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Homepage Archives Open in new window Index (12/2008) AMP (10/2008) AMP (02/2009)   Vol. 42 December 2008 
Ask Mark Parker!
As seen in the December 2008 edition of W&ET Magazine


Question While metal detecting at an old Pennsylvania homestead, I dug what looks like a copper copy of an 1803 half eagle [$5 gold piece]. The coin is 25 mm in diameter. If possible, I would like to know its history and value.

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Answer Known to collectors as a "Kettle counter," it's an early 1800s game counter- a type of token used in much the same manner as poker chips or play money- made by the firm of Henry Kettle & Sons (William and Thomas) of Birmingham, England. Button and buckle makers from the 1770s until 1859, the Kettles were the first to strike counters in frank and accurate imitation of U.S. gold pieces of the period. Although some of these were signed "Kettle," others were not, and no doubt more than a few were passed off as genuine coins. An identical variety, in somewhat better condition, recently brought just over $20 on eBay. Yours is closer to $10.


Question Mark, can you give me any information about this buckle? It's cast brass, two-piece tongue & wreath, 3-5/8" x 2-1/4", with no maker's marks.

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Answer What you've got is a fireman's waist belt plate likely dating from the late 19th century. The "wreath" surrounding the fire company number 2 depicts a length of riveted leather hose. Note the hose couplings at the ends as well. Riveted hoses remained in widespread use until at least the 1870s, and this motif continued to appear on firemen's badges and buckles well into the 1900s. According to a professional appraiser of antique accoutrements, your find would retail around $200.


Question This medallion was located in an area of New Orleans hit hard by Hurricane Katrina. It's bronze and measures 50 mm (almost 2").

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Answer Issued in 1935, it commemorates the Chateau-Thierry American Monument which was erected near Chateau-Thierry, France, and only a few miles from the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery, to honor U.S. forces who fought in that region during World War I. The medal bears the names of both sculptor Albin François de Possesse, and architect Paul Philippe Cret, designer of the monument. It was struck by Arthus-Bertrand in Paris, the same firm which produces the majority of French military decorations. The highest price I've seen for it is $65, paid for a choice uncirculated specimen at auction a few years ago. More recently, one was offered on eBay in France for €11.50, or about $17 U.S.


Question At a site not far from the historic La Plaisance Bay Trail in Michigan, my father found this solid copper hatchet head or scraping tool of some sort. It's approximately 4-1/2" x 1-1/2" at its widest point, and has a heavy, rust-green patina. Could it be an Indian relic?

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Answer Your dad's discovery appears to be an Old Copper Culture celt, an artifact fashioned from native copper collected and mined in the Great Lakes region several thousand years ago. Theories vary as to exactly how, and how early, such tools, weapons, and ornaments were made, but it is generally believed that they were produced by hammering and annealing (heat treating) raw copper, rather than melting and casting it. Value? In the past, I've seen similar celts priced at $400-600 or more, depending on type, size, condition, etc., and this one should be no exception.


Question So far, no one has been able to identify this little "C. S. M. C." shield-shaped pin, although it's been suggested that it might be military in origin. Any ideas?

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Answer It's a Catholic Students' Mission Crusade membership pin, as evidenced not only by the initials but also the cross, wings, and open Bible, all familiar symbols in Christian heraldry. Designed to unite and encourage high school and college students and seminarians in study, fellowship, prayer, and support of missions, the C. S. M. C. was founded in 1918 at the Divine Word Seminary in Techny, Illinois. It rapidly became a leading national Catholic organization whose members proudly proclaimed, "An army of youth, / Flying the banner of truth,/ We're fighting for Christ the Lord." Issued in enormous numbers over many years, most C. S. M. C. pins and buttons list for under $10.


Question Searching at a Florida ghost town, now plowed farmland, I recovered an 1889-O Morgan dollar and a 1902 Barber quarter less than 30 minutes and 30" apart... same depth, same soil, etc. The quarter came out clean and only lightly toned, as silver coins usually do. However, the dollar is badly deteriorated. I have never seen a coin come apart like this. Can you explain it?

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Answer I can't be certain without seeing it firsthand- and please don't send it in!- but I strongly suspect that while the quarter is genuine, the dollar is not. Often cast in silver-colored pot metal, such spurious spenders were by no means uncommon in that era. In fact, newspaper articles of the 1880s indicate that not only dollars but even dimes were counterfeited. Base-metal alloys tend to fare far worse under the effects of agricultural chemicals than does the 90% silver - 10% copper alloy of a true Morgan dollar. For example, pewter buttons and various "white metal" tokens found in fertilized fields are often severely damaged, their edges eaten away by corrosion. Why not ask a reputable local coin dealer to examine it for authenticity? If that's not possible, then a jeweler should be able to test it for little or no cost to determine whether it's silver.


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