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Homepage Archives Open in new window Index (10/2010) AMP (08/2010) AMP (12/2010)   Vol. 44 October 2010 
Ask Mark Parker!
As seen in the October 2010 edition of W&ET Magazine


Question I found this "Wells Fargo Express, High Island, Tex." stamp while detecting in southeast Texas. Please provide your best estimate of its value, and any details about its history.

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Answer Authentic all-brass Wells Fargo wax seal stamps of this sort often list for $300-500, and choice examples from certain locations can bring considerably more. Despite some condition issues, yours should still have plenty of appeal to a collector with a special interest in the history of High Island. Although I couldn't come up with any information about Wells Fargo activity there, I can tell you that High Island is a small, unincorporated community located between Galveston and the Louisiana border. There were settlers there as early as the 1840s, but its heyday came in the 1890s, when High Island was a popular resort, and I suspect that your seal stamp is from that era. Mineral springs were the main attraction, and a large, luxuriously appointed hotel, The Seaview, also shuttled guests to the beach in mule-drawn rail cars. Those idyllic days came to an end in 1900, however, when one of the worst hurricanes in American history savaged the Galveston region. More than 6,000 people (some sources say as many as 12,000) lost their lives. In later years, High Island became the focus of oil, natural gas, and sulfur exploration and production. Today it is once more a tourist attraction, best known for its world-class bird sanctuaries.


Question Searching a Colonial site on private property in Springfield, New York, I unearthed what appears to be a trade weight with an "I" and "A" in the center. It is also marked "XVI" at the rim. A friend pointed out that this might represent 16 ounces, or one pound, and in fact that is exactly what it weighs. It is about 1/2" thick and the size of a hockey puck (3"). Can you confirm this identification and tell us how old it is, and whether it has any value?

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Answer Your find is indeed a weight dating from the 18th or very early 19th century, and is from a stacked or "nested" set, with the center milled out to receive the next smallest weight. The I should be read as a 1, with the A representing avoirdupois, the standard weight system based on a pound of 16 ounces. Weights like this often bear various verification marks, and many British ones are stamped with a crowned G for King George. Value? $20-25, or even a bit less. Earlier this year, a pair of similar bronze weights, pound and half pound, sold for $22.50.


Question I'm hoping you can help me attribute this silvered brass watch fob. The design depicts a cow's head on a milk pail. At the upper left is "Monroe," and I'm pretty sure this is Monroe, Wisconsin. At the bottom is the date 1918, and along the right side are the initials "SWC&DA." Any idea what they stand for? The back of the fob is blank.

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Answer Well, I suppose some might insist it's a moot point, but there's really no doubt about it. Your fob is from the Southern Wisconsin Cheesemakers' & Dairymen's Association, which held its 18th annual convention at Monroe, Wisconsin on Thursday and Friday, March 14 and 15, 1918. Although the fobs's not marked, there's a pretty fair chance that the maker was the St. Louis Button Co., which supplied fobs to the same organization a couple of years earlier, according to a breezy little publication titled Biennial Report of the Secretary of State of the State of Wisconsin for the Fiscal Years Ending June 30, 1915 and June 30, 1916. The same company also made SWC&DA membership buttons in 1919. Figural dairy fobs are quite collectable, and this one should easily fetch at least $50-75.


Question I found this token in my friend's yard in Johnson City, Tennessee. The front reads, "Carter Coal Co., Inc." and "50"; the back, "Insurance Credit System, Dayton, O.," "In Trade," "50," and "Pat'd June '19." The back also has a picture of scales inside a triangle, and there is a horseshoe shape punched out of the token. I know that the Carter Coal Co. was incorporated on January 18, 1913 in Coalwood, West Virginia. I also know that this token (scrip) would have been good for 50¢ in the company store. Do you have any further information on it?

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Answer The Carter Coal Co., Inc. had mines and stores in several locations, but I believe that the "horseshoe" on your token is the cutout they used for Yukon, West Virginia, where Carter employed about 150 miners and maintained a company store from 1918 to 1923. This "50" denomination doesn't appear in the Yukon listings in Edkins' book on West Virginia coal scrip, but there are "5" and "1oo" pieces, rated R-9 and R-10 respectively. The same cutout was used on Carter scrip for Warren, Kentucky. Again, there are "5" and "1oo" pieces, both rated R-10, but no "50" reported for that location either. Carter averaged around 300 miners at Warren, and had a store there from 1914 to 1923. Either way, as an unlisted piece it would be an R-10, and the most recent edition of the book suggests a value for those of "$60 or more."


Question I dug this large metal badge at an old home site in New York State and am fairly confident that it's off a West Point parade helmet. The banner on the left side of the eagle has the words, "Duty, Honor, Country"; and on the right side, "West Point, MDCCCII, U. S. M. A." On the back are two threaded posts. Is there any way to determine its age?

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Answer Your West Point hat badge is post-1923 and worth about $25-35. The same full dress hat, shako, or "tar bucket" has been in use since 1899, when both the pattern of the full dress uniform and the U. S. Military Academy coat of arms were adopted. (MDCCCII, or 1802, commemorates the founding of the academy.) However, the coat of arms was later modified to conform to the rules of heraldry, so that the head of the eagle and the helmet of Athena on the shield faced dexter rather than sinister- i.e., pointed to the wearer's right instead of left. This change was authorized in 1923, but not fully implemented until 1929. The reverse attachments which you describe were also in use in the 1920s-40s.


Question This unusual medallion was about a foot deep at an old Massachusetts farm. It reads, "Order of the Iron Hall. U. P. F. $1,000 in Seven Years. Organized March 28th, 1881." Could you fill me in on this organization, and whether this find has any value?

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Answer This is the drop (suspension medal) from a badge issued by the Order of the Iron Hall, founded in Indianapolis, Indiana in 1881 as a secret society with insurance and endowment benefits. In the beginning, only men age 18-65 could join, but later on women were admitted. Total membership may have reached 125,000, over a period of about ten years, and there were at least 1,200 local branches units in the U.S., as well as several in Canada. It was based on a sort of pyramid scheme in which members could recoup their own contributions by persuading others to join, and supposedly over time the accumulating funds and lapsed memberships would result in greater shared benefits for those who remained. Unfortunately, by 1892 the plan's inherent flaws were all too apparent. With losses amounting to more than $100,000- nearly $2-1/2 million in today's dollars- the insolvent Order of the Iron Hall was ordered hauled down, and a receiver was appointed. In Very Fine condition, this piece has been valued at $75-100. While yours would grade at least Very Fine for detail, as dug (heavily oxidized, "nibbled" at the edge, etc.) it's probably closer to a net grade of Very Good and a retail value of $25-30.


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