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Homepage Archives Open in new window Index (09/2004) AMP (08/2004) AMP (10/2004)   Vol. 38 September 2004 
Ask Mark Parker!
As seen in the September 2004 edition of W&ET Magazine


Question While searching a gold rush campsite in Sonora, California, I found these two eagle "NYL" buttons. There is a manufacturer's name on the reverse: W [something] Smith & Co. of New York. I have read that these are New York Lancer buttons from the 1850s. What else can you tell me about them?

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Answer Not much. The New York Lancers- by definition, a cavalry unit armed with lances- seem to have left few hints or hoofprints behind. Some sources date the buttons as early as the 1830s, apparently basing this on the backmark, which is actually "Young. Smith & Co. / New. Y." The firm of Henry Young, William H. Smith, and partners operated from about 1830 to 1858. I suspect that the time frame you cite comes from Alphaeus H. Albert's Record of American Uniform and Historical Buttons, which catalogs this variety as #NY 82A and describes the New York Lancers as, "A cavalry company under command of Capt. Bernard Reilly in the 1850s." Similar buttons have also turned up at a number of Civil War battlefields and camps; but of course all sorts of antebellum buttons, both military and civilian, are dug at such sites, and so far I've seen no documentation of any New York Lancers involvement in that conflict. Again, solid facts about them are in short supply... and so are their buttons. Each of yours would retail for $400+.


Question This lock was found, key and all, near an old railroad track. The lock is marked "B & O R. R." and "F-S HDW. CO." The key is also stamped "B & O." Can you identify and price it for me?

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Answer Your Baltimore & Ohio Railroad (B&O) lock was made by the Fraim-Slaymaker Hardware Company of Lancaster, Pennsylvania sometime between 1921 and 1930. The B&O began 'way back in 1827, and its early railcar experiments included horse-drawn and even dog-drawn and sail-driven prototypes- ideas quickly abandoned after the arrival of Peter Cooper's steam-powered locomotive, Tom Thumb. The nation's first scheduled common carrier (freight and passenger service), the B&O became a legend in American transportation, rolling right on into the 20th century. In 1963, it came under control of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad and ten years later, along with the Western Maryland Railroad, was combined into the Chessie System. For a time the B&O was still a separate entity, but in the early 1980s, after Chessie merged with the Seaboard System to create CSX Transportation, the famed Baltimore & Ohio was no more. Your lock often lists anywhere from $60 to 90+, but frankly, that may be a bit optimistic. Not long ago, a nice one, non-dug, with key and working, went for $35.01 on eBay.


Question I live in Illinois, and nobody I know has ever heard of a town here called Tessville, but that's where this aluminum plate is supposed to be from: "Tessville, Ill. - Truck 12 - Expires April 30, 1925 - Vehicle Tax." I'm hoping you can solve the mystery.

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Answer There's a pretty good reason for the confusion: for the past 68 years, Tessville has been called Lincolnwood. Founded in 1911, it was an infamous "saloon-infested farm town" during the Chicago area's Prohibition heyday. It was also notorious for its numerous and onerous taxes, which probably explains the local truck license you found. Nevertheless, by the 1930s its reputation was recovering as it became a popular suburb for commuters; and in keeping with this improved image, in 1936 it was given the new, untarnished name that it bears today. It's hard to say what an area automobilia buff might offer for the plate, but even as is it might go for $35-50.


Question I located this shako plume holder in our lawn not long ago. The land around our Vermont farmhouse served as an encampment area during the War of 1812. However, just to confuse things, a number of past occupants of the house served in the Civil War. I believe the plume holder is c. 1812, and am wondering if you could confirm that and give me an idea of what it might be worth.

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Answer Let's fast-forward to the 1870s or '80s. It's a plume holder, all right, but it comes from an Indian Wars era, U.S. Army Model 1872 helmet, sometimes referred to as the "Custer helmet," or possibly the Model 1881, which was of similar design. The horsehair plumes' colors indicated branch of service: red, artillery; yellow, cavalry; white, mounted infantry. Although Army records imply that this fanciful headgear was inspired by helmets seen in classical Greek sculpture, in fact it was more likely patterned on the spiked or plumed Prussian (German) helmets of the mid 19th century, as well as those adopted by the British. Value of your find? $35-50.


Question Detecting along a parking strip in Tacoma, Washington, I came up with this brass medallion from the "First International Gold Mining Convention - Denver - 1897." Any information about it would be appreciated.

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Answer It's evidently the main portion of a two-piece or multi-piece badge, as indicated by the suspension holes at the top. I've seen a number of these, and all were identically holed. Details concerning the convention itself are rather sketchy. Fred Holabird, a leading dealer in Western Americana, told W&ET, "The 1897 event in Denver might have been the first in name, but it was not, in fact, the first international mining convention. That distinction (post-California gold rush) goes to the Paris Exposition of 1867. However, 1897 marked the largest world production of gold in history, and the year and times were at the forefront of the science of gold exploration and discovery. This medal commemorated the very first technical session to discuss the origin of gold deposits...The topic that year was gold tellurides, a hot field that had a large paper published in 1897 by Rothwell. In recent years, we have had several of these medals. They are not in high demand, perhaps only because collectors are unaware of them." Prices realized from past auctions indicate that one such medal brought $84. Readers are invited to visit the Holabird Associates website at


Question This large brass tag reads, "The Busby 252 McAlester, Okla." I understand that The Busby was a hotel, and that it burned sometime in the 1930's or early '40s. What else can you tell me about it?

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Answer A little over a century ago, an enterprising young fellow by the name of William Busby was working as a coal salesman for what later became the Rock Island Railway, and soon parlayed his knowledge and contacts into a series of independent ventures that made him head of the largest coal mining operation in Indian Territory, with nearly 4,000 employees. By then known as "The Colonel," he expanded his interests into banking and real estate development, and one of his most ambitious projects was The Busby in McAlester. Built in 1905, the big brick, four-story, 110-room, Oklahoma home-away-from-home was widely regarded as one of the best hotels in the Southwest until September 15, 1924, when it was destroyed by fire. Yet as bleak as things looked on that day, all was not lost for the Sooner State landmark. Much of the structure was reclaimed, refurbished, and reborn in 1927 as the Pittsburg County Courthouse, and remains in service today. According to an expert on Oklahoma exonumia, a tag like this one could easily fetch $50 or more.


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