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Homepage Archives Open in new window Index (02/2013) AMP (12/2012) AMP (04/2013)   Vol. 47 February 2013 
Ask Mark Parker!
As seen in the February 2013 edition of W&ET Magazine


Question I dug this unusual cuff button at a Colonial trading post near Fort Loramie, Ohio. The hand-engraved design seems to depict a balloon with flags on either side, but I didn't think it was possible so long ago. What can you tell me about it?

Robert Evans
Celina, OH

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Answer Ballooning was indeed underway in those days. The first hot-air and hydrogen-filled balloon flights occurred in France in 1783, and in 1784 there was even a powered balloon with a crew-cranked propeller... top speed, 3 mph! The earliest American ascensions took place that year, too, although all were tethered. The first free flight here came in 1793, when the French aeronaut Jean Pierre Blanchard traveled from Philadelphia to the Woodbury, New Jersey area, carrying with him a letter from George Washington- the first American air mail. In the 1800s performing balloonists and parachutists, often billed as "professors," thrilled and enthralled crowds with their aerial derring-do, tossing down leaflets, trinkets, and occasionally parachuting pets. Of course, entrepreneurs were quick to capitalize on this rising phenomenon, and before long all sorts of ballooning buttons, jewelry, and novelties began to appear. Your find is a late 18th or, more likely, early 19th century sleeve link / cufflink button. Originally, there would have been a pair, the other button either similarly engraved or plain, connected by an elongated link. I discussed it with a number of experts, and the consensus is that it's probably worth at least $100 due to its exceptional eye appeal. In fact, one buttons dealer, who also happens to be an early aviation buff, indicated that he'd gladly offer that much in order to add it to his own collection.


Question Detecting in Atlanta, Georgia, I located what looks like a belt buckle. It's cast brass, 3-3/4" x 2", and the front has "MORRIS & TRIMBLE 1856 BALTIMORE." There is nothing on the back, but there is an attachment mark on each side. I would appreciate any information you can give. Also, does it have any value?

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Answer What you've got is a dated nameplate from flour milling equipment made &/or marketed by Morris & Trimble, proprietors of the Baltimore Burr Millstone Works. Ads of the period state that the Maryland firm was founded in 1815, and I found other references to it as late as 1884. In addition to manufacturing their own millstones, using burr-blocks imported from quarries in France, they also sold millstones made in New York, Pennsylvania, and Germany. Other items in their product line included bolting cloth (used for sifting flour) and their intriguingly named "smut machines" (contraptions for cleaning grain). Not long ago a similar plate, dated 1860, popped up at auction. Unfortunately, it drew only two bids, topping out at $20.12 and failing to meet the seller's reserve. While that may or may not be a reliable indication of its value, it would seem to suggest a pretty narrow niche in the collector market. Nevertheless, it's an interesting and unusual item which would display well with other relics of that era.


Question I found this at an old Michigan golf course which opened in 1942 and closed about five years ago. It's made of very soft metal, almost like lead, and around the outside it reads, "WORLD'S COLUMBIAN EXPOSITION CHICAGO, USA 1893." I've seen a lot things related to this expo, but can't find anything on this medal. Can you identify it?

Rick Vance
Dimondale, MI

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Answer It's a souvenir suspender clip, but as far as I know it's never been reliably attributed to any manufacturer. Not only that, but beyond simple listings there seems to be little or nothing about it in any catalogs or reference works featuring items from the World's Columbian Exposition (1893 Chicago World's Fair). Missing from yours is the bar across the back, and the wire loop at the bottom to which the strap-end attached. Some time ago, one of these clips, intact with a fair amount of remaining gilt, brought just over $25.


Question At a house built in 1857 I came up with what I think may be a cannonball. There is something stamped on it in a small circle, but I can't quite make out what it is. The ball weighs exactly 6 lbs and is about 4" in diameter.

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Answer Look closely, and I think you'll find that the "something" is a 6, indicating the weight of the ball. It's not a cannonball, though. Military solid-shot projectiles were not stamped in that manner or made to an exact, even-pound weight. Also, most are not quite so smoothly finished and will still show traces of sprue marks &/or a casting seam. Your find is actually a 6 lb. shot put, authorized for use by boys age 9-12, and girls through junior high. A vintage iron example exactly like yours, mistakenly cataloged as a "Civil War cannonball," sold for $18... just about the same price as a brand-new one.


Question I have been told that this medal representing the Adams Leaning Wheel Grader, made by J. D. Adams & Co. is from the early 1800s. Is that correct, and how much is it worth?

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Answer Let's make that "early 1900s." The leaning wheel pull-type grader was invented by J. D. Adams in 1885, and by the 1890s he had founded the company which bore his name. Long after a self-powered version was introduced in 1928, the pull-type remained in production. Since the advertising watch fob that you found is lettered "J. D. Adams & Co., "presumably it predates 1929, when the company was reorganized and dropped the "&" from its name. In 1955, J. D. Adams Co. became a division of the LeTourneau-Westinghouse Co., but the Adams brand remained in use for another five years. At that time J. D. Adams Co. discontinued its manufacturing operations and was turned into an investment firm. Some price guides have valued this particular Adams fob at $75 or more, but you can find plenty (originals, not repros) in Fine or better condition for $35-40, retail.


Question I found this token while detecting in the dirt streets of a small town in Nebraska. It is made of brass and slightly smaller than a half dollar. One side reads, "BROWN BROTHERS LA FLOR DE FONTELLA 5¢ CIGARS DETROIT"; the other has only a large "10." Can you tell me its age and value, or anything else about it?

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Answer It's from a series of Brown Brothers tokens issued in the late 1800s. These Detroit, Michigan cigar makers reportedly were in business from 1885 until at least the turn of the last century. Tokens of the same design and size were struck in denominations of 5, 10, and 25. Some collectors have suggested that these pieces were given out as advertising game counters, to be used like poker chips. Other insist that they are simply ordinary trade tokens. In the past, they've often been valued at $3-5 apiece, Very Fine or better; but recently I've seen several sold online for $10-15.


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