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Homepage Archives Open in new window Index (12/2011) AMP (10/2011) AMP (02/2012)   Vol. 45 December 2011 
Ask Mark Parker!
As seen in the December 2011 edition of W&ET Magazine


Question I found this lion’s head buckle at a field in Pennsylvania where there was a homestead in the early 1800s. It’s gilt brass, about 1-3/4" long, and although there are no markings, I’m pretty sure that it’s pre-Civil War. Can you identify and value it for me?

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Answer What you’ve got is part of a dirk belt buckle of European (very likely British) manufacture, c. 1790s - 1820s. The lion motif was particularly popular, and a complete buckle consisted of a pair of heads connected by an S-link, typically in the form of a snake. Here’s a similar example:...
Antique Buckle
(Image courtesy of Military Metalwork )

Your piece alone might fetch $75-100; a complete buckle, $350-400+. However, certain other varieties— those bearing eagles, for example— can command prices well into four figures.


Question Mark, here’s an item that I dug in Booneville, Mississippi. It’s copper or brass, 1” in diameter, and as thin as a dime. The figure on the front may be a musketeer, and there are crosses in the border. The back is simply a reverse of the front. Any idea as to what this might be?

image 2
Answer Mai oui, mon ami! It’s a 19th century “French fop” button. These fancy dress buttons featured portraits, usually caricatures, of elaborately costumed French aristocrats. This one depicts a man holding a “quizzing glass” (type of monocle) in one hand and a walking stick in the other. Check the border closely and you may see several indentations where there were once tiny glass gems. In years past, buttons like this have booked for $50 or more in nice condition, and more recently one was optimistically offered at $175. As dug, yours is worth only a fraction of the lower amount, of course; but it’s still an unusual find which would add interest to any display of items from the period.


Question This S. L. S. & E. RY. tag came out of an old house demolition site in Seattle. All I know is that it’s from a short line that operated in that area. Do you have any information about it?

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Answer Your tag is from the Seattle, Lake Shore & Eastern Railway, founded April 28, 1885. At its its peak it operated from Seattle to Sumas, Washington and the Canadian border, where it linked with the Canadian Pacific transcontinental railroad. Despite ambitious plans to capitalize on the region’s rich resources and economic prospects, the venture ultimately ended in foreclosure. Sold on May 16, 1896, the beleaguered line reappeared later that year as the Seattle & International Railway. Markings on the bail of the tag indicate that it was made by Poole Bros. of Chicago. Although they supplied tags for a number of railroads, I believe they were primarily a publishing firm, printing books, maps, etc. for railroads, mining companies, and other businesses. Offhand, I suspect that the tag might bring $75-100 from a railroadiana buff in your area, but I’ve been surprised more than once by the seemingly steep prices paid for tags from the Pacific Northwest.


Question This is obviously a souvenir pin from the 1907 Jamestown Exposition (world’s fair), but I am hoping that you can shed a bit more light on it. The canoe at the top is lettered, “Jamestown Exposition” and has a pin on the back. Hanging from it is an anchor with “Merrimac” on the stock, “1862” on the shank, and “Virginia” between the flukes. On the back, the stock reads “Jamestown Exposition.” Can you tell me its history and value?

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Answer The thing that gives this pin particular appeal is its anchor, which is in fact a relic souvenir— that is, it’s made of iron taken from the CSS Virginia. The famed Confederate ironclad warship had been built from salvaged remains of the scuttled USS Merrimack, named for the Merrimack River. The alternate spelling Merrimac, also widely used, soon crept into naval records and histories, and over time seems to have prevailed. Originally, the anchor was sold separately, authorized and guaranteed by the Jamestown Exposition Company to be, “...the only souvenir made from genuine Merrimac iron.” A canoe & anchor pin of identical design and comparable condition sold for $200.


Question While detecting at a drained lake in Denver, I located this “Special Deputy Sheriff” badge. The back is marked, “L.

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Answer The maker, the L. A. Rubber Stamp Company, dates back to the 1880s, but I haven’t seen any of their badges with “Co.” as part of the mark earlier than 1900. Around 1935 the name became L. A. Stamp & Stationery, and the firm eventually faded from the scene sometime in the 1960s. So, probably the best guess for your badge would be early 1900s. Badge makers generally offered a range of stock (generic) styles and titles, to be customized as desired with additional lettering— hence the blank banner at the top— special enameling or plating, applied emblems, etc. However, badges could also be purchased as-made at a lower cost, a popular option for smaller &/or financially strapped municipalities. The blanked-out “L. A. County” may have been a post-purchase alteration, or perhaps there was a production error, overrun, or canceled order, and the banner was restruck blank in order to return the badges to inventory. As for value, a very similar but unaltered L. A. County “Special Deputy Sheriff” badge by the same maker has lately been listed online for over $450. Keep in mind, though, that’s the price asked, not a confirmed price paid.


Question A friend of mine found a pair of these brass objects on a Florida beach. They are 69 mm in diameter, 22 mm high, and weigh 5 oz. each. We have shown them to quite a few people, including two world-famous professional treasure hunters, but so far no one has been able to identify them. Can you?

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Answer Well, they do have a familiar ring. Actually, they’re tingsha, Tibetan finger cymbals, and would originally have been connected by a short leather thong, cord, or chain. The raised symbols or characters on top are the Tibetan Buddhist mantra Om Mani Padme Hum (“Praise to the jewel in the lotus”). The characters incised underneath, Om Ah Hung, represent enlightened body, speech, and mind. Used in meditation, prayer, and various rituals, tingsha are traditionally cast from special alloys of five or seven metals, and originally these included meteorite iron. They range from 2-1/2" to 4" and, when their edges are struck together, ideally produce a distinctive and sustained bell-like tone, often with harmonic overtones. While antique Tibetan tingsha of high quality can be quite valuable, modern ones from Nepal and India retail for as little as $15-25.


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