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Homepage Archives Open in new window Index (12/2010) AMP (10/2010) AMP (02/2011)   Vol. 44 December 2010 
Ask Mark Parker!
As seen in the December 2010 edition of W&ET Magazine


Question Some years ago I submitted a Great Northern Railway lock, made by Slaymaker, to your column. I have since dug another one with slightly different details, made by the Union Lock & Hardware Co. of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. So far, I have not been able to determine its value, and no one else seems to know, either. Do you?

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Answer All Great Northern Railway locks of this type are highly collectable. The Slaymaker-marked variety most closely resembling yours lists for $500-550; so, it seems safe to assume that one bearing the comparatively scarce Union Lock & Hardware Co. mark (c. 1891-1901) would fetch at least as much, and could command a significant premium. This is confirmed by both a well-known railroadiana appraiser and one of the top collectors in the field, whose estimates ranged from $500 to $600+. Trust me: if you're willing to part with it, finding a buyer won't be a problem.


Question I found this token while coinshooting the playground of a very old school in Connecticut. Both sides display an eagle beneath "United States of America." Around the border on one side is, "Fountain Blacking" and "Brush & French Blueing"; on the other, "There Is No Difficulty to Him That Willeth." Any idea where and when it was made, and how valuable it might be?

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Answer Attributed to "Professor" William Johnson of New York City, it dates from about 1860. The same eagle die was used as the reverse of another of his tokens, issued in the 1850s. In addition to blacking and bluing, Johnson produced a variety of soaps, perfumes, other toiletries, and household products. He cleverly designed his tokens to resemble U. S. gold coins of the period, making them more appealing to customers, many of whom used them as game counters. He also issued tokens imitating other game counters, ensuring that they would be eagerly collected and regularly seen and used. Today, this one's worth $8-12 in Very Fine condition.


Question Mark, this metal "shoe" was found in a canyon in southern Colorado. It's 11-1/4" long, 4-1/4" at the ball, and 3-1/2" at the heel. Note the rivets along the top edge. There are also nails embedded in the metal on the bottom. Can you identify it?

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Answer It's the sole of an early 1900s miner's boot. I'm uncertain of the manufacturer, but I recently saw a similar example (boot intact) marked, "Overland Shoe Company, Racine, Wis. Pat. Dec. 8, 1914." Various explanations have been given for such formidable footwear, including improved durability, better traction on slippery mine rock surfaces, and shielding from sharp objects underfoot. Some soles also have raised attachments on the bottom, said to have been added for protection from corrosive liquids used in ore recovery and processing. Due to hard service and harsh environments, items such as these are often in very poor condition when found. As a result, nice displayable examples are in demand, and in the past I've seen single metal soles listed at $100-125+. According to one source consulted by W&ET, yours might even top $200.


Question A friend recovered this pin at a wooded area in northern New Jersey. It's gold plated with a blue background, and at first glance I thought it might be a political campaign pin for William Howard Taft. However, researching the phrase "HERO OF THE DAY" I discovered that it actually honors Spanish-American War hero George Dewey: "Commodore Dewey, hero of the day, / Sank the Spanish navy in the good old American way!" So, now that we know what is... what's it worth?

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Answer Few heroes ever captured the hearts of a nation as Dewey did following his victory at the Battle of Manila Bay. Accorded every conceivable honor, and even considered as a presidential candidate, he became and remains the only individual in American history to achieve the supreme rank of Admiral of the Navy. That means, on the one hand, there's a fair amount of interest in Dewey stuff; but on the other, there's a ton of it out there. As for your friend's pin, well, there's an Extremely Fine one currently on offer for $65, and that's the highest price, past or present, that I've found. The enamel on this one shows a touch of fading, and the lettering of THE DAY lacks sharpness as well. Even so, it's still got plenty of eye appeal and would likely retail for $35-50.


Question I found this item in the mountains near Orogrande, New Mexico. The front is stamped, "OROGRANDE SMELTING CO. 77," and the back is blank. I've determined that the smelter closed in 1920, but what were these badges, tags, or fobs used for?

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Answer Your find is very likely a tool check or work check, although miners sometimes tagged ore cars, to ensure that the right man or crew would be credited for the load. The Orogrande Smelting Co. was created in 1909, in a reorganization of failed smelter operations of the Southwestern Smelting & Refining Co. Southwestern, which also owned a number of large mines in the area, had built one 250-ton smelter furnace, blown in in November 1907, and had plans for another. Unfortunately, not enough ore was coming in to sustain it, and after six months the smelter closed in May 1908. Just how long the Orogrande Smelting Co. remained in operation is unclear. While it evidently fared better than its predecessor, production seems to have been sporadic. At any rate, let's call the tag c. 1910. What's it worth? A specialist in Western states mining memorabilia, Fred Holabird- - suggests a range of $50-100.


Question Could you please help me identify this coin dated 1792, which came out of a St. Louis, Missouri park? I'm not sure what kind of metal it's made from. Actual size is a bit larger than in the photos.

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Answer Identifying coins from low-resolution images is always risky, but in this case I'm convinced that what you've got is a modern copy of a Spanish 8 escudos gold coin from the reign of Charles IV (appearing as "IIII" on the coin). Most of the spurious 1792 pieces purport to be from the colonial mint at Santiago, Chile, which struck mainly escudos. (Check for an o-over-S mintmark near the bottom of the reverse.) There are a number of easily recognized differences between the originals and replicas, but your doubt about the metal is particularly telling. An authentic coin of this type would be .875 fine gold, with a weight of just over 27 grams, and a diameter of 36-38 mm (close to 1-1/2"). Typically, copies are cast, not struck, from a pewter-like "pot metal" alloy, then given a light gilt wash. If genuine, such a coin could be worth anywhere from $500 on up to $1,500 or more, depending on condition. If not... eh, maybe next time!


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