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Homepage Archives Open in new window Index (06/2004) AMP (05/2004) AMP (07/2004)   Vol. 38 June 2004 
Ask Mark Parker!
As seen in the June 2004 edition of W&ET Magazine


Question Mark, can you ID this "P & R" lock for me? I think it might be railroad related, but am getting only random guesses as to what the initials might stand for.

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Answer Your find is from the Philadelphia & Reading Railroad, dates from the early 1900s, and may have been made by the E. T. Fraim Lock Co. of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, or the S. & M. Mfg. Co. of Philadelphia, as these companies' marks appear on other P&R locks of this design. Chartered in 1833, the P&R was created to move coal. As it grew, the company invested heavily in the coal industry, and at one time controlled nearly a third of the state's anthracite lands. It also ventured into canal and ocean transportation. By 1871, it was reportedly the largest corporation in the world, with a net worth of $170 million. Unfortunately, its ambitious expansions ultimately landed it in bankruptcy. The Reading Co., a holding company which took over the P&R in 1893, eventually merged it with other lines and itself became an operating company in 1923. (Remember the Monopoly card, "Take a Ride on the Reading"?) Finally, in 1976, the Reading's railroad assets were absorbed into the Consolidated Rail Corporation (Conrail). Value of the lock? As found, probably around $750. If non-excavated, with key and working, up to $1,000+.


Question I dug this Kansas Detective Bureau badge while detecting at an old homesite. The metal is dark, with some light corrosion and pitting, and the pin is missing. I would like to know its approximate age, how much it's worth, and any other information you may have.

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Answer The Kansas Detective Bureau is listed in the 1888-89 business directories for Wichita, Kansas, and the design of the badge is a stock (generic) pattern which was widely used in that period. Although modern replica and fantasy badges of the same style are fairly common, I know of none lettered "Kansas Detective Bureau." Given that, along with the recovery context and condition, I'd say it's safe to assume yours is an honest example right out of the late 1800s. Detective badges, with few exceptions (notably, those of the Pinkerton Agency and various railroads), tend to be less valuable than so-called "lawman" badges: sheriff, marshal, ranger, etc. Even so, I suspect that someone keen on old Kansas collectibles would welcome a chance to own this one, warts and all, for $150 or more. In fact, I ran it past several knowledgeable dealers, and their estimates were all pretty much in line with mine.

Update: Interestingly, as this column was being readied for print, an identical badge popped up on eBay. Offered first at a starting bid of $300, with a "Buy It Now" option of $575, it found no takers. It was then relisted and received one bid-less than the undisclosed reserve price, and substantially below our own estimate as well.


Question Can you identify this post-Civil War pin? It has the dates 1861-1865 at the top and "Three Years We Have Served" around the sides. In the center is a monogram composed of the letters L, U (or possibly O), and V. The pin is 3/4" x 5/8" and made of copper or bronze.

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Answer Two late 19th - early 20th century organizations for Civil War veterans used the initials U. V. L.- the Union Veterans League, and the Union Veteran Legion. Your pin is from the latter, as evidenced by the "Three Years" inscription. In 1898, the U.V.L.'s National Roster published these eligibility criteria: "Officers, soldiers, sailors, and marines of the Union Army, Navy, and Marine Corps during the War...who volunteered prior to July 1, 1863, for a term of three years and were honorably discharged for any cause after a service of at least two continuous years, or were at any time discharged by reason of wounds received in the line of duty. Also, those who volunteered for a term of two years prior to July 22, 1861, and served their full term of enlistment unless discharged for wounds received in the line of duty; but no drafted person, nor substitute, nor anyone who has at any time borne arms against the United States is eligible." Although far fewer in number than other veterans' groups, especially the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.), the men of the U.V.L. were fiercely proud of what they felt was a higher standard of membership and service. Their pins, badges, and other memorabilia are correspondingly scarcer, but so are collectors. As a result, yours is likely a $30-40 find.


Question This silver cob that I found measures 1" x 2", weighs 16 grams, and on one side has a counterstamp showing the sun above some mountains. Friends have told me it's rare and worth quite a few bucks. What's your opinion?

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Answer It appears to be a Spanish cob struck in colonial Mexico during the reign of Charles II (1665-1700), and the countermark is Guatemalan, c. 1839. So far, so good... but there's a problem. A genuine 8 reales cob should weigh around 27 grams; a 4 reales (the only other possibility), around 13.5. Obviously, at 16 grams, your find is too heavy for one and too light for the other. The only way it could be genuine and that low in weight is if it were an 8 reales that had been cut down in circulation after minting; however, that would result in a significant loss of size that this coin does not display. The more likely explanation? Counterfeits abound. Some are modern copies, while others are contemporary pieces, as old as the coins they imitate. As for the Guatemalan countermark, it is known on counterfeits made around the time of the genuine coins. Having said all that, let's suppose that somehow it's the real deal after all. Price tag? About $135.

Our thanks to professional numismatist Daniel Frank Sedwick, a specialist in the colonial coinage of Spanish America. Be sure to check out his fascinating and informative website:


Question This enameled brass pin is 1-1/4" wide and has a banner or ribbon at the bottom reading, "Vigiles Salutis." Can you tell me anything about it?

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Answer What you've got is the distinctive insignia, or DI, of the U.S. Army Security Agency School. The Latin motto Vigiles Salutis means "Sentinels of Security." Approved in 1953, the design features a sphinx (symbolic of wisdom, silence, and closed-mouth conduct) clutching bolts of lightning (representing electronic communication). Although they're omitted from the DI, the ASA School's full coat of arms also includes a torch (for learning) and crossed keys (security) on a torse at the top. What's it worth? $10-15, tops.


Question This one has a gang of us going crazy! See if you can figure it out. Actual size is approximately 2-1/2" x 4-1/2", and the wide end is marked "PAT OCT 23 77."

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Answer Your "whatsit" is part of an old trunk and is shown in drawings for an "Improvement in Trunk-Fixtures" patent (#196,500) issued to C.A. Taylor of Chicago, Illinois on October 23, 1877; Taylor applied for the patent on May 25 of that year. The item is described in the patent document as "a weighted, self-acting hook or catch which engages with a suitable pin or projection to hold the latter in a raised position." (Note: The "bowtie" projections near the center do not appear in the drawings but presumably were added later either to perform or assist in some function, or simply to reinforce the holed area and prevent damage and wear. ) In 1859, Charles A. Taylor founded the Taylor Trunk Works, which flourished well into the 20th century, producing a wide range of commercial and professional trunks, chests, etc., including some custom crafted for famed magician and escape artist Harry Houdini. I'm not certain of the company's current status, but I believe that a related firm remains in operation today.


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