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Homepage Archives Open in new window Index (07/2004) AMP (06/2004) AMP (08/2004)   Vol. 38 July 2004 
Ask Mark Parker!
As seen in the July 2004 edition of W&ET Magazine


Question I recently turned up a number of baggage tags, including this one, at an old building along the tracks of what was once the Central Pacific Railroad in Nevada. It's stamped " 2470 CEN. PAC R. R. TO DEN. & RIO G. RY." I recall seeing similar looking tags in your column in the past. During what time period were they used, and what sort of value might they have?

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Answer If the other tags that you found are even half as good as this one, you've hit a railroadiana bonanza! Just the name of the famed Central Pacific— which on May 10, 1869 was linked with the Union Pacific at Promontory Summit, Utah to form the nation's first transcontinental railroad— makes it highly desirable. Add Gen. Wm. J. Palmer's Denver & Rio Grande Railway, originally a narrow-gauge line rich in Colorado mining history and financial skullduggery, and you've got a tag guaranteed to give any serious collector a "Rocky Mountain High"! Dating from the 1880s, it's seldom seen and therefore hard to price precisely; however, it should be somewhere in the $750-1,000 range... more than enough reason to head back for another hunt or two around that trackside shack.


Question A detecting buddy suggested that I write to you about these shackles that I picked up at a flea market recently. I was told that they were made for use on slaves around 1820-40. Can you verify this? By the way, the man who gave me this information offered $300 for them on the spot.

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Answer Since I'm none too familiar with such devices (firsthand or otherwise), W&ET forwarded photos of your "find" to a couple of experts, who identified them as inexpensive Darby irons from India or possibly Pakistan, recently made and retailing for less than $40. Darby restraints were introduced in 1780 by the Hiatt Co. in England, a firm still active today. The name Darby reportedly derives from Cockney slang for the letter D and refers to the shape of the cuff. Numerous differences were noted between your Darbies and vintage versions: no identifying marks, flat rather than rounded cuffs, lack of an articulating (360˚) swivel in the middle of the chain, weak attachment rings on the cuffs, and an odd length of chain— handcuffs typically have no more than three links; leg irons, 16" or so of chain to permit walking. In addition to inferior quality and workmanship, the Indian and Pakistani versions are often artificially rusted and "antiqued" with hammer blows, file marks, etc. No doubt you'll be tempted to have another chat with the chap who sold them, not to mention the one who offered $300, but perhaps it would be best to use a little, er, restraint and just keep them around as a reminder to beware out there.


Question Mark, I would appreciate any help you can give me in identifying this item. It's made of brass and about 2" high, with two rusted steel pieces extending from the top. When the lever on the side is pressed, the steel pieces move. It's marked, but only part of the lettering is legible. It might be "F. W. Bain, New York." It also has a small, fitted leather case. What it is?

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Answer It's a spring lancet, a medical device used for bloodletting. The narrow, curved steel piece is used to cock it; the other, flat steel piece is the blade. When the lever on the side is pressed, the blade is released, making a quick, controlled cut. (Remember, boys and girls, don't try this at home.) Spring lancets were widely used during the late 18th and 19th centuries. Although I'm unable to identify the maker of yours, an advanced collector in the field believes that it dates from 1870s. If so, unfortunately, that would impact the value quite a bit. While a Civil War period spring lancet in relic condition can bring $200-250+, a post-war one's worth only $75— and that, with apologies to the Bard, is the unkindest cut of all.


Question I'd like some information about this nickel-size charm (?) showing a ship with tall masts and smokestacks, flying what appears to be an American flag. Do you recognize it?

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Answer "Remember the Maine!" Nowadays, probably too few do, but back in 1898 those words were a battle cry. On January 25 of that year, the battleship U.S.S. Maine entered Havana Harbor, Cuba. Three weeks later, on February 15, she exploded and sank. Historians have argued ever since about the true cause of her destruction, but at the time nobody doubted that Spain was to blame, and on April 25 the Spanish-American War began. With national pride and outrage at a fever pitch, it was hard to find anyone who wasn't wearing a pin, button, badge, or fob proudly proclaiming support for the war. This little brass medalet showing a U.S. warship (evidently not the Maine, which had two funnels, not three) was one of those popular patriotic issues, and today it lists for $10-20 in Fine to Very Fine condition.


Question I found this St. Francis medal (marked "S. F. Chapel" on the back) on the bank of the old Feeder Canal in Glens Falls, New York. Made of silver, 3/4" x 1-1/2", and dated 1830, it's one of my more interesting finds, and I'm curious about its origin and value. Can you tell me anything about it?

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Answer A. Your find is actually a medal of the Virgin Mary. Also, the date is commemorative; the medal itself is likely of modern manufacture. Known as the Medal of the Immaculate Conception, the Miraculous Medal, or simply the Mary Medal, it has an interesting history. In 1830, Sister (now St.) Catherine Labouré of the Daughters of Charity in Paris, France confided that she had witnessed an apparition of the Virgin Mary in the convent chapel. Two more such experiences followed, and during this time Catherine reportedly was commanded to have a medal made according to the vision which she had received. The first medals were struck in 1832, and countless millions have been continually produced and distributed ever since. The obverse depicts Mary standing upon a globe, crushing the head of a serpent beneath her feet. Surrounding her is the inscription, "O, Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee." The reverse bears a cross symbolic of Christ, standing upon a bar representing the earth and forming a monogram with the letter M for Mary. Beneath are two hearts— one, encircled with thorns, that of Jesus; the other, pierced by a sword, that of Mary. An oval border is formed by 12 stars, sometimes said to refer to the Apostles, but also recalling Revelation 12:1, in which St. John writes that "...a great sign appeared in heaven, and a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of 12 stars." The "S. F. Chapel" mark is not part of the medal's design, but presumably was added to indicate that the medal was presented or offered by the chapel. A religious organization relating to the Miraculous Medal is currently supplying a silver one of approximately the same size for a suggested donation of $15.


Question I found this pink-painted, 1-3/4" lead elephant at an old homestead in New York. The base reads, "Hotel Bristol N.Y. Pink Elephant Room." Any history? Collector interest?

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Answer Everybody collects something... including pink elephants! For the answers to your questions, we're indebted to Michael D. Knapik, author of Everything Elephants: A Collector's Pictorial Encyclopedia. He attributes this figure as a c. 1920s-40s souvenir from— per the leaden lettering— the Bristol Hotel's Pink Elephant Room, adding, "I think the hotel is now the Bristol Plaza Hotel in New York City. This piece is definitely collectable, and I would "guesstimate" the value at $35-50 in good condition." For more information about Michael, his book, and the International Elephant Collectors Society, pay a visit to next time you're on the net.


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