Author Topic: The Allure of Counterstamps  (Read 143 times)

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Offline brandm24

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The Allure of Counterstamps
« on: May 22, 2019, 06:36:12 PM »
I first became interested in researching and collecting counterstamps over forty years ago. My interest was triggered by the acquisition of an 1875 US half dollar stamped "D.S.& Co. / Auburn / ME" It was part of my late fathers's collection that I bought from him in 1976.

Despite his early efforts to attribute it, the lack of research tools available to us today made the task impossible. I didn't take up the hunt until some time later, but was ultimately successful.The issuer, Dingley, Strout & Co. was a Maine boot and shoe maker founded in 1876.

During the course of my investigation, I learned something of the company, the partners and changes in ownership , a bit about their personal lives, and the method of large scale boot and shoe manufacturing in the 19th century. Overall it was a history lesson I haven't forgotten.

In this and the hundreds of investigations I've done since, I've followed the same pattern of research. Just knowing the trade of an individual, or the business a company was engaged in wasn't ever enough for me. I needed to flesh them out as  human beings  or business entities. I needed to explore the history in which they lived, their reactions to the economic and political realities of the times, and discover other more mundane facts that told  the "rest of the story".

As you may have guessed I love history for the lessons it teaches us and the glimpse it provides into the daily lives of generations we will never know. History scolds, praises, and encourages, but most importantly guides us through both the good and bad times of yesteryear. Their are lessons to be learned that can perhaps guide us around the deepest valleys. If we don't take the lessons to heart, then all bets are off.

This is the allure of counterstamp research to me. Every stamp tells a story, and I need to know what it is.

Bruce
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Re: The Allure of Counterstamps
« Reply #1 on: May 23, 2019, 09:33:22 AM »
I know what you are talking about. I made a catalogue of Dutch coffee machine tokens on World of Tokens. I started out doing the tokens of the sellers of coffee machines. I learned about how and where those machines were invented and that the life of the companies selling them locally was in general short, unless they diversified into food vending machines. Nice, but not much more.

It was only when I went into private companies having tokens made especially for them that I discovered that these tokens are excellent illustrations of economic life in the period they were issued: with a few exceptions from around 1949 to around 1979. Those were the first 30 years of my life. However, the research I did went further back, covering the life of the companies, not just the period the tokens were issued. I discovered the enormous effect that electrification, the world wars and european integration had had on the life and death of companies. I was writing a personal economic history of the Netherlands.

Your post above made me realise how vague the distinction between counterstamps and tokens is. Counterstamps have been with us for centuries, but they were used by governments to revalue coins or to obliterate the propaganda of their predecessors with their own propaganda.

That changed with the industrial revolution. Punches were far easier to make by machine than by hand, coming down to the point where private individuals could afford them. Perhaps the advertisers were the first to realise the possibilities? Or were they beaten by the lovers, making a souvenir to remember them while they were in the military? We call them love tokens, but they are actually private counterstamps or, sometimes, engravings. The proximity of tokens and counterstamps is clear already from the semantics.

With those beginnings, can we see the private counterstamps as pre-tokens? Not really. There were tokens before there were counterstamps and counterstamps after the rise of the tokens. But wait, the word "tokens" covers a large number of different things and functions. Maybe there is a class of tokens that did succeed counterstamps? The question awaits research and discussion. The discussion could take place right here...

Peter
An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.

Offline brandm24

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Re: The Allure of Counterstamps
« Reply #2 on: May 23, 2019, 10:46:44 PM »
I'ts always fascinated me to see the variety of things that people collect, both in the numismatic world and in the "civilian" realm. Interests are so varied that it seems there's a collector base for nearly everything. The token world in particular is heavily populated by those who buck the common trends. Some people react negatively to those who collect what they don't. I say more power to you. Collect what you will and don't be concerned with what others say. If you're into car wash tokens, good for you.

You seem to have a thirst for knowledge as I do, Peter. I'm pretty much interested in everything, at least in a superficial way. I don't want to became an expert on 19th century gun making for instance, but I do want to understand the process and the gunsmiths themselves. I once worked with a huge fan of major league ice hockey. He made a comment once about the Lady Bing Trophy which is awarded annually for good sportsmanship and gentlemanly behavior. (an oxymoron if I ever tripped over one). Being a wiseguy, he asked me if I knew who won in a particular year. I said yes, it was Montreal's Guy LeFleur. Poor man almost had a heart attack.

I agree that the switch from official counterstamping to private was ushered in with the Industrial Revolution...more or less.  I think my earliest private issue dates to about 1760 or so (an American silversmith). I have an English Penny (William lll ?) from about 1695 or so stamped with a Tudor Rose on obverse and reverse. Probably a political statement, but I'm not sure. It was dug by a metal detectorist in Hampshire several years ago. I'll have to post it someday and hope for some comments. I don't know if this would be considered an official or private issue.

I think the advertisers beat out the lovers as the first. Boring, but probably true. While love tokens are often punch-struck, many, many are engraved...generally higher quality I think. After all, you don't want to give your sweety an unattractive bauble.

You're right, the word "token" covers a lot of ground. Just for fun, I looked up the definition. Merriam-Webster defines it basically as something that resembles a coin that has some monetary value (a bridge or ferry token for instance). No mention of it possibly being a straight advertising (no monetary value) or celebratory piece. To me the definition of a token goes much deeper. I think we have MW by the short hairs on this one.

Bruce
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Re: The Allure of Counterstamps
« Reply #3 on: May 24, 2019, 10:38:11 AM »
When I was around 10, a teacher asked the class to choose a role model. I selected Leonardo da Vinci. The teacher rejected my choice and told me to lower my aim, so I did, but only on paper. I don't have a hope to come close to my role model, but I did follow the example of Leonardo's furious curiosity in how things work. As one former boss and good friend put it: your brain is taken for 80% by a huge file labelled "how about that?" In my defence, that makes sense once you realise that everything more or less depends on everything else.

So it is with private counterstamps. They are three things in one: a host, a technique and a message. The host may or may not be part of the message, the technique tells you something about the creator's technical environment, the message about his emotional purpose (that includes advertising). Together, they are a puzzle. It is very satisfactory to find a person behind the puzzle, but even so, the puzzle remains as some questions (why this host? why this technique? how was the piece used) remain unanswered. In the unlikely event you can figure out the initials on a love token and how the eventual marriage fared, you don't even know if the token was commissioned or home made, let alone whether the receiver showed it to his or her friends or took it out only in privacy.

I would argue that the unsolved parts are part of the attraction of the private counterstamp. Remember how a film very often disappoints those who read the book? The book allows you to fill in details by your own taste. The film invariably leaves out things you consider important, such as *gasp* thoughts and dictates too many other details, some of which you had already decided on differently in your mind.

Peter
An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.

Offline FosseWay

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Re: The Allure of Counterstamps
« Reply #4 on: May 24, 2019, 11:12:45 AM »
You're right, the word "token" covers a lot of ground. Just for fun, I looked up the definition. Merriam-Webster defines it basically as something that resembles a coin that has some monetary value (a bridge or ferry token for instance). No mention of it possibly being a straight advertising (no monetary value) or celebratory piece. To me the definition of a token goes much deeper. I think we have MW by the short hairs on this one.

Bruce

The definition of "token" is really "whatever you want it to mean"  ;D

We had this discussion in the token group of Gothenburg Numismatic Society when we were preparing the book on the city's tokens, and decided to be as inclusive as possible. Not only is there a continuum of uses, but also it's not always clear how a particular piece was used, or indeed whether it was used in some way not envisaged or intended by its issuer or maker.

Advertising tokens are a case in point; we included all those we came across. Our argumentation was that (a) they form an important aspect of study of the city's businesses, so are clearly related to the wider topic of commerce and currency regardless of how they were used, and (b) it is far from unlikely that they were indeed used as some form of currency substitute. If you were given an advertising token from a business, what were you expected to do with it? Sure, it tells you the business exists and that its products are the best money can buy. So do adverts on billboards and in the newspaper. But this token you have with you. That must mean something. You must be expected to do something with it. You're not going to keep it as a memento (as you might do with, say, a medallion celebrating a jubilee or a sporting event), so what remains? Take it to the shop that issued it, of course, and say to the staff that you heard about their product on the token. What shopkeeper won't then accept the token against a discount on the product?

Tool checks we also included in some cases, mainly when they fulfilled criterion (a) above - where they add to the commercial history of the city. So we included non-trade-related items from e.g. Volvo, SKF and other known businesses but not anonymous ones.

Offline malj1

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Re: The Allure of Counterstamps
« Reply #5 on: May 24, 2019, 02:23:39 PM »
Quote
Or were they beaten by the lovers, making a souvenir to remember them while they were in the military?

Dog tag made from Tunisie 10 Francs KM# 262 (1934-9) WM JAS WATTS 6915576 RE

I researched this tag a little and found: William James Watts, Gunner, Royal Engineers 1942. His Campaign Medals:-  1939-45 War Medal 1939-45 Star

Quote
I don't want to became an expert on 19th century gun making for instance, but I do want to understand the process and the gunsmiths themselves.

See my page here for token-like objects that are actually shotgun wads.
Malcolm
Have a look at  my tokens and my banknotes.

Offline brandm24

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Re: The Allure of Counterstamps
« Reply #6 on: May 25, 2019, 01:12:38 PM »
When I was around 10, a teacher asked the class to choose a role model. I selected Leonardo da Vinci. The teacher rejected my choice and told me to lower my aim, so I did, but only on paper. I don't have a hope to come close to my role model, but I did follow the example of Leonardo's furious curiosity in how things work. As one former boss and good friend put it: your brain is taken for 80% by a huge file labelled "how about that?" In my defence, that makes sense once you realise that everything more or less depends on everything else.

So it is with private counterstamps. They are three things in one: a host, a technique and a message. The host may or may not be part of the message, the technique tells you something about the creator's technical environment, the message about his emotional purpose (that includes advertising). Together, they are a puzzle. It is very satisfactory to find a person behind the puzzle, but even so, the puzzle remains as some questions (why this host? why this technique? how was the piece used) remain unanswered. In the unlikely event you can figure out the initials on a love token and how the eventual marriage fared, you don't even know if the token was commissioned or home made, let alone whether the receiver showed it to his or her friends or took it out only in privacy.

I would argue that the unsolved parts are part of the attraction of the private counterstamp. Remember how a film very often disappoints those who read the book? The book allows you to fill in details by your own taste. The film invariably leaves out things you consider important, such as *gasp* thoughts and dictates too many other details, some of which you had already decided on differently in your mind.

Peter

Well, Leonardo is a wonderful role model. Why your teacher wanted you to "dumb down" is beyond me. Happily, you didn't. I love your description of his "furious curiosity" towards learning. Much the same way I always thought of him, but could never describe it as eloquently as you.

As to why a particular host was chosen can be answered, at least partially so, for practical reasons. The whole purpose of a message on a coin is for it to be seen. To that end, many times a worn piece was chosen as the message was more clearly visible. I've seen many counterstamps struck on a lightly worn host that was difficult or impossible to read. A good example would be some struck on the reverse of US Large Cent...a very busy neighborhood to be sure. If no one can decipher the message, what's the point.? Just a wasted hammer blow.

Other reasons would include the coin's date. That would be significant for a commemorative piece...anniversary of some sort, a friendship token, the founding of a company on a commercial example, a love token, etc. These are just a few possible reasons, but I suspect most were selected just because they were available.

Bruce
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Offline brandm24

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Re: The Allure of Counterstamps
« Reply #7 on: May 25, 2019, 04:15:39 PM »
The definition of "token" is really "whatever you want it to mean"  ;D

We had this discussion in the token group of Gothenburg Numismatic Society when we were preparing the book on the city's tokens, and decided to be as inclusive as possible. Not only is there a continuum of uses, but also it's not always clear how a particular piece was used, or indeed whether it was used in some way not envisaged or intended by its issuer or maker.

Advertising tokens are a case in point; we included all those we came across. Our argumentation was that (a) they form an important aspect of study of the city's businesses, so are clearly related to the wider topic of commerce and currency regardless of how they were used, and (b) it is far from unlikely that they were indeed used as some form of currency substitute. If you were given an advertising token from a business, what were you expected to do with it? Sure, it tells you the business exists and that its products are the best money can buy. So do adverts on billboards and in the newspaper. But this token you have with you. That must mean something. You must be expected to do something with it. You're not going to keep it as a memento (as you might do with, say, a medallion celebrating a jubilee or a sporting event), so what remains? Take it to the shop that issued it, of course, and say to the staff that you heard about their product on the token. What shopkeeper won't then accept the token against a discount on the product?

Tool checks we also included in some cases, mainly when they fulfilled criterion (a) above - where they add to the commercial history of the city. So we included non-trade-related items from e.g. Volvo, SKF and other known businesses but not anonymous ones.

I've come across tokens used for many things which they weren't intended for. Counterstamped Large Cents were badly abused by those who wanted to attach one to a product they made. I never understood that...seems like it would have been easier, and cheaper, to put your name on a brass tag or metal plate. Large Cents weren't popular, but there were so many of them struck that they offered an easy outlet for one with destructive tendencies. They were used as buttons, notched to be used as gears, shaped into small tools...purpose unknown... and all other manner of things. Tokens in general suffered the same fate.

Well, what are we expected to do with a token? One thing we can do is what some of us on WoT do. Post a picture and talk about it. :)

Bruce
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Offline brandm24

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Re: The Allure of Counterstamps
« Reply #8 on: May 26, 2019, 12:49:51 PM »
That's something I'm really interested in, Mal. I have a few American Civil War era counterstamped coins that were used as dog tags. I plan on starting a thread when I can get my material together. I hope it will draw some interest from members who have these pieces...from any country. A really interesting niche of numismatics.

Love the shotgun wads. When I saw "shotgun wads" in your post, my first reaction was "What"? These pieces are really interesting though, and ornate. Amazing!

Bruce
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Offline malj1

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Re: The Allure of Counterstamps
« Reply #9 on: May 26, 2019, 01:49:22 PM »
The dog tags come up for sale infrequently but when then do some ridiculous price is usually attached to them.

The shotgun wads are more interesting than they sound and date from victorian times. Note Victoria's crown in the centre of each.

Here is one seen recently; I found this too expensive.
Malcolm
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Offline brandm24

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Re: The Allure of Counterstamps
« Reply #10 on: May 26, 2019, 04:49:45 PM »
What's a ballpark price for a more common variety, Mal?

If I happen to run across any on an auction site, I'll let you know.

Bruce
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Offline malj1

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Re: The Allure of Counterstamps
« Reply #11 on: May 27, 2019, 12:54:25 AM »
No idea as I don't keep records of prices. I'm a pensioner these days so don't tend to spend too much.
Malcolm
Have a look at  my tokens and my banknotes.