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Homepage Archives Open in new window Index (11/2005) AMP (10/2005) AMP (12/2005)   Vol. 39 November 2005 
Ask Mark Parker!
As seen in the November 2005 edition of W&ET Magazine


Question I located this lock at an old railroad camp in the Mojave Desert. As you can see, it is now "frozen in time," due to rust and corrosion. The back is marked, "Don't Use Oil but Plenty of Graphite" and "General." I would like to know its approximate age and value.

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Answer One of several Santa Fe "Keen Kutter" style locks, it probably dates from around 1910-20. The unusual shape of the lock is derived from the "Keen Kutter" logo; the name "Keen Kutter," which also appears on some Santa Fe locks, was a brand of E. C. Simmons, a major tool and hardware company of that era. The Santa Fe Railway was chartered in 1863 as the Atchison, Topeka, & Santa Fe Railroad. Reorganized in 1895 as the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway Company, it eventually became one of the longest railroads in the world, with over 13,000 miles of track. In 1995, as part of the Santa Fe Pacific Corporation, it merged with the Burlington Northern Railroad to become the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway. If truly frozen by corrosion, your lock isn't exactly an easy sale; however, if the shackle can be freed up, it might fetch $150-200. One in mint condition would bring $350-400.


Question Mark, I dug this silver "1896 - Rex" pin in the middle of a street that had been torn up in Ft. Worth, Texas. It is 1-1/2" x 1-3/4", and the back is stamped "SCOOLER N.O." Can you tell me more about it?

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Answer Not much... but hey, that hasn't stopped me yet! My best guess is that this may be a Mardi Gras related badge, and that 1896 is not commemorative but the actual year of issue. "Rex - King of the Carnival" and his krewe made their debut in 1872, and their Mardi Gras morning parade has remained a revered tradition in the Big Easy ever since. Interestingly, the lower portion of the badge appears to be an orb with stars, circles or rings, and clouds, and the Rex Court of 1896 featured an astronomical "Heavenly Bodies" theme. "Scooler N.O." is Maurice Scooler, a New Orleans silversmith of the mid to late 19th century. Even though I've never seen another badge like this one- and neither have any of the experts I've asked about it- the crown and other design elements, the name Rex, and the Scooler mark all seem to favor such an identification. Obviously, further research is needed, but if it is indeed a rare early Mardi Gras badge, it could easily be worth several hundred dollars.


Question This quarter-size brass token was recovered at a c. 1870-80 military camp in Nevada. On the front is a Federal eagle surrounded by the words "U.S. Subsistence Department"; on the back, "One Ration." I would like to know the time frame for this piece, its purpose, and its value.

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Answer During the 1870s, such tokens were reportedly used by Cavalry troops at Fort Larned (a.k.a. Camp Alert) in Kansas, and recoveries indicate that they were issued &/or accepted at Indian Wars era posts farther West as well. Some of the tokens were holed or countermarked, perhaps to designate them for use by certain units. These differences do not affect the value, which is generally around $200-300.

Here's another example:

The Subsistence Department (later consolidated with the Pay and Quartermaster's Departments to form the Quartermaster Corps) provided food and other essential supplies. After the Civil War, and prior to the establishment of the Post Exchange (PX) system, it also offered officers and enlisted men various merchandise for private purchase at cost. A "ration" or daily allowance of food, as defined by the Army, supposedly consisted of large quantities of fresh and cured meats, bread, grains and vegetables, tea and coffee, salt and spices, and even candy, along with other personal items such as soap. At frontier posts, however, fare was often spare: bacon or salt pork, beans, hardtack, and coffee. Occasionally, it might be varied with whatever wild game or other food could be scrounged from the surrounding countryside, but otherwise it was "subsistence," period.


Question I would like information about this Marine ring that I found while detecting in Virginia. It has "Kinney" and "Sterling" inside the band.

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Answer Since it depicts the raising of the U.S. flag on Iwo Jima, the earliest possible date for it would be 1945. However, I suspect that it's from the late '40s or '50s. "Kinney" is the Kinney Company of Providence, Rhode Island, long a major manufacturer of high school, college, and military jewelry. They also produced some insignia, notably aviation wings during the period between WWI and WWII. The ring is a commercial item, however, not an official U.S. Marine Corps issue. With its handsome, high-relief styling and Kinney quality, it could carry a $100 price tag.


Question I recently obtained what I believe may be some sort of mourning medal because of its black ribbon. There are no marks on the reverse. I would appreciate your input as to its origin and value.

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Answer This is a membership badge or "breast jewel" of the Ancient and Illustrious Order Knights of Malta, a fraternal organization which was introduced to the U.S. in 1870. It should not be confused with the Masonic group known as the Order of Knights of Malta, or with a number of other fraternal and military-related orders having similar names. Likely from the late 1800s, the badge is composed of a gold-bordered Maltese cross, with a red disk bearing a smaller Maltese cross. Between the arms of the smaller cross are four gold eagles. At the center of the disk is a Latin cross encircled by the motto In Hoc Signo Vinces ("In this sign shalt thou conquer"). The black suspension ribbon is usual and does not signify funerary usage. I couldn't find a recent listing for this badge, but based on prices paid for similar ones from other orders, it's probably in the $25-35+ range.


Question I'd like to know if this is considered a watch fob, and how much it might be worth.

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Answer What you've got is a watch fob, all right- and a fairly collectable political one at that. It's from the 1908 campaign of Democrat presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan of Nebraska, and his vice-presidential running mate, John W. Kern of Indiana. It was the third time, but not the charm, for Bryan, who also headed the party's ticket in 1896 and 1900. Defeated in both previous runs for the White House, he lost once again, this time to Republican William Howard Taft. Value of the fob? $30-40 in nice condition... maybe $20-25 as found.


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