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Homepage Archives Open in new window Index (06/2015) AMP (04/2015) AMP (08/2015)   Vol. 49 June 2015 
Ask Mark Parker!
As seen in the June 2015 edition of W&ET Magazine


Question I recently contacted a well-known dealer, Rich Hartzog of World Exonumia, about this 1855 Charleston “Servant” slave tag or hire badge that I found, and he suggested that you might like to see it, too.  Any thoughts on its value and possible restoration?

Darby Hebert
Elloree, SC

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Answer Congratulations on a find that only a few relic hunters are likely to experience in a lifetime!  The most important thing to be said up front is that despite considerable physical damage, the tag’s historical interest and importance remain intact.  In its current condition, the monetary value is only in the hundreds, of course.  A really successful restoration might nudge it into four figures; but bear in mind that “restored” is almost always a red flag to serious collectors.  You didn’t indicate whether the tag is for sale; however, if so, sometimes it’s better just to sell a relic as is and let the buyer deal with the details and expense of restoration.  If you’re planning to keep it in your own collection and would like to have it improved for display- or if you think it would be better to invest in a restoration before selling- there are a number of highly skilled and talented specialists in the field.  Just be careful not send the tag to anyone without first sending photos and discussing it with them.  When you do, ask if they can provide references &/or photos of their work.  (A lot of nice examples have been posted on detecting forums, so check there, too.)  Finally, remember this: once something’s been cleaned, retoned, or repaired, you can never truly undo what’s been done or put back what’s been taken away.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but second thoughts beforehand are better than regrets.


Question Some time ago, I dug this “CADET W. M. S.” button in the backyard of a hunting buddy whose home sits on a site occupied by both sides during the Civil War.  It’s backmarked “SCOVILL . MG. CO. SUPERFINE” and is in excellent condition with almost full gilt.  I found it listed as unidentified in a couple of books.  Online research indicates that it’s from a c. 1850s military school in Lynchburg, Virginia, but other questions remain unanswered.  Can you tell me what the initials W. M. S. represent, and how valuable the button might be?

Wayne Hartzell
Alexandria, VA

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Answer Founded by John Hastings Winston, Jr., and active from September 1854 until at least June 1859, the Westwood Military School (W. M. S.) was located on a large tract of land about three miles outside of Lynchburg, Virginia.  Offering a college-preparatory curriculum for boys and young men, for most of its existence it was known simply as the Westwood School.  (A few records also refer to it as the Westwood Academy.)  Military training was introduced in 1857, but there is apparently no further mention of it after the 1857-58 school year.  So, that would seem to be the probable time frame for your find.  Although ads briefly appeared, inviting enrollment for the 1859-60 term, they were soon followed by “For Sale” notices for the property.  About the same time, it was announced that Winston had been named principal of the New London Academy, an older and more prosperous institution nearby.  With these events, the Westwood School evidently met its end before the war began.  Nevertheless, Westwood men went on to serve the South with valor and devotion, and obviously a number of W. M. S. cadet buttons found their way to camps and battle sites as well.  Today, an example as nice as this one could easily command $450-500.

Special thanks to Bob Edmondson for his generous assistance in researching this item.


Question Mark, I’m writing to ask if you might be able to help me identify this cast brass relic that was found along with Civil War bullets and buttons at a site in south Louisiana.  I feel that it has to be military rather than patriotic / civilian, and there are sword pommel caps and shoulder belt plates of fairly similar design, although nothing exactly matching it.  Can you identify it?

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Answer After repeated attempts led me down a few dozen cul-de-sacs, I forwarded the photos of your find to professional militaria dealer and appraiser George Juno.  His reply came as a bit of a surprise: “This medallion goes to the side of a pair of stirrups from the 1820s and would have a retail value of $50-75... maybe $100, tops.”  While following up on that information, I got a hit on these Mexican War period stirrups, also with large, applied eagle medallions or bosses:

(Images courtesy of The Horse Soldier

Note the small, riveted tab at the top and the two studs which extend from the back of the medallion into corresponding holes in the body of the stirrup, and then compare those features to your find.  True, the eagle designs are different, but there’s no doubt about the similarities in attachment and construction.  

Update:  After receiving this information, the finder wrote again, reporting that, “It turns out I’d actually dug the top of the stirrup on a previous hunt.  Now that I know what it’s from, I'm going back to see if I can find the rest of it!”


Question During a recent visit to my childhood hometown in western Pennsylvania, I found this 1851 large cent.  I am curious about it because of the notch over the first numeral in the date.  At first I thought it might be someone’s attempt to convert the coin into jewelry, but then I found online references to the use of notched cents as “bona fides” to vouch for escaped slaves.  Are you familiar with this practice and can you tell me more about it?

B. Haddock
Pierre, SD

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Answer Even when current, but especially after being replaced first by Flying Eagle and then Indian Head cents, large cents were widely repurposed in all sorts of ways.  Many were countermarked by merchants for use as trade tokens.  Others were made into toy buzzers, spur rowels, buttons, identification tags, washers, gears and other mechanical parts... well, you get the idea.  This one also seems to have been deliberately altered, but for what reason?  (Just to anticipate certain readers’ responses, it does not appear to be any sort of mint error, nor does the rim damage resemble that caused by a bullet.)  Although the references that you cite are indeed interesting, I can’t confirm that your coin has such a history.  It’s also been said that cut, holed, or bent large cents sometimes served as identification tokens for the Civil War period anti-war Democrats, popularly known as “Copperheads.”  Unfortunately, as with so many items, there is simply no way to be sure what significance or purpose this particular piece may have had.  As a result, at least for now it can only be considered damaged.  Holed and bent 1851 large cents have recently brought $5-10, so that's probably a fair indication of value in this instance, too.


Question Can you tell me something about this commemorative coin?  It apparently was given to officers and workmen of the U. S. Mint, acknowledging their having taken an oath of allegiance on September 2, 1861.  It is in like-new condition, except for a slight blemish behind the bust of George Washington.  Although it is not for sale, I would like to know how much it might be worth.

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Answer Authorized by then Mint director James Pollock, and executed by engraver Anthony C. Paquet, this medal was first struck in November 1861.  Some exonumists see it as a sincere expression of loyalty to the Union during those early days of the Civil War.  Others consider it nothing more than a cynical attempt by Pollock to capitalize on prevailing patriotic sentiments, as well as a keen interest in other Washington pieces among collectors at that time.  The medal was struck in gold, aluminum (then considered a precious metal), silver, and bronze.  Of these, the bronze variety was the most common and is now valued at $30-40 in Extremely Fine condition.  Your find, while choice for detail, would probably fetch about half as much due to areas of light oxidation and porosity.


Question This “dog head” spike came from a narrow-gauge railroad in the Sierra Nevada, where I worked as a miner for many years.  I donated a couple to the Railroad Museum library in Sacramento, California, where they have books that show spikes like it.  However, the books don’t explain why the head is made this way.  Do you know? 

Clifford E. Hurst
Quartzsite, AZ

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Answer Dog head” or “dog ear” spikes were long the standard design for Russian railroads, and when American manufacturers began supplying them in large quantities in the early 1900s, they drew interest among engineers here, too.  The lugs or “ears” on either side supposedly gave a better grip on tie plates than did the standard American spikes, and made the spikes easier to remove with a claw bar.  A 1916 article in the Railway Review also suggested that the head’s design offered “better resistance to corrosion from brine drippings.”  Catalogs from the same era show such spikes in several sizes, including some with fluting or grooves, and others that are octagonal rather than square.  Evidently, the basic “dog” design has stood the test of time, as they’re still being made today.


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