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Homepage Archives Open in new window Index (12/2014) AMP (10/2014) AMP (02/2015)   Vol. 48 December 2014 
Ask Mark Parker!
As seen in the December 2014 edition of W&ET Magazine


Question I found these World’s Columbian Exposition items in a box of old stuff. On the back of the drop bar of the “Director” medal or badge is the name “Charles C. Wheeler.” The pass issued to “C. C. Wheeler” bears his signature as well. I’ve searched the web and can’t find anything like it. Do you have any information about its rarity or value?

Rich Leidolf
Wheatfield, NY

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Answer The World’s Columbian Exposition, or Chicago World’s Fair, was held to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the New World in 1492. When the expo corporation was formed on April 10, 1890, among its distinguished board of directors was railroad executive Charles C. Wheeler, who served on the Committee on Transportation. In all, there were 45 directors. Their badges, designed by Olin L. Warner and struck by Tiffany & Co., depict Christopher Columbus on the obverse and his three ships, the caravelles Niña, Pinta, and Santa María, on the reverse. Badges of the same style were presented to the expo’s Board of Lady Managers. Most were bronze, with a very limited number struck in silver. The Columbus medal was also issued separately from the badge, again both in bronze and silver. Warner’s design, incidentally, inspired the 1892–93 U. S. Columbian commemorative half dollar. Equally interesting is the pass, signed not only by Wheeler but also William T. Baker, president of the expo. Note, too, that it is, “Good until October 1st, 1892.” In fact, dedication ceremonies were held on October 21 of that year, and public admission to the fairgrounds was delayed until the following May. The expo closed on October 30, 1893. Each a rarity in its own right, together the matching badge and pass are certain to excite collectors. As for putting a price tag on the pair, the closest thing that I’ve found is one of the Board of Lady Managers badges, in excellent condition with its original expo-imprint envelope, which brought nearly $950. Obviously, what you’ve got is even scarcer, and I’ll let optimism and imagination take over from there.


Question Hey, Mark, what can you tell me about this eagle item that I found around an old foundation? It has a holed tab on the front and a screw on the back.

Mark Friedman
Glen Spey, NY

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Answer A. Although assumed by some to be Civil War drum hardware, these brass birds are actually banjo “J” hook, or tension-hook, brackets. (Ditto, by the way, for the little Union shields with the same sort of attachments, also often attributed as “drum head tighteners.”) And for those who’ll believe it when they see it... well, here you go:

Is it indeed of the period? Maybe, but many more are postwar or even 20th century. It’s said that this spread-winged eagle variety was particularly popular around 1876, the year of the U.S. Centennial. Regardless of all that, relic collectors really like them, and it’s not unusual to see them fetch $50-75 or more— sometimes nearly twice that price. If you’re thinking of selling, though, go with the lower numbers.


Question I’d like to know more about this token from the Atlas Bar, located in the Guaranty Trust Building here in El Paso. Also, do you have any information about how much it might be worth?

Paul Ellis
El Paso, TX

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Answer The Guaranty Trust [Bank] Building, boasted to be “The Most Complete and Elegant Office Building in the Southwest” in its day, was home to the Atlas Bar from 1904 until 1911. Exactly when the token was issued within that time frame is unknown. According to old city directories, the bar’s original owner was Ernest Bridges, but within a year Charles E. “Dad” Graham had become the proprietor. On February 11, 1911, Graham was gunned down in front of his home. The bar remained open for some months after his death (I found a June 26 ad for it), but seems to have disappeared by 1912. A couple of years later a new Atlas Bar was operated by Schwenker & Greene at a different location. The Guaranty Trust Building later became the Gateway Hotel, which survives but was closed earlier this year. Planned renovations may now be underway. Five years ago, another of these tokens turned up at auction, and the winning bid was— wait for it— $797. That one was in choice condition, however. It’s hard to say how close yours might come to that amount, but I’d guess hundreds less. Nevertheless, its attractions definitely outweigh its imperfections.


Question I found this 4-1/2'' x 2'' flat, looped iron spike while water hunting in Lake Simcoe, Ontario, Canada. Having also found an 1812 British halfpenny and a British Army 103rd Regiment button (War of 1812) in the same area, I’m wondering if this relic might be from that era as well. Any ideas?

Tom Morton
Havelock, ON

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Answer What you’ve got is a “log dog,” made to be spiked into a log so that a chain or rope can be attached. It appears to be hand forged, so it’s likely got some age to it, but they’ve remained pretty much unchanged for centuries. Their main use was in logging, and especially for lashing logs together for rafting or towing in water. They also came in handy in woods and camps, around cabins and barns, etc.— anywhere something needed to be tied up/down: boats, goats, whatever. I don’t know of any particular military application they had that would link them to War of 1812 activity at the site, but I’m sure a few came into play there, too. Factory made ones go for as much as $10-15; blacksmith specials, $20-25, and occasionally $40 or more.


Question What is the value of this 1839 Mexican coin that I found?

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Answer It purports to be a Durango mint Cap & Rays 8 reales, and if genuine would probably be worth about $50. However, the assayer’s initials M R are incorrect (they should R M), and some of the die details are a bit “iffy,” too. As a result, I suspect that this is one of the countless contemporary counterfeits which circulated freely in that period— many of them here in the U.S. In 1845, Dr. John Leonard Riddell of the New Orleans mint published “A Monograph of the Silver Dollar: Good and Bad,” in which he estimated that of the silver dollars then in circulation in the U.S., 90% were either Spanish colonial or Mexican issues, and that of those at least 1% were counterfeit. Such spurious specie was struck in low-grade or “debased” silver, silver-plated copper, and base metal alloys resembling silver. The genuine coins’ silver content is .903 fine, or slightly over 90%. In additional to metallic composition, one test for authenticity is weight. If it’s the real deal, it should be fairly close to 27 grams. (Official weight is 27.07 grams.) Today, it’s not unusual for early counterfeits to command prices close to those of genuine coins, and in certain instances even more. Unfortunately, there are also recent replicas, many from China, now infesting the internet and starting to turn up in coin shops, too. Those, of course, have zero historical and negligible numismatic value.


Question I dug this tag by the Nannie Baird Mine in Orogrande, New Mexico. It is brass or copper, 1-7/16'' in diameter, and is stamped, “NANNIE B. A 19 SW. S. & R. CO.” The back is blank. I think that it is from the old railroad that supplied all the mines in the area. Do you have any information about it, and does it have any value?

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Answer The Nannie Baird Mine, discovered in 1895, began operating in 1897; its final year was 1932. Its production was primarily copper and gold, and secondarily lead and silver. On the tag that you found, “SW. S. & R. Co.” stands for the Southwestern Smelting & Refining Co. In December 1904, Southwestern started construction of a smelter in Orogrande, and it finally came online in November 1907. However, just six months later it was shut down and sold due to low mine production. That, including the construction period, would suggest the tag is around 106-110 years old. After that, the company reorganized as Orogrande Smelting Co. and operated until 1910. The tag could have been used as a tool check, work check, or load check. In any case, as a New Mexico Territory copper & gold mine item it should be highly collectable. Although there’s no doubt about its age or origin, it would be even better if it had the full location information stamped on it. So far I’ve found no listings for this tag, but some from other Western state and territorial mines of the late 19th and early 20th century have reached triple digits at auction.


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