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Homepage Archives Open in new window Index (06/2013) AMP (04/2013) AMP (08/2013)   Vol. 47 June 2013 
Ask Mark Parker!
As seen in the June 2013 edition of W&ET Magazine


Question I would like to know the history of this “S. S. Farallon 247” tag that I recently found, and what value it might have.

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Answer Ordinarily, the short, easy answer would be that it’s a steamship baggage tag, a little over a hundred years old, and as such likely worth less than $50. However, there’s nothing ordinary about this one. The S. S. Farallon’s ill-starred story began in 1888, when the 171' wooden steam schooner was built in San Francisco for coastal service in northern California, Oregon, and Washington. Sometime around the turn of the century she started operating between Seattle and Alaska, and by 1902 had become part of the Alaska Steamship Company fleet. Then on January 5, 1910, overwhelmed in a whiteout of heavy snow and gale-force winds, she ran aground on Black Reef in Cook Inlet, Alaska, and the 38 men on board were forced to abandon her. For the next 29 days they were stranded under unbelievably brutal conditions, until finally rescued by the S. S. Victoria. Meanwhile, six of the crew had set out in a lifeboat for Kodiak Island, in a desperate attempt to get help. Although given up for lost, they somehow survived and two months later were rescued as well. Early-day Alaska items are always of interest, and a tag from the S. S. Farallon, even if not directly related to the disaster, should have plenty of appeal as well. Get it into a good auction, or the hands of the right collector, and who knows how much it might bring?


Question This large (1-3/16") button came out of an 1880s railroad camp in northern Arizona. On the front there is a building, but the lettering beneath it is very hard to make out: “MINIS... DES FINANC... PARIS 1871.” Can you give me some information about it?

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Answer It’s a lapel stud depicting the Ministry of Finance building following its destruction by arsonists during the Paris Commune (a.k.a. Fourth French Revolution). The complete inscription should read MINISTERE DES FINANCES PARIS 1871. After Communards blew up the Tuileries Palace on May 23, 1871, they then went on an incendiary binge, torching other Paris landmarks, including the Royal Palace, Palace of Justice, Council of State, Prefecture of Police, and Ministry of Finance, eventually ending up the next morning at City Hall. The resulting ruins became monuments of rebellion and insurrection, and were soon the subject of everything from souvenir postcards to elaborate works of art. I couldn’t locate any price listings for the lapel stud, but I did find a number of 1871 Paris Commune medalets of similar size offered by dealers in France for €35-50, or about $45-65. That may offer a clue to its value, but I suspect that it would fetch less here in the States.


Question I was metal detecting at an old roadside stop in Arizona and found this strange buckle in the shape of an open Bible, with a shield in the center and across the shield a right skeleton hand. On the top of the shield are the initials A. C. U. W. Above that it says Holy Bible and, on the side, I Cor. Chap. XIV. The shield is attached with one rivet. Any help you could give me in identifying or researching it would be appreciated.

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Answer The C is either a damaged or altered O, or (very unlikely) a manufacturing error. What you’ve got is a late 1800s or early 1900s sword belt plate worn by a member of the Select Knights, Ancient Order of United Workmen (A. O. U. W.). The A. O. U. W. was a fraternal insurance benefit society founded by John Jordan Upchurch in Meadville, Pennsylvania, on October 27, 1868. By 1952 it existed as an active fraternal order only in Washington State, having otherwise evolved into an insurance company. In time it became the Pioneer Mutual Life Insurance Company, now a division of OneAmerica. The Select Knights, ostensibly a separate order, was composed exclusively of A. O. U. W. members, to whom it offered the option of additional insurance protection. An 1886 newspaper article noted that, “...wherever there is a live Lodge of the order [A. O. U. W.], a Legion of Select Knights will be found near by...” and in fact such associated orders were a common feature of many fraternal organizations. Plates like yours generally retail between $25 and $50, and mainly at the lower end of that range.


Question Mark, this coin was found by a friend of mine. What can you tell us about it?

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Answer It’s an antoninianus, an ancient Roman silver coin from the reign of the emperor Gordian III, A. D. 238-244. Actually, its patina looks more like that of a bronze coin, but this may be due to a silver alloy (billon) containing a high percentage of copper. Silver-plated examples and bronze contemporary imitations have also been reported. According to Kerry K. Wetterstrom, editor & publisher of The Celator, the premier journal for collectors of ancient coinage— — your friend’s coin is worth about $25-30 in the condition shown, especially if low-grade silver.


Question I recently dug this padlock near Western Oregon University in Monmouth, Oregon. It reads “RFD” on one side and “MAIL” on the other. It is about 1-1/2" wide and 2-1/4" tall. Can you tell me when were these made and used?

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Answer Warded padlocks like this one first appeared a little over 100 years ago. The RFD, of course, stands for rural free delivery. RFD mail was introduced in 1891, and within a decade or so had been established nationwide. Locks like the one you found were made to be used on rural mailboxes, which on many routes were clustered at crossroads locations some distance from recipients’ homes and thus a tempting target for pilfering. Most major lock companies offered RFD locks, often in unmarked stock (generic) varieties. Yours has been attributed to the E. T. Fraim Lock Co. of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Because they were produced in large numbers and of fairly sturdy construction, even a century later RFD locks are considered common and priced around $10-20 in nice, working condition.


Question I found this button in a wooded area near Greensboro, North Carolina. I have not been able to connect it to any known company in this area, but I am guessing that the spoked wheel in the center indicates that it is transportation related. Can you fill me in on what “S. P. U.” represents, and how old the button might be?

Mac McAtee
Oak Ridge, NC

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Answer Your guess concerning the wheel is a good one! “S. P. U. Co.” identifies this as a button of the Southern Public Utilities Company, which operated trolley lines in Charlotte and Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and in Anderson and Greenville, South Carolina, beginning in 1913. The company later began running buses as well in the 1920s, and trolley service ended in 1937. While yours bears only a quality backmark, it’s known that least some S. P. U. transit buttons were made by the Waterbury Button Co. around 1917. Value? $5-7 in good, excavated condition.

Our thanks to leading buttons specialist Bob Edmondson for his generous assistance on this and countless other questions. You’ll find Bob’s contact information in the “Military Buttons” ad accompanying this column.


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