Exercise Caution When Buying Counterstamps
Even the guys who've written the books on counterstamps, Brunk and Rulau, have occasionally had to alter an attribution in a later edition of their works. To be fair, both Rulau and Brunk typically word the questionable attributions in a tentative manner, but others often take the liberty of "engraving that textbook attribution in stone" so as to make a sale. Attribution of these puppies is NOT an exacting science. More often than not, "attribution" is no more than an educated guess. The letter size and style do offer up clues, and a middle initial sure helps, but these clues often fall short of providing a singular attribution. Sometimes, three or more potential issuers may crop up in a thorough search of early directories and the like.
There are some sellers on ebay who are all too hasty, sometimes ridiculous, in making an attribution of some counterstamped coin that they're selling. There are also good sellers who offer reasonable possibilities and are quick to state in their description that an attribution is tentative. One not-so-studious seller who seemed far more interested in making a sale than he did in selling an accurately described item got somewhat disgruntled when I once questioned his attribution. He was touting a Shield Nickel that bore but three initials; coincidentally, initials which happened to match those of some sutler he named. Now, certain buzzwords like sutler, Civil War, Hard Times, saloon and artist for example make the hearts of exonumists beat a bit faster! Sellers know this. This seller's response to my asking the source of his attribution was to reply, "That's what's written on the envelope." Hmmm. What are the odds? The lesson here is simply to not believe all that you read, be it on a coin envelope, in a seller's description or even in a published work.
What follows is an example of a dubious attribution; possible, yes, but dubious, nevertheless.
This 1840 Large Cent is counterstamped G. BOWER. One George Bower (no middle initial) is listed in the 1858 Buffalo, NY city directory. He was a tinsmith, working at the corner of Goodell and Oak Streets.
The "G" quite likely stood for George, but there are a few, other possibilities. Bower is a less common surname than some yet more common than others. The size of the letters could represent those of a tinsmith, being larger than most silversmith marks. There's enough info here that I can't dismiss the possibility that George Bower of Buffalo is THE issuer. Yet, I certainly can't attribute it to him ... this, in my humble opinion! In order to confirm my suspicion, I'd want to see a piece of tinware with a matching mark or another specimen with additional info needs to be seen.
Now, if I wanted to really sell this item for top dollar, I'd mention that it's "unlisted" (another buzzword) by Brunk and Rulau, seemingly unique! In reality, Brunk and Rulau have listed nowhere near all of the known counterstamps. I might even outright claim that George Bower of Buffalo was the issuer - daring anyone to prove this wrong! Even though George was active in 1858, and I have no evidence of the stamp being applied at an earlier date, I could propose that this was a Hard Times (another buzzword) issue coin, dated 1840! There are some sellers who routinely use similar "rope-a-dope" selling techniques. To be fair, there are many sellers who simply have no idea what they're selling, and such sellers can be prone to whimsy.
I've very much appreciated the many ethical sellers whom it's been my pleasure to meet on ebay and elsewhere. I started this thread in hope that readers who stumble upon it might be better attuned when it comes to their purchase of counterstamps. I've really enjoyed this branch of numismatics and hope that those who also walk this path take heed and tread with caution.
Last edited by Chautauquan; 06-11-2012 at 09:03 PM.