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Homepage Archives Open in new window Index (04/2004) AMP (03/2004) AMP (05/2004)   Vol. 38 April 2004 
Ask Mark Parker!
As seen in the April 2004 edition of W&ET Magazine


Question Mark, can you identify this large silver coin or medallion dated 1583?

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Answer It's a thaler of the German state of Saxe-Old-Weimar (Sachsen-Alt-Weimar), and the portraits are those of Duke Friedrich Wilhelm I of Altenberg, and Duke Johann III of Weimar, brothers who ruled jointly from 1573 to 1602. Listed as #9770 in John S. Davenport's German Thalers 1500-1600, it's worth $200 in Very Fine condition, according to Peter Lampinen of Classical Numismatic Group, Inc.- Obviously, the fact that the coin has been looped reduces its numismatic value, perhaps by as much as 50%; however, it's still an impressive piece, and someone buying it to wear as a pendant, rather than for display in a collection, might still be willing to pay full price.


Question I found this pistol by an old stone foundation here in Connecticut. The top of the barrel is stamped, "O. A. SMITH. ROCKFALL, CONN," and the grips have the initials "O A S." It appears to be approximately .32 caliber. I would like information about the manufacturer and the date of the pistol.

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Answer A. Made in the 1880s by the Otis A. Smith Company of Rockfall, Connecticut, your .32 caliber, spur-trigger, five-shot pocket revolver is usually lumped into the category of handguns known to collectors as "suicide specials." However, it's actually of better quality than most: nickel-plated, integrally cast brass barrel and frame, steel cylinder, checkered hard-rubber grips, etc. Smith produced large numbers of pocket revolvers in the late 19th century, both under their own name and others such as the U. S. Arms Co. and New York Pistol Co. This one would retail today for $150-200 in Very Good to Fine condition. As is? Under $50.


Question This seems to be some kind of copper or brass container, slightly flattened and ornately embossed, with a hinged top. The base is quite small and has rough grooves on the bottom. It's very pretty, but I have no idea what it is. Do you?

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Answer Although its shape offers little hint of its intended usage, the grooves do give us a clue. In fact, it's a Victorian vesta case. "Vestas" were small friction matches, and the grooves on the bottom of the case served as a striking surface. While many cases were simply square or rectangular boxes, there were also fanciful figurals: pigs, dogs, bottles, boots... you name it. Your letter doesn't mention whether there is a hole in the top, but quite a few cases included this feature. Called a "go-to-bed," it allowed a burning match to be inserted in wick-like fashion, lighting the way down a dark passage. Probably somewhere in the $25-50 range, if it were problem-free this would easily be a $75-100 case.


Question Detecting around an old house in the Baltimore area, I popped up this unusual coin or token. One side has an eagle and "United States Copper," and the other has " * Tradesmens Currency * " and a shield with the words "Good for One Cent." It's a little larger than a penny. What can you tell me about it?

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Answer During the Civil War, an epidemic of hoarding soon led to a shortage of small change. While for many merchants the solution was to issue "store cards"- tokens bearing their name, location, and commercial message- which could serve as substitute coinage, others found this a bit too expensive and opted instead for stock tokens available at a lower cost. Patriotic designs were the norm... Liberty, flags, eagles, shields, stars & stripes, and such. Other tokens, including yours, emphasized value in trade; some even imitated Indian Heads cents. Varieties abound, and for convenience they are classified by obverse and reverse die numbers. This one's known as 202/434, and generally brings $12-18, VF+.


Question I have been unable to find out anything concerning this 1862 dollar bill that I got while "treasure hunting" at a yard sale. It's just a little smaller than a modern dollar bill and is in nice condition for its age. Please give me as much information about it as you can.

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Answer Unfortunately, it's a modern replica. This identification is based on a number of things, but three should be plenty for our purposes. First, genuine notes of this type are larger, not smaller, than current $1 currency. Second, the colors are wrong in your original photos: both the serial number and the U.S. Treasury seal should be printed in red ink. Third, the serial number 40617 appears on thousands of known copies. Incidentally, a lot of these were printed on tan-colored vegetable parchment, or papyrine, to give them an "antique" appearance. If genuine, such a note would fetch $400-450, F-VF. Yours? Face value, more or less.


Question This big, 4" brass buckle came out of a Tennessee site that has given up some Civil War relics as well. I'd like to know if it's from the period, and whether it was made for a man or a horse.

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Answer What you've got is a horse girth/cinch buckle, and of course these saw widespread civilian and military service in the mid to late 1800s. No doubt now and then, whether out of whimsy or dire necessity, a few were worn on waist belts, too, but that doesn't alter their intended function. What's more, they're still being made exactly the same, selling anywhere from $3-5 on up to $12-15, depending on quality and source. My guess is that an excavated one of uncertain age isn't likely to beat that by much- but as with every other relic, it's really worth whatever the other guy is willing to pay for it.


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