Nov 20

(No title)

Here is a North Carolina Communion token from Unity Presbyterian Church in Carthage, NC.  Carthage is located in Moore County in the middle of the state.  I usually find myself writing about “good for” tokens instead of tokens such as this one.  Although now that I think about it, this can loosely be considered a “good for” token in that it was good for a seat at the Lord’s Table.  These tokens, borrowing from Scottish tradition, served as tiny passports to privileges offered by the Church.

The token is simple, just a simple ‘U’ inside of a toothed border with a plain (blank) reverse and 8 mm square.

Unity was established in 1764 but this token is likely from the 1790s under Rev. Humphrey Hunter.  Hunter was a veteran of the American Revolution and also was present at the first public reading of the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence.


Sep 09

Know The Difference

                                                         At Left: A very ‘mushy’ 1926-D Lincoln Cent


Know The Difference

Sometimes the method of manufacture can betray a coin’s true grade. I am offering two examples here today: weak strike and die polish lines.


Denver and San Francisco cents of 1926 suffered notoriously weak striking details. These softly struck coins appear to be a few grades below the technical grade for similar circulated specimens. When looking at softly struck uncirculated coins you will need to see uninterrupted luster over all areas of the coin. Believe me when I say that while technically uncirculated, such examples change hands at an extreme discount. A numismatist can spend a lifetime attempting to discern strike weakness and true wear.


Die polish lines are present on a coin when the dies used to strike that coin were aggressively polished by an employee of The Mint. This could have been done for a multitude of reasons, the most likely being to remove die clash marks in the field. Since die polish lines are a result of the minting process and the coin is essentially as made, the grading companies should not punish a coin for having them (i.e. give a lower grade or no grade). In practice, however, I can report that PCGS does not seem to like them on coins in certain series, Morgan Dollars come to mind immediately. My guess is that these lines are confused with abrasion from a cleaning in many cases.


There are some key differences in lines from a cleaning and lines from die polish. A cleaning will have abrasion marks that dig into the coin while die polish lines are raised. Also, lines from a cleaning are parallel whereas die polish lines tend to go in many stray directions. And lastly, marks from a cleaning will travel on top of the raised area while die polish lines only affect the flat field of a coin.

         1976-S Lincoln fresh from a Proof Set


You can decide for yourself whether a coin exhibiting either a soft strike or die polish lines is right for your collection. Some will not care for the reduced eye appeal in such pieces while others may seek them out as study specimens. Either way an astute collector should learn how to tell the difference between a weak strike vs. wear and the presence of a cleaning vs. die polish lines.

Jul 09

A Feel Good Story

A Feel Good Story

On July 8th I was glad to be able to return this medal to its proper owner, Andrew Forbat. He is 92 years old and lives in nearby Black Mountain, NC.

This man has seen much from his formidable years as a Hungarian Jew in England to his internment in the Isle of Man and his later conversion to Christianity. He saw war firsthand and made a difference in numerous lives through his pursuit of a career in medicine.

This medal was issued in 1946 when he was in his early twenties and had achieved the highest grade among classmates in Summer Session of medical school in London.

It was fascinating to watch my new friend handle the medal and reminisce. He has an impressive degree of recall, telling me about Robert Liston (depicted on the obverse of the medal) who was a legendary Scottish pioneer of surgery. After that Mr. Forbat brilliantly translated the Latin on the reverse of the medal for me.

It turns out that a few of Andrew’s personal items were inadvertently discarded and the medal was unfortunately among these items. He mentioned to me that he also once owned a modest coin collection peppered with some foreign examples from his many travels.

The medal ended up coming into my possession in June of 2017. When I discovered the edge inscription, I knew I had to track down the man to whom it was originally issued.

I certainly enjoyed talking coins, history and all points in between with this gentleman. He has the mental sharpness of a man half his age. At times like this our hobby rises to something greater than Greysheet prices and CAC stickers.

May 28

Strange Counterstamp

A Strange Little Counterstamp Indeed…

One of the smaller counterstamps I have handled (the host coin is a Half Cent to give you some sense of scale)

The Strange father and son duo owned brass foundries in Bangor, Maine as well as Taunton, Massachusetts. For a good part of the nineteenth century they produced everything from candlestick holders and irons to brass railway baggage tags.

The stamping would vary in size, depending on the item being marked. This one shown is special because it is the tiniest version of the mark and also the smallest denomination for the Strange counterstamp with no other Half Cents reported.


May 21

A Jeweler Named Vogler

A Jeweler Named Vogler



noun – /noun/  – The part of speech that names a person, place or thing

The study of tokens is necessarily the study of nouns…

First, the THING

A morning of brisk trading took place at our last CARTS meeting. I swapped tokens with a few regular members and came away with a curious round brass watch check that screamed for further research. The item in question was approximately 34 millimeters in diameter and simply read: W.T. VOGLER & SON/WINSTON-SALEM, N.C./868 and the reverse: NO WATCH/DELIVERED/WITHOUT CHECK. All lettering on both sides was incuse. At top center (12:00) position was a hole, as manufactured.

Next I wanted to explore the relevant PEOPLE

John Vogler was a well-known gunsmith and watchmaker in Old Salem. His house still stands in the historic district along the row of Moravian dwellings. A nephew, William Theodore, born in 1843, picked up the jewelry trade learning by his uncle’s side. William (W.T.) also grew to develop an interest in architecture, something that had rubbed off from John’s son, Elias.

While in school at Salem Boys School, young William showed dedication and competence working with his hands, something that would continue to serve him in the future as he developed as a watchmaker. After serving in the Civil War, he returned home to marry Johanna Catherine Mack, daughter of Moravian missionaries to the Cherokee people. They wed in 1867 and soon thereafter William took over the jewelry business that his uncle had started.

Through business directories we have a documented record of W.T. Vogler in business as a jeweler from 1872 until his death in 1926. The Vogler name carried on in the jewelry industry for another three decades or so through his eldest son Henry (the unnamed ‘son’ referred to on the watch check that started my quest)

In his lifetime W.T. was known for standing behind the fine products he manufactured. Known for quality merchandise, he saw great financial success in the business world and was an early investor in the Wachovia Bank. A single term in local politics even briefly placed him as Town Commissioner of Salem.

Now for the PLACES

Of course we already know of the importance the Vogler name held for Old Salem, but alas there was to be another destination on which William Vogler laid his indelible mark. Given his passion for architecture dating back to his youth, it was only natural that he get onboard when a few wealthy families from Elkin, Salem and Winston decided to develop a ‘mountain retreat’ in Alleghany County.

The year was 1893 and the first structure to go up in Roaring Gap was the Roaring Gap Hotel. The following year William purchased the parcel of land on which he would eventually build, however it wasn’t until 1908 that construction began. The eager Vogler family was finally ready to enjoy their mountain cottage in the summer of 1909.

The home stands on the eastern ridge of the mountain and overlooks the Yadkin River Valley. The name ‘Roaring Gap’ comes from the manner in which the wind would seem to rush through the valley with the force of a runaway locomotive. The Voglers loved their western escape from Salem and spent much time there. The family’s importance to the community of Roaring Gap is still seen today as the cottage they finished construction on over a century ago has finally earned inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.


photo of W.T. Vogler from the Digital Forsyth website*

May 13

Upcoming Dates

Upcoming Events:

June 12th (pending)

Trivia Battle with Richard Kurtz

To take place at the Buncombe County Coin Club; Grove Arcade Building 7pm

Seasoned collector and Overton Specialist Richard Kurtz will quiz me on Early Coppers while I return the favor within his area of expertise, “Fillet Head” and Lettered-Edge Capped Bust Halves.

Sure to be a contest for the ages…..Don’t miss it!


September 30th

I will be giving a program on the Jernegan Cistern Medal a/k/a “The Carolina Medal” at the Annual NCNA Coin Show & Convention in Concord, NC.  Keep this site watched for specific times of announced programs.



Apr 30

Phenix Mills

An Odd Phenix Mills Store 5 Cent Token

Anyone else seeing backward N’s on this one?  Your input is appreciated.

Apr 23

The Art of the Courtesy Purchase

The Art of the Courtesy Purchase

Okay, you have been talking to a dealer on the bourse floor or in his own shop and every topic has been exhausted from bullion speculation to ‘the one that got away’ for that Capped Bust Half set you are putting together. The time comes to walk away with a closing salutation, something casual such as “See you next time.” Nothing has captured your interest enough to make a worthwhile purchase, yet something seems incomplete — like there is something missing. What could it be??

Well, it is certainly not mandatory nor even expected but you could engage in that time-honored tradition of the courtesy purchase. Is your latest Red Book a few years old? Does the dealer have a bargain box of miscellaneous foreign coins? Have you purchased a Silver Eagle yet this year?

Believe me when I say that your neighborhood dealer will appreciate the casual and easy transaction, typically paid in cash, and it just might pay dividends in the future towards building a quality relationship. After all, this is the guy who can look for coins you need to complete those hard to fill empty holes in your set.

Apr 17

Champion WWII Medals

The Mid-Century Medals of a Small Town N.C. Paper Mill

Champion Paper, in small town Canton, has always been the heartbeat of that tight-knit Western North Carolina community. The company saw unparalleled growth from the early 1900’s well into the latter half of the twentieth century. At the helm was the founder’s son-in-law, Reuben B. Robertson.

Robertson had been brought on to temporarily oversee operations in 1907 and ended up staying with the company for an impressive 65 years. Under his watch satellite mills were opened, innovations to manufacturing methods were developed, and overall reach was expanded internationally.

Perhaps most important, he also helped the company to repair labor relations between workers and management. It was Robertson who ushered in the company credit union (still active today) as well as industrial safeguards for employees on the job. Wage incentive plans as well as profit sharing were also soon established under his leadership.

Champion Paper employed a team of chemical engineers and in the 1920’s they pioneered a process to make fine white paper from the pine trees that were so plentiful in the forests of Western North Carolina. Within two decades nearly a third of all U.S. long-fiber pulp would come from native pine. Methods of bleaching spent wood and making high quality paper also originated with this dynamic and innovative little company.


By the second World War Champion was anything but ‘little.’ Decades of growth and a newfound demand from the war effort abroad had increased production to record levels. In addition to the headquarters in Hamilton, Ohio the Paper and Fiber Company boasted mills in Canton, North Carolina as well as Houston, Texas and Sandersville, Georgia.

Without fail, however, the war called upon the able bodied men of Champion to serve. Robertson saw to it that a medal was created for each soldier called into military duty. This medal was presented to the family just before a soldier’s departure. On the obverse was the majestic Crusading Knight that had been the company’s trademark for so many years. On the reverse was found the soldier’s name below a four-leaf clover, a declaration that he was A DEFENDER OF AMERICAN LIBERTY and the text CHAMPION WISHES FOR YOU THE BEST OF LUCK AND A SAFE RETURN. Despite the wish of a safe return, there were a dozen men from the Canton division that did not return home. Those that lost their lives were:

Marvin Joe Drake
Lieut. Paul S. Clark
Capt. James F. Coleman
Pvt. Eston Holland
Pvt. Ray J. Hughey
Capt. Thomas J. James
PFC James C. Kirkpatrick
S/Sgt. William Earl Leatherwood
Pvt. Winston D. Pace
CPL. Ralph H. Robertson
T/Sgt. Gomer H. Scott
PFC Hildred T. Scott

Most of these soldiers were in their twenties with the youngest being PFC Kirkpatrick, at age 19. As company Executive Vice President Reuben Robertson wrote:

We will not forget those who made the supreme sacrifice that our Nation might survive. But we should not allow ourselves to be content with merely grateful remembrance. The remembrance that counts is the one that rests on action. Action every day and in every way that leads towards the tolerance, the consideration for others and the mutual helpfulness that constitute the very life blood of our American Way of Life.

Another area in which Robertson stood out was in his strong belief in reforestation and selective cutting. In a time when many other pulp wood magnates were stripping forests without regard, Robertson chose to preserve and replenish. As early as 1920 Champion had sought the counsel of Walter J. Damtoft, who is regarded as the nation’s first industrial forester. Damtoft was well known for his conservation practices such as reforestation with nursery seedlings and an emphasis on restoring forest land to support future growth. For his dedication and accomplishment he was presented with two medals from the Champion Paper & Fiber Company for twenty-five years of service with the company.

The indelible marks left by this great company on our landscape, our families, our communities and our hearts can be traced through her brief and sporadic issuance of medals. Medals that sometimes commemorated achievement, and at other times wished for safe passage which might or might not have been realized. But like all numismatic relics they offer a non-partisan glimpse back in time.

* Thanks to the helpful staff in the Special Collections Dept. at Ramsey Library (UNCA) and the specific citations below:

John E. Jervis Labor Collection OS 77.12.3

Walter Julius Damtoft Collection OS 2011.06.10

Apr 16

Hobo Life

Hobo Life

In 1918, just five years into the new ‘Buffalo’ design, the first recorded instance of an altered nickel appeared in print. The Numismatist contained an entry that told of a nickel with the obverse intentionally fashioned to show our loyal Indian as the German Emperor Wilhelm II, complete with moustache and a pointed pickelhaube headgear. This was the modest beginning to a tradition that would span decades and soon be adopted as the accepted art of the American underclass – the hobo.

What does it mean to be a hobo? This term should not be confused with seemingly similar slurs such as ‘tramp’ or ‘bum.’ A hobo was an honest, albeit penniless, traveler who would take on short-term unskilled jobs in order to sustain his independent lifestyle ‘riding the rails.’ A tramp, it has been said, would only work if forced. And lastly, bums made up the lowest rung in this transient hierarchy, generally assumed to be destitute beggars and alcoholics.

Hobos had many everyday dangers. Jumping into empty or partially empty boxcars is not without risk. If detected by one of the “bulls,” a slang term for the abusive railroad police, a hobo could be beaten or maimed. There are even accounts of water hoses or hot coal ash being used to wake up a sleeping freeloader. More than a few travelers met their demise locked inside of a refrigerated boxcar at the hand of a particularly sadistic bull. In some cases the shifting freight was the offender, crashing down onto an unsuspecting hobo while he rested. This hazardous lifestyle made for a strong fraternity among respectable hobos and gave rise to an impressive network of ’jungles’ just to stay alive.

A hobo ‘jungle’ was where fellow drifters would congregate. It was almost always located within a short distance of the railroad and had certain basic amenities. Most were equipped with pots and pans for cooking, as well as a water source and clothesline for laundering garments. Typically it would be located on the outskirts of a city or town in order to avoid attention. Beyond meeting certain physical needs, the jungle provided important social interaction for the sullied flock. Slang was learned, stories and experiences were shared, and old-timers taught younger hobos how to survive.

It was in these very camps that a “jocker” (mentor) would take on an apprentice and show him how to carve a common ordinary nickel. This was no idle activity, however. The end product, a carved or punched nickel, could be swapped for a sandwich or a hot meal. It could also be used as ‘salve,’ in other words, barter material – possibly even to a railway official in exchange for safe passage. Many of these early 20th century Hobo Nickels were formed with crude pin-pricks, while others were skilled carvings. A favorite theme was to give the obverse subject a derby, a beard and other various accoutrements of the day. It was truly folk art and satire blended to a tasteful consistency and the skill arose from absolute necessity as the artist was concerned.

Let’s take a look for a moment at the host coin used for this activity. The venerable and quintessentially American workhorse coin, the Buffalo Nickel. No other coin captures the sense of America in the way that this coin does. The Native American portrayed on the obverse is reverent and stoic. The buffalo, or more accurately bison, reverse shows this Great Plains creature in her full majesty. Up until this point in United States coinage, the predominant animal of choice was the eagle. It should be pointed out, however, that there is nothing uniquely American about an eagle; this same bird having been depicted on coins of Germany, Russia, and Poland, as well as ancient Greece and Rome. One important numismatic fact worthy of note is that when Hobo Nickels are carved from circulating coinage the new creation takes on the status of a ‘token’ and loses efficacy as legal tender.

The characters who carved these early Hobo Nickels are an interesting lot themselves. One such hobo was Bertram “Bert” Wiegand who was known to sign his work by removing and smoothing ‘LI’ and ‘Y’ from the word ‘LIBERTY’ on the coin’s obverse. Bert was a bearded white man who stood roughly 6’ tall and weighed around 200 pounds. He was said to be an educated man but had a cold and distant demeanor with the outside world. The rumor was that he stayed on the run because he was wanted for a murder he had committed as a young man.

Despite his withdrawn personality, Bert came to befriend a fellow hobo named George Washington “Bo” Hughes. Bo was the youngest of eleven children and the son of a freed slave. He was diminutive in stature, standing only 5’ tall and weighing approximately 110 pounds. With Bert teaching him the ropes he learned how to live on the road as well as how to carve. In time Bo became the most prolific Hobo Nickel artist of all, creating new Nickels well into the latter half of the 20th century.

Many of those altered nickels that might have won a favor or a hot meal are still out there waiting to be found. As many as 100,000 are estimated to have been carved and they have turned up in pockets of Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky and the Carolinas. Keep your eyes open and you just might uncover a small piece of Hobo Art!

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