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Homepage Archives Open in new window Index (02/2014) AMP (12/2013) AMP (04/2014)   Vol. 48 February 2014 
Ask Mark Parker!
As seen in the February 2014 edition of W&ET Magazine


Question I found this "POST CANTEEN 5¢ FT. CLARK, TEX." token in the town where I live. Although it's a Civil War area, I'm not sure how old the token is, and in fact I haven't been able to find out anything about it. Can you tell me its history and value?

Ernie Evans
Carthage, MO

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Answer Off-duty hours could be grim in the far-flung forts of the American West, and a fellow with a taste for something a tad more palatable or potent than barrel water or boiled coffee was either out of luck or at the mercy of profiteering post traders, nearby stores, and saloons. Then in 1880, Col. Henry A. Morrow came up with the idea of a "post canteen," a place run by the soldiers themselves, offering a friendly atmosphere and food, drink, and miscellaneous merchandise at affordable prices. There were also newspapers and magazines, card games, and often billiard tables, exercise equipment, and even a piano. The idea quickly caught on, and as more and more canteens sprang up, by 1886-88 a number had begun issuing tokens similar to the one that you found. As you've probably guessed, the post canteen evolved into what has been known since 1895 as the post exchange (PX) system, still in existence today. Fort Clark, located near Brackettville, Texas, has a long and interesting history, beginning back in 1852 and continuing through WWII. It is perhaps best known for its famed Black Seminole scouts, and at times was also home to the 9th and 10th Cavalry "Buffalo Soldiers." Several varieties of 5¢ Fort Clark post canteen token have been reported, plain or countermarked on the reverse, and there are denominations of 10¢ and 25¢ as well. According to Texas exonumia expert Jerry Adams, yours is in the $75-100 range.


Question I found this small silver "VMSC" medical-motif caduceus badge along a wooded path in Massachusetts. It has a screw-post and thumbnut attachment on the back and is numbered "14" and "700" or "70D." Any ideas about this one?

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Answer In 1918, with many doctors having been called up for military service, the Council of National Defense announced the Volunteer Medical Services Corps. The VMSC was for doctors ineligible for the Medical Reserve Service, due to physical disability, age (over 55), dependents, or essential public or institutional need. Women physicians were also eligible for membership in the corps. An official release of the period stated that, "The insignia for the an openwork shield with the medical caduceus and wings, surmounted by the letters V.M.S.C.," and, "A small badge has been authorized by the Council of National Defense. This will be issued to each member of the corps." Members were not assigned any rank, the question of payment was left open, and, "No member will be ordered to render any service." Voluntary services were to include consultation, institutional work (labs, clinics, etc.), advisory positions, sanitation, and medical assistance to returning servicemen, military dependents, unfit registrants, and the needy. However, other sources report that during the deadly influenza epidemic of 1918-19, doctors in the VMSC were indeed required to serve, at least in some instances at the rate of $1/day. Surprisingly little pricing information is available for these badges. One recently brought less than $10 at auction, obviously well below reasonable retail. A couple of others are currently on offer for $39.95 and $59.99.


Question This "Charlottesville School for Boys - 5's" belt plate came out of the backyard of a burned-down house in Greensboro, North Carolina. The front is in good condition, but the back has quite a bit of corrosion, and a belt loop bar is missing. So far, I have had no luck researching it. Do you have any information about it?

Jim S.
High Point, NC

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Answer Your buckle dates from the 1930s, and there's quite a story behind it. If a school decides to start a football team, that's not exactly big news, but it definitely made the headlines in 1930 when a football team started a school! After coaching his Charlottesville, Virginia Fives to the Featherweight Football Championship of America in December 1929, Robert Osborn reflected that he'd also spent a lot of his time helping the boys keep up their studies. Why not build on that success, take it to the next level, and found a school on the same principles that had led the Fives to victory? Apparently, their parents agreed, and by the time the first term began more than 50 boys had been enrolled, with the promise that, "Every student will be fitted into the athletic program." Beyond that, details are sketchy, but the school seems to have continued for a little over a decade, before closing sometime in the early 1940s. This buckle is the first example I've seen, and there can't be very many of them out there, given the school's relatively brief existence and apparently limited enrollment. Its unusual history boosts its collectability, too. Other boys' academy buckles from the 1930s often list for $25-50; so, even with the condition problems that you've described, I have to believe that this one is worth at least $50- and probably more.


Question I dug this watch fob at an old lot in Greenville, Texas. Around the rim it reads, "McAlester-Edwards Coal Co., McAlester, Oklahoma." In the center is a flag with the words, "Banner Coal." How old is it, and how much is it worth?

Kenneth Lamm
Wolfe City, TX

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Answer In 1899, Daniel Edwards and his son, Thomas, began mining coal near what is now Pittsburg, Oklahoma. Later, in 1906, the Edwards family sold their holdings and were succeeded by the McAlester-Edwards Coal Co. In 1916, a coal trade journal reported that the company would begin selling directly to buyers; prior to that time, their output had been handled by the McAlester Fuel Co., under the trade name Banner coal. So, since the name McAlester Fuel Co. does not appear on your fob, it likely dates c. 1906-16. Some sources say that all operations ceased in 1941; others, that limited mining continued for several years more. Less than a year ago, another McAlester coal advertising fob sold for $75. Find the right buyer, and yours might do just as well today.


Question I found this item at an old school. At first I thought it was part of a key to wind something up, but after removing some of the dirt I saw it differently. At the top it says, "Honorably Discharged," so it must be military related. Below that it has the letters "WV" interlaced. It's about 1-1/2" wide and 3/4" high, I don't see any sign of a pin or clip on the back, and I'm not sure what it's made of. Can you identify it?

Jeff Botterbusch
Farmington, PA

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Answer What you've got is the hanger bar from a West Virginia ("WV") Civil War Service Medal, as authorized by the state legislature in 1866. The metal is bronze. There are three types: I - Honorably Discharged; II - Killed in Battle; III - For Liberty. Each has a different obverse, but the reverses are the same. Here's a complete Type I for comparison:

Images courtesy of Everitt Bowles

The obverse depicts Liberty placing a wreath on the head of a soldier. The state arms appear beneath, between the dates 1861 and 1865. The reverse bears a wreath enclosing the words, "Presented by the State of West Virginia." On the edge may be found the name, rank, and unit of the individual to whom the medal was awarded. The medals were designed and struck by A. Demarest of New York City; the name of J. Sigel, another artist involved in their production, appears on either side. Contract quantities: Type I - 22,098; II - 778; III - 3,223; total - 26,099. Today, over 4,000 remain unclaimed. The complete Type I medal shown above is valued at $395. Your hanger bar alone, possibly usable in restoration, would retail for less than $50.


Question I was wondering if you could tell me the approximate age and value of this Great Northern Railway baggage tag. It is marked "C. H. Hanson, Chicago" at the top, and I understand that they did not make many of these. I am not sure as to when they produced them.

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Answer It's difficult to date the tag precisely, but my best guess is that it's a little over 100 years old. The line itself officially dates from 1889, and the bold, diagonal GREAT NORTHERN RAILWAY logo was in use by 1895. A modified version was introduced around 1915. The C. H. Hanson mark is of little help in estimating its age, as that company was founded in 1866 and is still in business today, now located in Naperville, Illinois. The Great Northern, created by the "Empire Builder" James Jerome Hill, began with a Minnesota merger and by 1893 reached all the way to Puget Sound in the Pacific Northwest. Boasting over 8,000 miles of track, it was the northernmost transcontinental railroad- and the only one privately funded. Later part of the Burlington Northern Railroad, its roots and routes survive today as part of the Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railway. As dug, your tag is worth $75+. In very fine or better condition, they can command $250, and I know of at least one extremely choice specimen that fetched $400.


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