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Homepage Archives Open in new window Index (01/2008) AMP (10/2007) AMP (03/2008)   Vol. 42 January 2008 
Ask Mark Parker!
As seen in the January 2008 edition of W&ET Magazine


Question Searching the excavated site of an old hotel in Benicia, California, I found this 1836 Peruvian 4 reales, counterstamped, "J. L. POLHEMUS / DRUGGIST / 190 J. ST. COR. 7th / SACRAMENTO CAL." Any information regarding it would be greatly appreciated.

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Answer Nineteenth century merchants countermarked coins for a variety of reasons, but most often as a means of self-promotion- a fact reflected in the title of Gregory G. Brunk's definitive work, Merchant and Privately Countermarked Coins - Advertising on the World's Smallest Billboards. Certainly that strategy held plenty of appeal for young James Lozier Polhemus, who went West in 1849 to seek his fortune in the heart of Gold Rush country. The following year he set up shop as a druggist in Sacramento, where he remained until his death in 1866. (His wife continued to operate the business until 1874.) During that time it became Polhemus's practice to countermark virtually all the coins that he received in commerce... including at least three $20 gold pieces, one of which, recovered from the S.S. Central America, fetched over $48,000 a few years ago. These ranged from then-current U.S. issues to coins of at least ten other countries. However, as far as I can determine, yours is the first known Peruvian specimen. Rich Hartzog of World Exonumia, publisher of Brunk's book and also author of the Countermarked Coins Price Guide, reports that in one of his recent auctions two Polhemus-marked Seated Liberty coins, a quarter and half dollar, sold for $500 and $525, respectively. It seems likely that your find might fare at least as well amid favorable bidding.

Readers are invited to visit Rich's countermarked coins webpage- - where you'll find not only four pages comprising, "A complete listing of all known 13,500 merchant countermarked coins, from the new book by Brunk," but also a link to more information about both the book and price guide.


Question Incredibly, this 1980 dime has been overstruck on both sides as a 1980 cent. Can you tell me anything about it?

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Answer Double-denomination error coins are quite rare and valuable, and while "11¢" cent/dime varieties are comparatively more common, they are nevertheless extremely scarce. Not long ago, a 1999 dime struck on 1999 Lincoln cent brought $661 on eBay, and I found a few other listings in the $600-800 range. "Flipovers," on which the obverse of one coin is struck on the reverse of the other, can command a significant premium, as can double-denomination coins bearing two different dates.


Question I would appreciate your opinion of this gold or possibly gold-plated medal. It is approximately 4" tall, and the back is engraved, "Presented to Edith M. Preston, PM by Ruth Chapter No. 37 OES. Jan. 14, 1926. Chelsea, Mass." It is also marked, "Harriot Co., Boston, MA."

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Answer The letters OES stand for Order of the Eastern Star, and this is a special badge, or "jewel," which was presented to a Past Worthy Matron of that well-known fraternal and social organization. The small gavel suspended from the monogram of the recipient's initials represents her office. Details of the significance of the star, its points, and the various symbols within them should be found in any good encyclopedia or online article about the Order of the Eastern Star. With about a million members, it's reportedly the largest fraternal organization in the world to which both women and men can belong. It traces its origins in American Freemasonry back to the 1840s; however, the Grand National Chapter, Order of the Eastern Star was not founded until 1876. Only women with specific Masonic affiliation, and men who are Master Masons are eligible for membership. The badge may indeed be either solid gold or gold plate. I've seen similar vintage examples sell for several hundred dollars, and today even a new Past Worthy Matron badge can cost anywhere from $175-250 in vermeil (gold-plated silver) to $400-600+ in 10K gold.


Question Is this belt plate the real McCoy, and if so, how much is it worth?

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Answer Sadly, no- and not a lot. It's an artificially patinated, recent replica of a c. 1860 Alabama "Map on Tree" or state seal belt plate. If genuine, it would be of thin, die-stamped brass construction, with a lead filled back; and the attachments would consist of a single hook and two studs, rather than three sharply pointed, triangular prongs. Authentic plates of this type are seldom seen and can be worth $10,000+. Modern copies made for reenactors (or unsuspecting collectors) abound and generally retail around $10-20.


Question I'd like to know more about this tiny pot-metal clock that I found at an old c. 1915-25 hunting camp in Florida.

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Answer It's one of a variety of toy timepieces issued sometime prior to 1910, for use as Cracker Jack prizes. There were three different clocks and two watches. This eagle-topped mantel clock came in several japanned (lacquer) finishes, including red, blue, and green. Some sources suggest that these early prizes were not actually included in the boxes, but instead were handed out at random by local merchants &/or obtained by redeeming coupons. In choice condition, a clock like yours can carry close to a $50 price tag in certain shops, but a leading Cracker Jack collector considers that a bit steep, telling W&ET, "I think $20 would be the tops for this piece, even if mint with japanning."


Question Mark, I dug this button at an old dump site. Is it military? Also, any idea how old it might be?

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Answer It's an Arizona 158th National Guard collar disk, Type II, c. 1926-37, and is worth $10-15, retail. Although it slightly predates the 158th's most celebrated history, no doubt a number of the men who wore disks like this one remained in service and went on to distinguish themselves during that time. According to the Arizona National Guard website- - "On September 16, 1940, in response to the declaration of a national emergency, the 158th National Guard Regiment was called to active duty. The 158th Infantry Regimental Combat Team (RCT) became famous for jungle fighting skills they acquired in Panama, and the Regiment took their name from the deadly bushmaster snake found there. The name 'Bushmasters' became well known, and General Douglas MacArthur personally selected them for his command. 'No greater fighting combat team than the 158th RCT has ever deployed for battle,' said MacArthur." That alone would seem reason enough to display your find with pride.


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