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Homepage Archives Open in new window Index (12/2009) AMP (10/2009) AMP (02/2010)   Vol. 43 December 2009 
Ask Mark Parker!
As seen in the December 2009 edition of W&ET Magazine


Question Can you tell me the history and value of this 1917 Motorcycle Gypsy Tour Medal? The back reads, "Federation of American Motorcyclists. Perfect Score. National Tour."

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Answer Founded in 1903, the Federation of American Motorcyclists (FAM) sanctioned its first Gypsy Tour in 1917. Held on the same weekend in various parts of the country, Gypsy Tours featured a trip to some scenic destination, where activities included a picnic, games, and riding competitions. Perfect Score medals were awarded to winners of an endurance run, usually 300-350 miles over two days, with a number of checkpoints and tests along the way. It was not a race in the conventional sense: riders were scored for performance and adherence to a precise schedule, and actually lost points for finishing the course too soon! Although by 1915 the FAM boasted as many as 8,247 members, its ranks were rapidly depleted when active and prospective members were called to duty in World War I, and in 1919 the organization folded. Nevertheless, the Gypsy Tours continued, at first under sponsorship of the Motorcycle & Allied Trades Association, and later the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA), founded in 1924. Today the Gypsy Tour tradition rolls on, the next slated for June 15-16, 2010. In the past, I've seen early Gypsy Tour medals and fobs priced in the low hundreds. However, earlier this year a medal like yours (also lacking the original red, white & blue ribbon and hanger bar) brought just $78.11 on eBay.


Question While hunting a river dump site near Washington, D. C., I found this sterling silver item. I am wondering if these may have been handed out as mementos after completion of the Capitol dome in the mid 1860s. The four sides are identical, and on the base is a picture of the Capitol complex. The base is also marked "sterling," and there are three heart-shaped maker's marks. Can you offer any information about it?

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Answer The three hearts enclosing "P & B" are the mark of the Paye & Baker Mfg. Co. of North Attleboro, Massachusetts. Founded as Simmons & Paye in 1896, the firm became Paye & Baker in 1901 and remained in existence until some time in the 1960s. According to Gary Niederkorn, a leading specialist in antique silver, "What this Paye & Baker piece seems to be is a fob-style wax seal that is purely a souvenir and not intended for actual use. Of course, the image and wording would need to be reversed for it to be functional. Even when it was new, wax seals probably were not considered necessary anymore, but the form was still of interest. If in good condition and all original, it should retail in the $85-125 range."


Question Would you please identify this bronze medal that I recovered in Virginia? It is about the size of a silver dollar.

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Answer It's a "Louisiana dollar," struck for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition (world's fair) held in San Francisco in 1915. As part of advance fundraising efforts to offset the cost of erecting buildings at the expo, Louisiana and a number of other states issued commemorative medals similar to this one, given in exchange for a donation, usually $1. As a result, such pieces are commonly referred to as "so-called dollars." There are two 1915 Louisiana varieties, identical in size and design- one bronze, the other silver-plated bronze. The bronze medal can fetch $25-35+ in circulated grades; silver-plated, twice as much. Due to a few deep nicks, yours would probably retail around $10-15.


Question While detecting around Allentown, Pennsylvania, I unearthed this Taft & Sherman badge or watch fob. It is brass and approximately 1-1/2" in size. The back is blank. What was it used for, and what is its value?

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Answer What you've got is a political watch fob from the 1908 campaign of Republican presidential candidate William Howard Taft and his vice-presidential running mate, James S. Sherman. With the backing of then-president Theodore Roosevelt, Taft handily defeated Democrat William Jennings Bryan. Four years later, however, he failed to win reelection, and in fact finished a distant third. Democrat Woodrow Wilson took the White House, and the runner-up was Theodore Roosevelt, who ran on the Progressive (Bull Moose) ticket. Even so, Taft's career was far from over, and in 1921 he realized a lifelong dream when he became Chief Justice of the United States, serving until his death in 1930. He has the dubious distinction of being America's heaviest president at 332 lbs., and was also the last to wear a moustache... so far. Shield-shaped Taft fobs from 1908 generally bring $20-40.


Question What can you tell me about this military pin (?) found in the Phoenix area? It measures 1-1/2" x 1" and is enameled. There are white wings, red and green diagonal bands across the center, and a gold fleur-de-lis, all on a dark blue background. The back has a screw stud and is marked "Robbins Co., Attleboro."

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Answer It's the distinctive insignia (DI) of the 160th Infantry. The angel's wings symbolize the city of Los Angeles, where this California National Guard unit is based. The bands, known in heraldry as bendlets, signify Spanish-American War (red) and Mexican Border (green) service The fleur-de-lis denotes service in France during WWI. A scalloped inner border represents the California coastline. The DI's design was approved on May 22, 1928 and is still proudly displayed by the 160th today. An example identical to yours, with screw-post attachment and Robbins backmark, attributed as c. 1930s-40s, is currently listed at $10.


Question Mark, I dug this Captain Midnight badge at a site in upstate New York. How old is it? Rare? Valuable?

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Answer The Captain Midnight Secret Squadron Photo-Matic Code-O-Graph decoder badge (whew!) was a premium issued by Ovaltine, sponsor of the Captain Midnight radio series. With it, faithful followers of the Captain's exploits could unscramble secret messages during the broadcast- usually either a next-episode preview or a hearty exhortation to keep chugging that chocolate-flavored Ovaltine! Although not distributed until 1942, the decoder was actually manufactured sometime in 1941, prior to WWII. After that time, metal premiums were generally discontinued due to wartime restrictions. Since the decoder was undated, it was used for the 1943 and 1944 seasons as well. Missing from the one you found is a tiny photo of Captain Midnight, inset in the clipped-cornered square at the top. Value? With the original photo, $75-150 in Good to Fine condition; without, about 50% less.


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