown until 1822. The coin's inscriptions translate as "Ferdinand VII, by the grace of God King of Spain and the Indies." The Z mintmark is for Zacatecas, of course; 8R, eight reales; and RG, the initials of the mint assayer. There are two 1821 RG 8 reales varieties; the other, more valuable one has a lower rear arc at the base of the crown. A coin like yours grading About Uncirculated recently brought $170 at auction, and one in choice Uncirculated condition sold for $400.


Question I believe this to be a c. 1860s eagle plate and have been told that it was affixed to an infantryman's shako. It measures approximately 4" and retains its bright finish, quite a bit of red and blue paint on the shield, and blue around the horn in the center. Two attachment pins are soldered onto the back. Any details of its history and value would be appreciated.

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Answer It's usually attributed as a Civil War musician's shako plate, although I did find a couple listed by dealers as infantry plates. There are also reports of its usage by militia units of the period. In fact, it was made to be worn on a c. 1859 French shako which, through some thrill of Yankee ingenuity, the Union quartermaster general ordered in huge quantities, along with some 10,000 French Chasseurs à pied uniforms that proved ill suited for American wear. The extent of actual field usage of these plates is unclear. Also in doubt is when and why they were painted; shakos with plain brass plates of the same design, backed by a pleated red, white & blue rosette, are also found. What is indisputable is that the great majority ended up as military surplus, offered for decades afterward by the legendary firm of Francis Bannerman & Sons. Even today they remain available for $150-200.


Question I would like to know if you can identify this object. It is about 5" from point to point, copper in color after being buried for years, and says, "CHICAGO WORLD'S FAIR 1933."

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Answer It appears to be a souvenir auto license plate badge or bumper badge from the Century of Progress Exposition (world's fair), which was held in Chicago in 1933-34. At any rate, I've seen a number of very similar auto badges from the same expo. W&ET forwarded photos of it to Jim & Nancy Schaut, the authors of American Automobilia; and Rich Hartzog- - a specialist in world's fair collectibles. All three agree with this identification, and the consensus as to value is that your find would retail for $75-100. If it were non-dug and near-mint, it might go twice as high.


Question While searching the dirt-floored basement of an old home near Mount Vernon, Washington, I unearthed a small leather coin purse containing this medal. It is 1-3/8" in diameter, made of brass or bronze, and looks as if there may have been a ribbon attached at one time. My limited research indicates that it was issued after the Battle of Königgrätz, a conflict between Austrian and Prussian forces in what later became Czechoslovakia. I would welcome any further information about this piece.

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Answer The Königgrätz Cross was one of four 1866 campaign crosses awarded to Prussian combatants in the Austro-Prussian War, and according to some sources it was struck from the metal of captured cannons. Königgrätz, a city in Bohemia, is today Hradec Kralove in the Czech Republic. The inscription on one side of the medal translates simply as, "Königgrätz, July 3, 1866"; those on the reverse, "God was with us," "It is an honor," and "Prussia's victorious armies." When awarded, the medal was suspended from a black, white & gold striped ribbon. The complete medal is generally in the $40-60 range. Presumably yours, as found and without a ribbon, would fetch somewhat less.


Question I dug this 1" x 1-1/3" sterling silver pin at a house site in Eureka, California, where most of the other items found dated from around 1900. I'd like to know if it might be a political pin from that era, and of course how much it's worth.

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Answer It's the distinctive insignia, or DI, of the 98th Field Artillery Battalion. Constituted on December 16, 1940, the 98th was a regular Army pack-mule artillery unit. That explains the design of the DI, which also bears a banner with their motto, "Anywhere." When stationed at Camp Carson, Colorado in 1942, the 98th had nearly 1,000 men and 800 mules; there were three firing batteries (75mm howitzers), along with a service battery and headquarters. Two years later, at Port Moresby, New Guinea on September 25, 1944, it was converted and redesignated as the Sixth Ranger Battalion. Despite the 98th's brief history, its DI seems to have remained readily obtainable in the years that followed. Since your letter doesn't mention a maker's mark on the reverse (which could affect the value), this example, with light wear and some loss of enamel, would likely go below $20.


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