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Homepage Archives Open in new window Index (06/2012) AMP (04/2012) AMP (08/2012)   Vol. 46 June 2012 
Ask Mark Parker!
As seen in the June 2012 edition of W&ET Magazine


Question Mark, I found this buckle at a site near an old Native American settlement in the upper Midwest. It’s made of thin brass and has an eagle on the front. Can you identify it for me?

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Answer Two-piece plates like this one date from the 1850s, and the central device appears to have been modeled on that of the U.S. general service “eagle” button introduced in 1854. Widely worn by militia through and even after the Civil War period, the lightweight plates were designed for dress wear on sashes and cloth belts. As a result, they were often damaged by hard usage for which they were never intended. So, finding an intact one in the field is definitely a plus. Incidentally, many civilians wore them as well, especially in the Western mining camps and boom towns. Value? $400-450+.


Question This button came out of a Colonial homesite in South Carolina. Is it military or patriotic, and about how old do you think it might be?

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Answer It appears to be a variant of the button listed in the “Official and Diplomatic Service” section of Alphaeus H. Albert’s book, Record of American Uniform and Historical Buttons, as #OD 30. Although attributed to the U.S. diplomatic corps, these evidently saw military service as well, as attested by their recovery from camp and battle sites. It would be helpful to see a photo of the reverse, or at least the backmark lettering (if any). However, c. 1840s won’t miss it by much; and if it were problem-free, a button of this type might fetch $175-200.


Question I dug this “APOTHECARIES WEIGHT” on the eastern end of Long Island, New York. On one side there’s a crown. On the other, in the center is something like “3ij” and “TWO SCRUPLES.” I found out that a scruple equals 20 grains, but would like more information— age, value, etc.

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Answer The apothecary weight system, long used by pharmacists, is similar to the troy system used for precious metals. As you say, 1 scruple = 20 grains; 3 scruples = 1 drachm (or dram); 8 drachms = 1 oz.; 12 oz. = 1 lb. (again, as in troy weights). The crown on the weight you found suggests that it’s probably British in origin and Victorian— c. 1837-1901— in vintage. The cryptic marks in the center are the apothecary symbols for 2 scruples. Weights usually were issued in sets: 1/2, 1, and 2 scruples; 1/2, 1, and 2 drachms, etc. In some cases the set would include a balance scale as well. Coin-like weights were common, but some others were “lozenge” (clipped-corner rectangle), square, or some other shape. A single weight like the one you found would be worth only a few dollars.


Question This railroad baggage tag came right out of my own backyard in Walton, New York. It says, “RAILWAY CONDUCTORS EXCURSION. ST. LOUIS TO GALVESTON. VIA MO. PAC., M. K. & T., I. & G. N., & SOU. PAC.” (The other side is the same, except that it reads “GALVESTON TO ST. LOUIS.”) At the top, in smaller letters is “W. W. WILCOX CHICAGO.” It’s 1-3/4" wide and 2-1/4" long, and appears to be made of brass.

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Answer Most of the conductors’ excursion tags I’ve seen are from the 1870s-90s, and some even have the events’ dates stamped on them. Lacking that, let’s just call it late 19th century. Such excursions generally were organized by a railroad brotherhood (union), in conjunction with their annual convention activities. In the case of conductors, that would be either the Order of Railroad Conductors or the Brotherhood of Railway Conductors. The wording on your tag hints at the latter. Anyway, there’s no doubt about the route: St. Louis, Missouri to Galveston, Texas— in those days, an especially popular beach resort— via the Missouri Pacific; Missouri, Kansas & Texas (nicknamed “The Katy”); International & Great Northern, and Southern Pacific Railroads. The “newest” of these, the Missouri Pacific, was founded in 1876, so that would be the earliest possible year for your tag. All four continued well into the 20th century. W. W. Wilcox of Chicago was a leading baggage tag manufacturer and sometimes supplied complimentary tags for conductors’ excursions. Since the tags were issued for special, short-term usage, it’s likely that quite a few were carried home as keepsakes afterward. In fact, some of the smaller ones are thought to have been souvenir watch fobs rather than functional tags. Value? $75-100+.


Question I uncovered this silver compact in a wooded area outside West Orange, New Jersey. On the front, beneath a beveled glass is a miniature painting of cherubs dancing around a tree. Bordering its frame are ten translucent, blue-green stones. The back bears an ornately engraved floral pattern. The sides are engraved as well. There are no silver hallmarks or maker’s marks. Actual size is 2-1/2" x 3-1/8". The compact has not been fully opened, as I did not want to risk damaging it. How old is it? Where, or by whom, was it made? Is it really silver, and is it rare or valuable?

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Answer Made in Florence, Italy sometime between 1950 and 1970, it is indeed .800 fine, or 80% pure silver. (For purposes of comparison, U. S. silver coins are .900, and sterling silver is .925.) The “Dancing Cherubs” scene replicates a painting by Francesco Albani (1578-1660), and the surrounding cabochons could be either semiprecious or faux gemstones. If you were to open it, inside you’d probably find a beveled mirror, and perhaps a custom powder screen, along with an “.800” and maker’s mark. Unfortunately, the damaged image greatly diminishes its desirability and value, but in choice condition a compact of this type would be worth anywhere from $500 to $1,000+, depending mainly on its marks. Those bearing the maker’s name— say, Bellini or Coppini— are especially prized.

Our sincere thanks to compacts specialist Noelle Soren for her generous assistance on this item. Readers are invited to visit Noelle’s fascinating and informative website at



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