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Homepage Archives Open in new window Index (02/2010) AMP (12/2009) AMP (02/2010)   Vol. 44 February 2010 
Ask Mark Parker!
As seen in the February 2010 edition of W&ET Magazine


Question I found a small stash of coins, including a few tokens, in an old house. Among them was this Abraham Lincoln piece. The reverse reads, "ABRAHAM LINCOLN / AN HONEST MAN / THE CRISIS / DEMANDS / HIS / RE-ELECTION / 1864." It's about the size of a dime and looks like silver, but is made of a lighter material. Do you have any info on this item?

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Answer In 1864, with the Civil War raging, Abraham Lincoln found himself locked in combat with the former general-in-chief of the Union Army, George B. McClellan... not for victory on the battlefield but in the voting booths. Winning the White House as a Republican in 1860, Lincoln sought reelection as the candidate of the newly formed National Union Party, a coalition of pro-Lincoln Republicans and pro-war Democrats. McClellan, whose opposition to Lincoln was not so much political as intensely personal, agreed to run as a Democrat even though he had serious differences with much of their platform. Lincoln won a lopsided victory in the electoral vote, defeating McClellan 212-21. The popular vote was somewhat closer: 55%-45%. This political medalet from 1864 was struck in several different metals, but is most commonly seen in silver. Evidently, yours is the scarcer white metal alloy variety. One of those in comparable condition sold for just over $215.


Question Mark, can you identify this old tool that I found, and also tell me if it has any value?

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Answer It's a beam compass or trammel- in this instance, with calipers as well. Because the sliding points can be installed on a wooden beam of any desired length, they can be used to perform or transfer measurements, or to scribe arcs, circles, or ellipses, of much greater size than would be possible with a conventional compass. Unless the set is marked, it's difficult to say just how old it might be, but I'd guess that it dates back a century or so. Ordinary older sets often sell for $50; however, it's not unusual for fancy antique brass & rosewood examples to bring $150-200.


Question Detecting in a cornfield near Southampton, Massachusetts, I dug this tag stamped, "NEW YORK / SOUTH HAMPTON / 0250 / N H & N CO." I believe the metal is copper. What can you tell me about it?

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Answer The letters N H & N CO. are the reporting mark of the New Haven & Northampton Company, a 19th century transportation venture that began as a canal and ended up as a railroad. In 1825 construction began on the Farmington Canal, a private waterway which eventually reached from New Haven, Connecticut to Northampton, Massachusetts. Passage was slow, though, and profits were slower; so, facing fierce competition from the railroads, in 1848 the developers decided to build one of their own right alongside the canal. At first the line ran only to Plainville, Connecticut, and was leased and operated by the New York & New Haven Railroad. It finally reached Northampton in 1869, and then began operating independently until 1887, when it was again leased, this time to the new New Haven Railroad. By 1910, the old N H & N no longer existed even in name, having become just so many miles of track of the New Haven. I didn't have any luck locating a price listing for this one, but my best guess is that, as a late 19th century Northeastern baggage tag with some evident condition issues, it's probably well under $100.


Question From reading your column over the years, I know that this is a Masonic chapter penny. I would just like to know if it might be worth a little more than others I've seen in W&ET, due to its different style, member's mark, and especially condition.

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Answer For the benefit of readers who may have missed those earlier installments, let's quickly fill in the blanks. A "chapter penny" or "mark penny" is a type of Masonic membership token. On this one, R A M represents Royal Arch Masons. The keystone is a familiar Masonic symbol, of course. The circle of letters, H.T.W.S.S.T.K.S., is said to the mark of the order's ancient Grand Master and to stand for, "Hiram The Widow's Son Sent To King Solomon." (Some sources render it as, "Hiram, Tyrian, Widow's Son, Sendeth To King Solomon..") The space within the circle is reserved for the member's own mark- here, a monogram of script initials. The reverse depicts both sides of a half shekel, an ancient Jewish coin. Common chapter pennies can go for $5-10, but due to its distinctive design, crisp details, and exceptional eye appeal, leading tokens and medals specialist Rich Hartzog Exonumia- - rates yours at $50-75, retail.


Question I found this unusual key while searching around the site of a razed house in the Ogden, Utah area. The top, square part moves back and forth, and both sides have elaborate designs. It is also stamped "3" on the bit. Overall length is 1-3/4". Any information about it would be appreciated.

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Answer This curious little key is made for a pocket-door lock, and appears to be an Aesthetic or Eastlake pattern dating from around the 1870s to '90s. I'm not certain of the maker, as a number of companies produced fairly similar patterns. A pocket door is one which slides in and out of a wall, rather than swinging on hinges. These were a popular feature in Victorian architecture, frequently installed in pairs which met in the middle, closing a passage between, say, a parlor and dining room, or adjoining bedrooms. When the doors were open, only their edges could be seen. Pocket-door keys were made to remain in the lock when the door was open, and therefore often had a folding bow. Others were designed with a adjustable-length shaft. While many pocket-door keys fetch $15-25, odd or ornate ones can be worth double or even triple the dollars. A few months ago, a key exactly like yours sold for $76.09 on eBay.


Question This button was found in a box of coins, trinkets, etc. hidden in a home that I bought. It's about 1" in diameter, and inside the back is a paper label that says, in almost microscopic print, "The American Boy is the greatest Boy's Magazine in the world. 1,000 illustrations. 400 pages a year. Costs $1.00 a year. The Sprague Publishing Company, Detroit, Mich." I'm sure it's not worth much, but I was just wondering if you could tell me something about it.

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Answer The American Boy was a monthly magazine published from November 1899 to August 1941. Your celluloid pinback button dates sometime prior to 1916, when subscription rates were raised to $1.50 a year. Although it targeted a teen readership, this hugely successful and surprisingly influential periodical had its share of prestigious contributors, including cover artist Norman Rockwell. (Walter Cronkite credited his decision to become a reporter to stories he'd read in The American Boy in the 1930s.) The magazine also mined more mature markets with ads for high-end items such as automobiles, reminding clients that, "Where there's a boy, there's a family." At its peak, it boasted a readership of more than half a million. American Boy authorized brands soon appeared, too, and in fact there's an American Boy Shoes button with a photo of the same kid (identity unknown). Value? $15+.


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