The 28mm silver token pictured above was issued in the year 1800 by the First (Scots) Presbyterian Church of Charleston, South Carolina. As such, it may be the first token issued within the borders of the Palmetto State. The obverse of the token features a picture of a communion table, with chalice and bread, and the words THIS DO IN REMEMBRANCE OF ME appearing above the table. The reverse features a depiction of the biblical “burning bush,” above which is the Latin inscription NEC TAMEN CONSUMEBATUR, which, loosely translated, means “(the fire) which does not consume.” The edge of the token is inscribed with the following: PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH. CHARLESTON, S.C. 1800. All devices and inscriptions are incuse and hand-engraved.
A little history of these tokens is now in order. Communion tokens were widely used by various congregations of the Presbyterian Church, both in the United States and throughout the world. The tokens were the property of the church itself, in the same way as the communion plate and baptismal vessels. They were distributed to those members of the congregation who had been instructed in the Bible and were considered worthy to participate in the sacrament of communion. The sacrament was usually dispensed only once or twice a year and was quite an occasion. The tokens were used to gain admission to the communion table and were taken up by the church at the end of the sacramental celebration. The practice was first used in Europe; tokens were known to have been used by the French Huguenots in 1560, and also by members of a Geneva congregation in 1605. Their use quickly spread to other parts of the continent, to England, Holland, Ireland, and especially Scotland. From there, colonists took the custom with them to the New World and to the remainder of the globe.
In the United States, widespread usage began in the eighteenth century and continued into the nineteenth. Tokens became a mainstay wherever Scottish Presbyterians came together to form congregations. Most communion tokens encountered by today’s collector were issued by churches in Scotland. However, one occasionally will come across a specimen issued by a congregation in the United States. Besides its being issued within South Carolina, this month’s token is unusual in several respects. First, it is made out of silver, and not pewter or lead as most other communion tokens were. Secondly, it is hand-engraved. Virtually all other specimens are die cast or die struck. And thirdly, it features two pictorial scenes depicted on the token itself. This is highly unusual, as the average communion token depicts only the name of the church, and sometimes only its initials. The opulent nature of this month’s token in relation to the average communion token reflects the wealth of the congregation which commissioned its issuance.
A postcard view of the First (Scots) Presbyterian Church of Charleston, South Carolina.
In 1731 a group of twelve Scottish families withdrew from the Independent Church of Charlestown to form their own congregation. The thirty individuals favored strict subscription to the Westminster Standards and decided that the best way of doing so would be to start their own church. A building was erected, known as the “Scot’s Kirk” or the Scotch Meeting House, and the first service in the new building was held on June 23, 1734. The building was enlarged three times, once in 1763, and twice during the ministry of Dr. George Buist (1793-1808). This frame building was replaced by the present brick structure, which was completed in 1814. The building was severely damaged by the hurricane of 1885 and the earthquake of 1886. A second hurricane did some damage in 1911, as did a tornado in 1938 and a fire in 1945. It is the fifth oldest church building in the city and is located at 53 Meeting Street, at the corner of Tradd Street.
Now, let’s take another look at the token itself. Measuring 28mm, and made from silver, it was made in England in the year 1800. According to Autence A. Bason, author of Communion Tokens of the United States, 300 specimens were ordered by the church in that year. An additional order of 500 pewter tokens was made at some later point in time. Although resembling the silver tokens in having a communion table on one side and a “burning bush” on the other, the pewter tokens were somewhat different in substance, being die struck, not hand-engraved. They were manufactured by Robert Lovett, prominent diesinker in New York City, and were meant to be used by the black members of the congregation. (See illustration below.) Mrs. Bason states in her book that “during the Civil War the valuable silver communion service of the church was sent to Columbia, S.C. for safe keeping and the communion tokens were included. Later, a column of Union soldiers visited the city and the vessels and tokens were taken. The soldiers, thinking they were some sort of Confederate money, took the tokens.” Bason goes on to state that 14 specimens of the silver token were known, but that count has probably increased to 20 or so since the printing of her book. The pewter tokens are much scarcer, with only three or four presently known.
Pewter communion token issued by the First (Scots) Presbyterian Church for the black members of their congregation.
Next month we will continue our series with another of South Carolina's classic nineteenth century tokens.
Copyright 2001 by Tony Chibbaro.
Communion Tokens of the United States by Autence A. Bason, self-published, circa 1990.
Historic Churches of Charleston compiled by Clifford L. Legerton, Legerton & Co., 1966.
Standard Catalog of United States Tokens, 1700-1900 by Russell Rulau, Krause Publications, 1994.
If you collect or have a casual interest in South Carolina tokens or tokens issued by cotton mills, lumber companies, or other types of businesses, you may want to purchase my book, South Carolina Tokens and its two supplements. To read a description of these standard references, please click on this link: Books.
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