Author Topic: Counterstamps of silversmiths and other fine craftsmen  (Read 83 times)

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Offline brandm24

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Counterstamps of silversmiths and other fine craftsmen
« on: March 26, 2020, 11:58:25 AM »
I thought I'd start a thread portraying coins or tokens featuring silversmith counterstamps, retail marks , or touchmarks. Other "fine craftsmen" would include goldsmiths, watch and clock makers, jewelers, pewterers, whitesmiths, etc. Examples from all countries are welcomed as the small number I have are mostly from American makers. I'd love to see yours.

I'll start with one of the older ones in my collection, a piece I bought at auction 6 or 7 years ago. The host coin is an 1803 American Large Cent. The stamps include two "A & G Welles" stamps in oblong depressions struck in an X-shape surrounded by four spread eagle touchmarks. As American silversmith counterstamps go, this one is quite early...sometimes between about 1804 and 1811.

Alfred and George Welles were brothers. George was born in Gilead, Connecticut in 1784, but details of Alfred's birth are unknown to me. Their parents were John Howell Wells and Mary Bills.

The "A & G Welles" smithy was founded in Boston in about 1804 and survived only until 1811. From whatever reason the partnership was dissolved at that time. George then partnered with a man named Hugh Gelston in the firm of George Welles & Co...later named Welles & Gelston. Apparently, they imported jewelry and military regalia but were not silversmiths. Their shop was at 56 Cornhill in Boston right next door to the old A. & G. Welles shop at no. 55. A third partner, Horace Porter, joined the firm in 1825 and it was re-branded  Welles, Gelston & Porter. The partnership ended with George Welles death in 1827.

The fate of Alfred Wells is a bit sketchy after the dissolution of the partnership with his brother. Apparently, he continued in business as a jeweler until his own passing in 1860. But further details of his business were uncovered.

The stamps on the A.& G. Welles coins are too large for silverware, especially the eagle stamps, so there products were likely limited to larger items such as  tankards, tea pots, pitchers, etc. I have attached an image of a server c1805 made by them

Only two of these stamped coins are documented, my example and a second on an 1802 Large Cent. Interestingly, the second example has two additional stamps, "G. Libby / 1790" applied to it. While the identity of Libby is uncertain, it has been speculated that he may have been a maker or importer of military equipment retailed by W & G. The date stamp resembles that of a model number or type found sometimes on firearms and swords, and thus the speculation. Libby has not been positively identified.

Bruce
Bruce

Offline Paris

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Re: Counterstamps of silversmiths and other fine craftsmen
« Reply #1 on: March 28, 2020, 12:44:02 AM »
Do you know the reason to counterstamp these coins?

Offline Figleaf

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Re: Counterstamps of silversmiths and other fine craftsmen
« Reply #2 on: March 28, 2020, 08:00:12 AM »
I suppose it was to test the stamps. If I'd have that counterstamped coin, I'd crave that cake server. :)

There is an interesting predecessor to this practice: the "probatio pennae si bona sit." In medieval times, monks would make their own pens, but before they'd use them on valuable vellum, they would test them on scrap vellum with a standard phrase to see if they were well cut.

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

Offline brandm24

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Re: Counterstamps of silversmiths and other fine craftsmen
« Reply #3 on: March 28, 2020, 10:20:19 AM »
Do you know the reason to counterstamp these coins?
It would be to test their punches as well as to advertise. Counterstampers in early years very rarely stamped anything but their name on coins...no address, city, or even their trade. Typically, the circulation of coinage was very local so the merchant would be recognized by name only.

Most silversmith marks are struck on silver coins for obvious reasons, so this one on copper is a bit unusual. Not rare but less common.

Bruce
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Offline brandm24

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Re: Counterstamps of silversmiths and other fine craftsmen
« Reply #4 on: March 28, 2020, 10:26:33 AM »
I suppose it was to test the stamps. If I'd have that counterstamped coin, I'd crave that cake server. :)

There is an interesting predecessor to this practice: the "probatio pennae si bona sit." In medieval times, monks would make their own pens, but before they'd use them on valuable vellum, they would test them on scrap vellum with a standard phrase to see if they were well cut.

Peter
Interesting story about the monks.

I thought of cake too when I first saw the server. :)

Bruce
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Offline Paris

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Re: Counterstamps of silversmiths and other fine craftsmen
« Reply #5 on: March 28, 2020, 11:53:47 AM »
Thanks. Perhaps is it more usual on silver coins because if their aim was to test the stamp, they would have better to do so on the same metal they would use for their works. The resistance of the metal for exemple may be different.

Offline Figleaf

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Re: Counterstamps of silversmiths and other fine craftsmen
« Reply #6 on: March 28, 2020, 01:38:37 PM »
Keep in mind that the stamps were applied by hand, so pressure was inaccurate anyway. The reasoning was probably that a cent cost just a cent, the flan was already cut to size and there was no need to re-melt. Used as an ad, it could be even more cost-effective, since the receiver had a fair chance of spending it again. Therefore the ad could be seen as a gift of a little bit of money.

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

Offline Paris

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Re: Counterstamps of silversmiths and other fine craftsmen
« Reply #7 on: March 28, 2020, 01:51:27 PM »
It is the opposite of what brandm24 wrote : rarer on copper coins than on silver coins.

Offline brandm24

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Re: Counterstamps of silversmiths and other fine craftsmen
« Reply #8 on: March 28, 2020, 03:49:13 PM »
I should have clarified my statement "for obvious reasons".  I think both of you make good points. A test would be more accurate on silver because it's the material he'll be stamping. Copper is softer and takes the stamp differently. On the other hand, if the stamper means to advertise, the copper would be readily available and circulate more. The large cents of the day were the workhorse of everyday commerce so the ad would reach more people.

The evidence I've seen for silver vs. copper is anecdotal of course. Decades of studying counterstamping has led me to that conclusion. It may actually be that examples on copper were more common but most have disappeared over the years. Silver is more durable in more ways than one.

Bruce
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Offline brandm24

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Re: Counterstamps of silversmiths and other fine craftsmen
« Reply #9 on: Today at 12:14:27 PM »
I bought this example of an early silversmith mark from a collector in Little Falls, NJ in September, 2014. At the time I wasn't sure about the trade or identity of "JS" but felt that it was worth paying a premium for. After a bit of research and assistance from a fellow collector, we discovered it was the mark of Windham, CT silversmith John Staniford. Since it wasn't listed in Greg Brunk's counterstamp reference, I wrote a short description and sent it along with a picture for him to see. Below is that description.


     The 1786 Spanish 1-Reale is stamped with the mark of silversmith John Staniford who practiced in Windham, CT. from 1760 until about 1793. The last two or three years he was in a partnership with Alfred Elderkin trading as Staniford & Elderkin.
     
     For unknown reasons he decided to open a tavern and inn in about 1794 and abandon the silversmith trade. He operated his new business on Windham Green in Windham until his death in 1811.

     Staniford was born in Ipswitch, MA in May, 1737 to Thomas Staniford and Sarah Burnham. He married Jerusha Stoughton on July 5, 1760 and would later (1765) have a daughter with her named Mary.There is some evidence that he also had a son  (John Jr.?) who later continued operation of the inn after his father's death. Staniford passed away  on August 12, 1811 and was buried in Windham Center Cemetery.

     I think this is an important early American silversmith's counterstamp. Pre 19th century examples are rare, this one even more so because it's struck on a Spanish 1-Reale. The denomination circulated very little in America, unlike the 2-Reale and higher value Spanish coins. The stamp is easy to date as well.The wear pattern of the coin, counterstamp and even the hole are consistent, so it would have been stamped and holed between 1786 (date of the coin) and 1790 / 91 when Staniford abandoned his independent practice and partnered with Alfred Elderkin. It's at least interesting to speculate that John Staniford himself may have carried or wore it as a personal "pocket piece".


Since 2014 I've done additional research but haven't found any significant information to share. I did come across a notation in one reference that noted there were a set of Staniford's tools, including a punch used to stamp his silver, in the silver collection of  the Heritage Foundation. Unfortunately, I wasn't successful in taking it any further, Also in the same reference it stated that Staniford's "sunburst mark" was first registered in 1785. That information fits nicely with my original assumption of an issuance date 1786 thru 1790 / 91.

With the pictures of the coin, I've included ones of alternate marks used by Staniford.

Bruce
Bruce