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Homepage Archives Open in new window Index (04/2014) AMP (02/2014) AMP (06/2014)   Vol. 48 April 2014 
Ask Mark Parker!
As seen in the April 2014 edition of W&ET Magazine


Question I’m not sure what sort of badge this is, but I found it at a mid to late 1800s site here in south-central Michigan. There are no markings, and actual size is about 2" x 2–1/2". Could it be an early law enforcement badge or military insignia?

Rick Vance
Dimondale, MI

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Answer This is another of those items with an iffy history, but it’s certainly true that quite a few have come out of Civil War sites. Typically, they’re made of thin, die-stamped brass backfilled with lead, with embedded wires or hooks at the top (left and right) and bottom. The size that you found is most often listed as a martingale device; the smaller ones, around 1–1/4" x 1–3/4", as saddle or harness ornaments. At least a couple of relic references describe it only as an “unknown shield.” Beyond that, the real debate begins. My own belief is that it’s civilian in origin, although it may well have seen wartime usage; but many relic hunters and collectors insist that it’s totally military. The only problem is, they can’t agree about which military. Some simply call it Confederate, while others, noting the star, attribute it exclusively to Texas. Still others are just as convinced that it’s a Mississippi star instead. And then there are those who make a Federal case out of it, associating it with Maine, another state which sometimes used a five-pointed star on its militia buttons, accoutrements, etc. Not surprisingly, there’s a bit of a rift when it comes to value, too. You can find the smaller size listed at $200+, and the larger at twice that price. Then again, it’s not unusual for them to fetch barely half as much in auctions and private transactions, and some months ago one sold online for less than $50.


Question We unearthed this cast metal object at a 140-year-old homesite in the Fort Wayne, Indiana area. It is made in two pieces, and there is a hollow space behind the man’s head and hat. There is no lettering on it, but above the hat are a shovel, fork, and scythe. On either side of the head are sheaves and stalks of grain. Evidently, it was mounted on some larger object, as there are holes at the top and bottom for attachment. The back is flat and blank. We have no idea what it is. Do you?

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Answer What you’ve got is a figural match holder (sometimes called a wall pocket) depicting 19th century newspaper editor, reformer, politician, and professional eccentric Horace Greeley, who is best known for the words, “Go West, young man! Go West, and grow up with the country.” The holder dates from the 1872 presidential election in which Greeley, a Liberal Republican, ran as the Democrat candidate, losing in a landslide to incumbent President Ulysses S. Grant. He also achieved the dubious distinction of becoming the only U.S. presidential candidate to die before the electoral ballots were tallied. Incidentally, there is a similar holder showing Grant in a military uniform. These are generally made of cast iron, and at least some had a bronze finish. Pot metal varieties (possibly of later date) also exist, and there are recent replicas as well. Some of the originals have been found with “Patent Applied For” paper labels on the back. Choice, near-mint examples have occasionally sold for $300 or more, but more commonly they can bring anywhere from $50 to $150, depending on condition and collector interest. (One benighted buyer handed over nearly $100 for the head alone!) Modern copies go for $15-20.

Question Here is an “XX” pewter button that was dug near the town of Stillwater in upstate New York. Can you tell me anything about it... age, history, value, etc.?

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Answer Your find is an enlisted man’s button from the 20th Regiment of Foot of the British Army. Formed in 1688 and designated as the 20th in 1751, they were deployed to Canada in 1776 in the relief of Quebec. The following year, as one of the units of Burgoyne’s Army, they were captured in New York at the Battle of Saratoga. After a lengthy internment they were released in 1781 and returned to Canada, where they continued to serve through the decade. Renamed the East Devonshire Regiment in 1782, they also fought in the Peninsular War and were part of the Duke of Wellington’s forces at the Battle of Vittoria. Relic hunters and archaeologists have recovered several varieties and sizes of these buttons at Revolutionary War sites, and the design reportedly remained largely unchanged until 1830, when a crown was added above the Roman numerals XX. As found, yours is in the $200-300 range, according to professional militaria appraiser George Juno of Le Juneau Gallery in Port St. Lucie, Florida.


Question I found this “Minneapolis 1883 Dog Tax 66” tag in one of the city’s older parks. It’s approximately 1" in diameter and unmarked on the reverse. How far back do dog tags go in Minneapolis? Of course, I’m also curious about how much it might be worth.

Jim Whisler
Minnetonka, MN

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Answer As far as I can determine, 1883 is the earliest reported dog tag date for Minneapolis; so, at least in terms of age, collectors would deem yours a dandy discovery indeed! For an expert opinion on its value, W&ET turned to leading tags specialist Bill Bone, author of U. S. Dog License Tags and Related Exonumia, and he’s got good news for you, too:

“Minnesota is well represented by tag-issuing agencies and towns in the 19th century, and Minneapolis and St. Paul lead the list. While this particular tag shows signs of wear and being buried, it is still a desirable early date. Pre-1900 tags always have a good value even in today’s down market, and although they are no longer bringing what they did, say, five years ago, I would estimate this one to be worth $125-150.”


Question I came up with this curious piece while searching the grounds of a Colonial home in New Jersey. It looks like a Spanish piece of eight which has been cut and holed, but seems to be base metal rather than silver. Would you have any idea what it is?

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Answer It’s a toy “buzzer” or “whirligig,” made to be threaded onto a loop of string. When the loop is twisted and the ends are repeatedly pulled, the thing on the string spins back and forth with a buzzing sound. They were most often made from large buttons or coins, but many were fashioned from flattened musketballs or bits of scrap lead, brass, wood, shell, or bone. As you say, yours resembles a Spanish 8 reales— specifically, one from the reign of Ferdinand VI and struck at the Mexico City mint, c. 1754-59— not a coin likely to have been whittled into a whirligig, considering its purchasing power in Colonial times. Since it’s not silver, you might suspect that someone carved up a base-metal counterfeit, but that’s not quite what occurred either. Look closely between the points and you’ll see thin excess metal left over from casting or stamping— something which wouldn’t be caused by cutting or filing. So, what you’ve got is a not a handmade buzzer, but a manufactured copy of one. It turns out that these are currently being produced in pewter by a firm in Vermont, and sold mainly through historical organizations and gift shops, usually for less than $5. Even though it’s not a rare, centuries-old artifact, it’s still a fun find. So, go ahead... grab some string, loop it up, and take ’er for a spin!


Question Mark, can you give me some information about this token? One side reads, “Good for 5¢ in Trade. J. J. Daugherty.” On the other is a picture of an owl.

Ernie Evans
Carthage, MO

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Answer James J. Daugherty is listed in the 1900 census as a 25-year-old clerk in a billiard hall in Carthage, Missouri. 1910: “Manager, billiard hall.” 1920: “Proprietor, pool hall.” No similar entry appears in the 1930 or 1940 census, so from that point on I guess we’re... er... snookered. Based on this evidence, my guess is that the token dates from the 1910-20s— and probably the ’20s, when Daugherty clearly owned the establishment. “Clerk,” and for that matter even “manager,” would seem to imply that prior to that time someone else was the actual owner. Ordinarily, a maverick token is worth only a few dollars at most. The fact that this one has been fully attributed, identifying both the issuer’s city & state location and the nature of the business, helps a little. However, that owl graphic’s an absolute hoot, and I’m told it could put the price up around $25–35.


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