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Homepage Archives Open in new window Index (10/2014) AMP (08/2014) AMP (12/2014)   Vol. 48 October 2014 
Ask Mark Parker!
As seen in the October 2014 edition of W&ET Magazine


Question Hey, Mark... I was detecting in an old yard and got a really good hit but almost passed it up because the depth reading was “0.” I figured it was just a modern penny or something like that, but less than an inch down I found this beauty! Can you give me some info about it?

Danny Limbaugh
Fayetteville, TN

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Answer Delve into Albert’s button book and you’ll discover a number of schools matching the initials on your find, but only one bears the same bold Old English lettering: Berkeley School. “An unlisted variant?” some might wonder. Unfortunately, such leaps of Sherlockian logic have led to more than a few miscues in button attribution. In fact, the right answer’s right next to the wrong one. What you’ve got, I’m reliably informed, is a c. 1850s - 1860 button from the Bingham School in North Carolina... and no, it doesn’t bear a bit of resemblance to the later example shown beside the Berkeley button in the book. The school’s roots run all the way back to 1793, but rather than rehearse its entire history let’s pick up the timeline in 1857, when William James Bingham was joined by sons William and Robert in what was officially known as the W. J. Bingham & Sons Select School- not surprisingly, also simply as the Bingham School- and the button is believed to date from that period. By 1864 the school had relocated to a site on the North Carolina Railroad east of the town of Mebane, and incorporated under the shorter form of its name. Eventually it moved once more, this time to Asheville, where it remained in existence until 1928. Several varieties of the button have been reported (coat & cuff sizes, differing backmark details, etc.), but all seem to have been produced by Scovill. Yours, boasting what’s known as an “rmdc” backmark- raised mark, depressed channel- is considered especially desirable. Overall, it’s in nice, honest excavated condition, and you were right to leave the light corrosion and clinging clay just the way they are. Value? $275-325.


Question I would like some information about this item that I dug near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. It’s really small- about 1” long- and looks as if something’s broken off the bottom.

Rechey Davidson
Quinlan, TX

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Answer Now that’s really an “old time” find! It’s an early to mid 1800s, late Georgian or early Victorian watch key. Originally, it would have had a suspension loop at the top for attachment to a chain, and at the other end a hollow key tube of harder metal with a square hole which could fit onto the winding arbor of the watch movement. Key-wound watches were widely used as late as the 1860s-70s, after which stem-wound ones (introduced around 1850) became the norm. The key’s motifs hark back to the days of knighthood and chivalry. The horseman with a horn may be Roland of Breton, the horn-blowing hero of the Battle of Roncevaux in 778, during the reign of Charlemagne, immortalized in a French epic poem, the Chanson de Roland, or Song of Roland. In keeping with the theme, both sides of the key also depict small marquees or pavilions, campaign tents from Medieval times. Special watch keys once served as tokens of membership in academic and fraternal organizations, such as the coveted Phi Beta Kappa key. They were also the inspiration for the familiar “class keys” still proudly worn as pins or pendants by many high school seniors. A watch key of identical design, intact and in excellent condition, was recently listed at $75.


Question I found this cast brass “NORTHROP LOOM - PATENTED” object near the workers’ yard of an old fabric mill that closed in 1967. On the back is “LM 6079.” Do you know what it is, how old it might be, or what it’s worth?

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Answer Our answer comes from Peter & Laurie Eaton of the 40th Parallel Fiber & Leather Studio- “It’s a name plate from a Northrop loom made by the Draper Corporation of Hopedale, Massachusetts, a manufacturer of automatic shuttle looms for 85 years. Early on, Draper built loom parts, but eventually designed, built, and sold the first fully automatic loom, the Draper Northrop Loom, in 1895. Over a 33-year period, they reportedly built 250,000 Northrop Looms, Each loom would have had a name plate, and on that plate would have been an ‘Order No.’ The Draper Looms were sold by the order, and individual looms did not have unique serial numbers. Unfortunately, available records regarding the order numbers date back only to 1932. Items of this kind are now hard to find since most of the old looms were scrapped for cast iron. To have the loom’s patent numbers plate, in conjunction with the order umber/name plate would help identify its age.” A plate exactly like yours, also numbered LM 6079, recently brought $7.95 on eBay. Incidentally, Peter & Laurie own a Draper Northrop Model D power loom, c. 1927. To see this remarkable machine in action, search for “Draper Northrop Loom” on YouTube.


Question Ever since I dug this button deep in a yard dating back to the 1800s, I’ve been trying to find one like it on the internet, but no luck so far. I believe that “NYC” stands for New York Central, and of course “RR” is for Railroad. Can you help me figure out the rest?

Larry Ehlinger
Rome, NY

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Answer Would you believe, a river runs through it? The complete lettering is NYC & HR RR and stands for New York Central & Hudson River Railroad. Cornerstone of “Commodore” Cornelius Vanderbilt’s empire, the line was created in 1869, when the transportation tycoon combined the original New York Central Railroad and the Hudson River Railroad to form what became one of America’s first mega-corporations. The button, issued only a couple of years later, is worth about $20-25.


Question This pendant-brooch was found in a box of costume jewelry. Lettering beneath the red enameling identifies the portrait as that of “Kaiser Leopold I.” If possible, I would like to have a translation of the Russian (?) lettering surrounding it. Could it be celebrating the tricentennial of the emperor, c. 1640-1705?

Don Fantz
Portland, OR
Oregon Treasure Trail Society

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Answer Let’s start with the Cyrillic legend ЗА ВОЕННА ЗАСЛУГА, which translates as “For Military Merit.” A Russian friend says that, although it’s seen on certain medals from his country, in this instance the font is actually Bulgarian. Regardless, as you’ve noted, it’s costume jewelry; so, the lettering here is clearly merely decorative. For those of an opposing point of view, I can only point out that, unlike this brooch, military medals generally aren’t available with matching earrings! I suppose the tricentennial commemoration that you mentioned is a possibility- one dealer does list a similar brooch as c. 1940s- but confirmation is lacking. Honestly, it’s hard to guess what the designer had in mind beyond a fanciful fashion accessory. The same center came with a variety of decorative borders. In addition to the fleur-de-lis one which you have, there are others displaying ornate scrollwork and even mythological beasts such as griffins. Other colors were available, too, notably blue. These often fetch $20-25 or more.


Question I found this small “LOUISIANA” buckle at an old homesite west of Morganza, Louisiana. It’s 2-1/4'' x 2-9/16'' and has a slightly dimpled background. A friend has suggested that it could be from a school. Could it be a cadet buckle? If so, would it date from the Civil War or some other period? Any help would be appreciated.

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Answer Your buckle is postwar- in fact, fairly late- and is from one of several stock (generic) state series. Over the years I’ve seen a bunch of these bearing the names of various states and schools. Among them is a “GEORGIA” buckle appearing on p. 523 (Plate 885) of O’Donnell & Campbell’s book, American Military Belt Plates, in which it’s attributed as a, “Popular style of early 20th century school plate marketed by several firms. The 1916 North & Judd catalog (New Britain, Conn.) listed these as ‘College buckles.’ They offered to make up new designs with different school names at no extra cost provided a gross or more were ordered. Thomas Parry & Sons advertised these as ‘College Belt Buckles’ in the same period.” I couldn’t find a recent price listing for this “LOUISIANA” example, or any real consensus among dealers and collectors as to its value, but only one estimate was beyond the double-digit range.

Special thanks to Mike O’Donnell of O’Donnell Publications-



In the February 2012 edition of this column, the “Great Louisiana Gold Mine” the piece shown to the right was identified as the work of Henry Alvin Sharpe, a man of myriad talents and accomplishments, perhaps best known as the inventor of the colorful Mardi Gras doubloons.  Conspicuously lacking, however, was any information about the “mine” itself.  Recently, I received an e-mail which solves the mystery and adds a welcome page to the annals of exonumia:

Dear Mark,

I’m responding to the “Louisiana Panner” item in your February 2012 column, regarding the coin by Henry Alvin Sharpe engraved, “The Great Louisiana Gold Mine.”  I can help you out.  The coin came from a business in the late 1970s that my father, R. D. Bozeman, Jr., started in Gonzales, LA.  It was next door to the Great Louisiana Flea Market that he had opened there.  The Great Louisiana Gold Mine was a lot that he filled with sand one foot deep.  The coins were tilled under and customers would pay a fee to “dig for gold.”  Whatever amount was engraved on the back of the coin was the amount the person could exchange the coin for.  The business was only open for a year, as the flea market moved to Baton Rouge.  When he decided to start the business, my father went to the person most well known in making doubloons, because he always went with the best.  The coins are heavy and made from either bronze or brass. (I can’t remember!)  I still have about 50 of them that I found when helping my mom clean out her house. Hope this helps!

Jane Bozeman Matheny 

Thank you, Jane, for sharing this information!  I know that all of our readers, along with countless collectors, will appreciate your contribution to the column as much as I do.


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