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Homepage Archives Open in new window Index (08/2012) AMP (06/2012) AMP (10/2012)   Vol. 46 August 2012 
Ask Mark Parker!
As seen in the August 2012 edition of W&ET Magazine


Question I found this “bit” of eight at a site in southwest Mississippi and am having difficulty researching it. One side is countermarked “PB” in script, encircled by a chain— possibly for Pierre Dugué de Boisbriand, fourth governor of the French colony of Louisiana, 1724-26. A countermark on the other side displays an eagle & shield, surrounded by “NOUVELLE ORLEANS” (French for New Orleans). Can you identify it?

Kevin Huhn
Tylertown, MS

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Answer Fill out the Best Finds entry form in this issue and send it in today! What you’ve got is a quarter-cut (two bits) 8 reales believed to have been countermarked by the Planter’s Bank of New Orleans, c. 1812-14. The host coin could be from one of the Spanish colonial mints, a Mexican mint operating in the early years of that country’s War of Independence, or even a counterfeit coin. All of these varieties have been reported, and all are extremely rare and valuable. For many years this piece was classified as a Hard Times token, with PB thought to be Puech, Bein & Co., an 1830s New Orleans import firm dealing in metal goods, hardware, guns, cutlery, etc. However, more recent research seems to support the Planter’s Bank attribution. What’s it worth? Similar examples have sold for $5,000 or more, and I see no reason why yours shouldn’t approach that price range. Of course, a dealer or advanced collector would offer somewhat less. And at auction, well, who knows how high— or low— it might go?


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 Let’s go with “...or what”! Actually, your first guess isn’t entirely off track. This is indeed a souvenir fob from the Louisiana Purchase Exposition (world’s fair) held in St. Louis in 1904. The Pike was a $10 million, mile-long midway of amusements and attractions, boasting some 50 venues and 6,000+ performers. Unlike other expo exhibits and “palaces,” it remained open far into the night, when as many as 100,000 fun-loving fairgoers might be seen sauntering along the lively arc-lit avenue. Quite a few “Through The Pike,” “Meet Me on The Pike,” and other Pike-related fobs have been reported, and the more common rectangular ones sometimes sell for as little as $15-25. Yours, unlisted in Robert L. Hendershott’s definitive 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair Mementos and Memorabilia, is probably worth $40-50, even with the broken bail.


Question A while back, I dug this pair of Central Pacific Railroad tags at an old mine in southern Arizona. Although they differ in the placement of holes and markings, both have the same number (25956) and inscription: “TO BE USED BY THE CENT. PAC. R. R. CO. —ONLY—” One is also marked “HOOLE BAGG. CHECK CO.” at the top. Both are blank on the back. Can you give me any information on them?

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Answer In Western railroad lore, no line looms larger than the Central Pacific. Authorized by Congress in the Pacific Railroad Act of 1862, founded by rail barons Leland Stanford and Collis P. Huntington, and built largely by legions of Chinese immigrant laborers under relentless danger and duress, it was a key component of the nation’s first transcontinental railroad. The CPRR ran from California to Utah, where at Promontory Point on May 10, 1869, the famed golden spike was driven home, linking the line with the Union Pacific Railroad to span the land from New York to San Francisco. Your tags were issued only a few years later, as indicated by the c. 1870s mark of the Hoole Baggage Check Co. of Chicago, Illinois. By the 1880s, the company had been renamed the Hoole Manufacturing Co. In a good auction even a single CPRR tag can bring hundreds of dollars, so the hammer price for a matched pair in nice condition is bound to be a solid four-figure sum. Time for you to stake your claim in Best Finds territory, too!


Question While sorting through a box of junk, I came across this unusual pin or badge. Dated 1915, it shows a winged figure behind a steering wheel, with “CHICAGO” on a banner underneath. The back is numbered “4400” and has a button marked, “WHITEHEAD & HOAG CO., NEWARK N. J.” Could it be a badge from a Chicago taxi or delivery service?

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Answer Usually cataloged as an “exhibitor lapel stud,” it’s from the 1915 Chicago Auto Show. The largest and longest-running event of its kind, with attendance averaging more than a million each year, the show has been held annually since 1901. Now hosted at the McCormick Place convention center, in earlier days it was staged at the Chicago Coliseum. Depicted on the pin is Mercury or— if the subject of Roman mythology is Greek to you— Hermes, winged messenger of the gods. Renowned for speed, he was also the god of trade, commerce, and profit... and thus deemed an ideal symbol for the auto show. (Apparently, nobody knew that the ancients also considered him the patron of liars, gamblers, and thieves!) The Whitehead & Hoag Co., was a leading supplier of pins, badges, buttons, fobs, etc. in that era. Currently, lapel studs like this one are selling for $50-60.


Question Detecting here in Ohio, I came up with this keychain fob and would like more information about it. Can you help me? On the front is “TEACHERS PROTECTIVE UNION,” a seal in the center with “T. P. U. LANCASTER, PA” around clasped hands, and “IN UNION IS STRENGTH.” The reverse reads, “FINDER PLEASE FORWARD TO T. P. U., LANCASTER, PA FOR REWARD. 16379P.”

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Answer Although your Teachers Protective Union (TPU) key-return tag could be up to 100 years old, I suspect that it dates at least a decade or two later. Usually, the ID number on insurance key tags is the same as the member’s policy number; so, perhaps that could be traced to determine its age. Based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, the TPU was a disability & life insurance benefit organization, chartered in 1912 as a spinoff of the Clergymen's Cooperative Beneficial Association founded five years earlier. Forty years later, it became the Teachers Protective Mutual Life Insurance Company, a legal reserve mutual life insurance company offering protection not only to teachers but the general public as well. The company remains active today. Price listings for these tags average $9-12.


Question I located these unusual items in Greensboro, North Carolina. They’re about 2-1/4" tall, and the larger one weighs 14 grams; the smaller one, 13.4 grams. I think they’re brass, but possibly bronze. What are they? I hope that you can come up with something on them, because nobody around here, including myself, has a clue!

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Answer These ethnographic figural brass pendants are modern costume-jewelry replicas of gold trade weights used by the Ashanti people of West Africa. Often crudely handcrafted, they are created by lost-wax casting and generally come from the same region as the original weights— in particular, outlying villages near Kumasi, the Garden City of Ghana. Considering their exotic appearance and remote origin, they tend to be surprisingly inexpensive. In fact, similar pendants can be found in gift & novelty shops and online for less than $5.


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