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Homepage Archives Open in new window Index (06/2014) AMP (04/2014) AMP (08/2014)   Vol. 48 June 2014 
Ask Mark Parker!
As seen in the June 2014 edition of W&ET Magazine


Question What can you tell me about this key? One side is marked M & P DU C RY S; the other is blank.

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Answer Last things first: the S is for switch, identifying it as the key for a railroad switch lock. The initials M & P DU C RY are the reporting mark of the Milwaukee & Prairie du Chien Railway. The story of this early Wisconsin line began back in 1847, with the chartering of the Milwaukee & Waukesha Railroad, which in 1850 became the Milwaukee & Mississippi. Bankrupted by the financial Panic of 1857, it eventually was sold, and in 1861 reorganized as the Milwaukee & Prairie du Chien Railway. Its run under that name was a brief one as well; just six years later it got swallowed up in a merger with several other lines, resulting in the Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad, the largest in the Midwest. So, this is a key from a railroad that began the same year as the Civil War, and only survived it by a couple more. Although it doesn't have a maker's mark, I can tell you that at least some of the M & P DU C RY locks & keys were supplied by Loeffelholz & Co. of Milwaukee, Wisconsin; and others by J. L. Howard & Co. of Hartford, Connecticut. In the past, keys like yours have listed for $400-450; but as you'd expect, actual prices paid have sometimes fallen short of that range.

And now, as long as we're keeping track of track “keepers,” here's another railroadiana dandy recently reported to the column...


Question Mark, I dug this Kansas Pacific Railway baggage tag here in Ohio, of all places. It is a two-way tag, and has five different railroad abbreviations on it, including a couple which I've been unable to identify: KAN PAC (Kansas Pacific), I. C. (Illinois Cenral), MoP (Missouri Pacific), P. F. W. & C., and T. H. & I. I did a bit of research on the Kansas Pacific, which apparently existed from 1869 until 1880. Does this tag really date back to the 1870s?

David Keding
Medina, OH

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Answer Indeed it does, and in fact we can tighten that time frame a tad more. The youngster among the lines you listed is the Missouri Pacific, which began operating in 1876. Combined with the 1880 cutoff date for the Kansas Pacific, that means your tag is 134-138 years old. As for the two mysterious marks, P. F. W. & C. is the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne & Chicago Railway; and T. H. & I. is the Terre Haute & Indianapolis. A tag from any of these would be collectable, but it's the Kansas Pacific that makes this one really special. Why? Its Kansas City - Denver trackage provided the true last link in the nation's first transcontinental railroad. Although the famed “Golden Spike” ceremony at Promontory Summit, Utah had occurred 15 months earlier, not until August 15, 1870, when the last Kansas Pacific spike was driven at Comanche Crossing in what is now Strasburg, Colorado was it possible to ride from New York to San Francisco without once having to leave the rails. With that kind of history behind it, you'd expect this tag to have a fair amount of value, and you'd be right. Only some feverish auction action can answer the question, “How much?” but it should be somewhere in the low to mid hundreds. One well-known dealer suggests at least $200-250, and last year a different, shield-shaped Kansas Pacific tag brought $479.


Question This “WB” mark is stamped inside a pewter spoon bowl that I found at an old home near a ferry crossing. Can you identify it? On the back of the bowl are the crudely carved initials “L. R.”

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Answer This appears to be one of the touchmarks of William Banckes (also seen spelled Bancks and Bankes), a pewterer in Kilkenny, Ireland in the late 1600s. The same mark can be found on various pewter ware items attributed as c. 1690. Since the handle of the spoon is missing, its monetary value is severely impacted, but its historical importance remains very much intact. It certainly suggests early 18th or even late 17th century activity, and likely settlement, where it was found; and the initials carved on back of the spoon, presumably those of the owner, could provide a valuable clue to the history of the site. Incidentally, for others who have marked pewter items that they'd like to research, the go-to guide is Old Pewter - Its Makers and Marks by Howard Herschel Cotterell. At fully 5 lbs, this definitive reference is in no sense a volume to be set aside lightly! First published in 1929, it has been out of print since 1985; however, copies can still be found, and it's also available at many libraries. (Note: The Pewter Society maintains an online, searchable database of pewterers, but this resource is reserved for members only.)


Question I found this unusual item in Brunswick, Georgia. At the top is, “1896. Great Wallace Shows, and in the center is pictured an elephant. Beneath are the words, “PRINCE. Performing Elephant. Weight 11,376 Lbs. Age 134 Years.” Except for some general information about the Great Wallace Shows, I haven't had much luck researching it. Can you help?

William Ridenour
Blackshear, GA

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Answer In the late 19th and early 20th century, the Great Wallace Shows of Peru, Indiana was one of America's premier traveling circuses, rivaled only by Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey. Ads boasted, “3 Circus Rings... 4 Trains of Cars... 10 Acres of Canvas... Seating Capacity 20,000.” It was a point of pride with Col. Ben Wallace that his shows featured only the finest performers and animals in the world, and from 1895 until 1898 Prince was one of five elegant elephants under the big top. Your find, a novelty badge which would have had a “Souvenir” hanger bar, claims that he sagged the scales at well over 5-1/2 tons, and he probably did: male Asian elephants often reach that weight. The unembellished age of the pachyderm formerly known as Prince would have been considerably shy of 134, however. The record for his gender and species is 86, and few make it to 60. For those in captivity in North America, 45 is the average. Unfortunately, a number of famous circus elephants suffered tragic, untimely demises, and he was no exception. Barnum's legendary Jumbo, you may recall, had a fatal encounter with a freight train. Prince's final hour came in 1898, when the decision was made to euthanize him following an incident in which he became confused and enraged, and killed his trainer. It was a sad end for a beloved behemoth who had awed and elated millions. If the badge were complete and nondug, it might retail around $100-150; as is, less than half that. You could get a replacement hanger fairly easily and inexpensively (say, $10-15), but it would be just that- an obvious replacement which would add little more than its own cost to the badge's value.


Question Can you identify this coin? I believe that it is Chinese, the metal seems to be silver, and it is about the same size as a U.S. silver dollar.

Bill Corey
Ozark, AR

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Answer Some days it's safer to juggle jugs of nitroglycerine or tap-dance in the minefields than to tackle numismatic questions... but here goes. What you've got is, or is supposed to be a Chinese Yuan Shi-kai or “Fatman” dollar, introduced in 1914 and struck at least through 1921. By 1924, an estimated 750 million were reported to be in circulation; and according to one authority, anywhere from 200 to 400 die varieties may exist. If that doesn't sufficiently complicate matters, it also happens to be one of the most heavily counterfeited coins of all time. As a result, any identification is sure to be challenged, contradicted, &/or corrected by the legions of “experts” who live to pounce on any pronouncement. That said, if it's genuine, it's .890 fine silver, and its actual silver content by weight is just over 3/4 oz. Depicted on the obverse is Yuan Shi-kai, a Chinese general and politician who helped oust the last emperor, became the first president of the Republic of China, and later attempted to reinstate monarchical rule, proposing himself as the new emperor. I'm not entirely certain about the meaning of the Chinese characters overarching his jowled and mustachioed visage, but I do know that since there are seven rather than six of them, it dates later than 1914; and I believe that the third character from the left signifies Year 9, or 1920. On the reverse, the characters within the wreath say simply Yi Yuan, or “One Yuan.” You can find these coins on offer from $25-30, 'way on up into triple digits. My guess is that yours isn't far from those lower numbers.


Question I located this rather large (32 mm) Holson Shoe Co. good luck token while detecting in the water in the Boston, Massachusetts area. Do you recognize it? How old is it, and would it have any value?

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Answer I couldn't find it cataloged anywhere either, but the eagle gives us a hint of its vintage. An identical bird appears on Menter Clothing Co. tokens of the early 1920s. An ad from 1945 states that Holson's Special Comfort Shoes, the same brand named on the token, are, “...of 40 Years' Reputation.” Thus, the earliest possible date for it would be 1905. The “697 Washington Street, Boston” address shown on the reverse evidently was obsolete after 1939, and perhaps well before that, as all the Holson's ads that I could find from 1940 forward show a different address, “40 Stuart Street, Boston.” Based on these facts, and others omitted here, I suspect that it's somewhere between 1910-15 and 1935-40, and if I had to narrow it even further, I'd say 1920s. As a handsome token of that time, bearing a design familiar from another firm's pieces but heretofore unlisted for Holson, in Very Fine or better condition it ought to fetch $15+.


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