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Communion Token

Place Made:
Possibly London Charleston South Carolina
Date Made:
1800
Medium:
silver
Accession Number:
5969
Description:
This silver communion token was made in 1800 for First Scots Presbyterian Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

John Calvin is widely credited with popularizing the use of communion tokens and John Knox is thought to have brought the practice to Scotland where it enjoyed its widest use within the Scottish Presbyterian Church. Alongside chalices and pattens, communion tokens were an important part of the communion equipage. Before a communion day the ministers or elders of the church would examine their flock and give tokens to those who met certain minimum criteria of catechism and conscience. At a time when communion was an infrequent celebration, tokens like this one provided a sure sign of membership in the church and proof of one’s fitness to receive the holy sacrament.

Few American churches used communion tokens. Examples in pewter from New York City and copper from Albany, New York, are known. Communion tokens were most often simple pieces of lead or white-metal. Silver examples are almost unheard of: only First Scots Presbyterian Church in Charleston and the Crown Court Chapel in London are regularly cited or illustrated as using silver tokens.

Communion tokens were usually more practical than decorative. Most often they were crudely struck or inscribed with letters and numbers to signify a presiding priest, the name or location of a church, a date, a table number, or some combination of these. Of the few pictorial tokens, most display stock-die depictions of a communion table or a burning bush—rarely both. On this token the obverse shows the communion table with the legend “This do in remembrance of me”; the reverse depicts the seal of the Church of Scotland, a burning bush surrounded by the legend NEC TAMEN CONSUMEBATUR (nevertheless it was not consumed). The edge of the token is inscribed “PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH of CHARLESTON SC 1800.”

The members of First Scots spared no expense in producing these tokens. According to church tradition these tokens were ordered from London. However, had they been produced in London it seems likely that the tokens would almost certainly have been struck by a die rather than hand engraved. This was an expensive and time consuming method of manufacture in a city like London that had many private mints. Close examination of the other surviving tokens may help to answer this question.

RELATED EXAMPLES: Today fewer than 20 specimens of this token are thought to survive. Some examples were surely lost by congregants. (One was recently dug archeologically) At least one, which sold alongside this example in 2004 in Part 2 of the John J. Ford sale at Stacks, came out of an English context. Others were lost and stolen during the Civil War when the church’s communion silver–including the tokens–were taken to Columbia, South Carolina, for safekeeping. Today the majority of surviving examples are back at First Scots Presbyterian Church in Charleston. A handful are in private collections, and one is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MMA acc. 33.120.574).

DESCRIPTION: Hand-engraved silver token roughly the size of an American quarter dollar. The obverse depicts a communion table with a chalice and patten and the legend “This do in rememberance of me”. On the reverse is a depiction of the burning bush with the legend “NEC TAMEN CONSUMEBATUR.” THe Latin translates as “nevertheless it was not consumed.” The edge of the token has the ledgend “PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH of CHARLESTON SC 1800.” This edge lettering was probably hand-engaved as well.

History:
Sold in 1977 through Paul Koppenhaver’s October 1, 1977 sale as lot 553. Then part of the John J. Ford, Jr. Collection. Sold at Stacks in New York City on May 11, 2004 as lot 259 (part 2 of the Ford Sales). Thence to George Rogers and Wake Forest Coins. It was purchased by MESDA in 2019.
Credit Line:
James H. Willcox Jr. Silver Purchase Fund