Special Guest Post: “My Hunt For Mr. Loveless”, by Bruce R. Mosher
Back in December of 2013, I was going through our boxes of raw coins when I came across a counterstamped 1853 seated half dollar. The coin with its hole piqued my interest, and I wanted to know more about Mr. Loveless. In fairly short order, my Google skills failed me so I thought I would try my luck on Coin Talk. My post was responded to by a number of knowledgeable counterstamp experts and collectors, one of whom was Mr. Bruce R. Mosher.
Bruce was also intrigued by my counterstamped coin, and he became determined to find Mr. Loveless. Over the next 5 to 6 weeks, Bruce would come back to the thread with regular updates on his research and I would be astounded anew each time at his persistence.
In the end, Bruce found Mr. Loveless. I was so impressed by his sleuthing skills that I thought it only right that Mr. Loveless go to live with him. Mr. Loveless made one last journey to his forever home, and time passed.
A few weeks back, I thought of Mr. Loveless once again and all the work Bruce put into finding him. I asked Bruce if he would share his story of the hunt for Mr. Loveless, and he graciously agreed (and even sent me a surprise package) …..
My Search For J.H. Loveless
By Bruce R. Mosher
I’ve had a great interest in collecting and researching counterstamped coins for longer than I care to remember. I first became aware of these “messages on coins” with the acquisition of my father’s coin collection nearly 40 years ago. Included in it was a heavily worn 1875 Seated Liberty Half Dollar with the caption “D.S. & Co./ Auburn, ME” struck over the portrait of Liberty. I knew my father had made an unsuccessful attempt at some point to identify the issuer but I didn’t have enough interest at the time to pursue it further. Years later I did, and making that identification then and hundreds more over the years has opened my eyes to a whole new page in the history of our country. It affords a glimpse into how our ancestors lived. A portrait, if you will, of their families and their hopes and dreams that aren’t too dissimilar to ours. It’s been fun as well as a privilege to, in some small way, help restore their place in history, one that has faded over time. And yes, I’m going to tell you that D.S.& Co. was Dingley, Strout & Co. was a manufacturer of boots and shoes in Auburn in the later years of the 19th century. Now on to Mr. Loveless!
While browsing an internet coin site (CoinTalk) in December of last year I came across a thread by Amanda Varner asking for assistance in identifying a counterstamped coin that had come into her possession. The coin, a holed 1853 Seated Liberty Half Dollar, was stamped “J.H. Loveless. / Allegan. Mich. // L.S.& M.S. RY.” Being the hardcore researcher I am and always up for a challenge, I started to look into identifying Mr. Loveless. As a clarification, I say Mr. because female issued counterstamps are exceedingly rare. There are some “givens” when researching these pieces, this being one in a majority of cases. It was also uncommon, though not unheard of, for women to use their initials rather than their first name. On the other hand it’s a bit unusual to see a male issuer use anything other than his initials. There aren’t many “John or James” counterstamps out there. In any case, the hunt was on!
Initially, I didn’t feel that this would be a difficult challenge as the coin provided me with an abundance of information to research … name, location, and likely employer. It’s not common to be blessed with so much to investigate so I underestimated the challenge. Silly me! Eventually it took a month or more of work to come up with an attribution that I was comfortable with. And even then I had no “gotcha” moment, just a strong sense of having found the correct J.H. Loveless. Sort of like kissing through a screen door I suppose. In any case, please feel free to comment on my conclusions after you’ve read my story, or should I say, Mr. Loveless’ story. I can be contacted by email at ArtemisTc1@aol.com if you wish to do so.
I always start any research project with a quick internet search using pertinent phrases, names, or locales and see if anything pops up. This is what’s known as the “easy way”. Nothing wrong with that except that the easy way rarely works… except in the case of Riley Haskell, but that’s a story for another day. However, it didn’t work for Mr. Loveless. Unfortunately, the investigation would prove to be a long and tedious process. That’s my way of saying I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Nevertheless, I quickly discovered what the initials “L.S.& M.S. RY.” stood for. Knowing full well that “RY” is often an abbreviation for “railway” I assumed the acronym was a short version for the name of a rail system. It was. The Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railway was organized through the merger of three small railroads in March, 1869. They were the Michigan Southern, the Northern Indiana, and the Lake Shore. Although there’s a long convoluted history surrounding the merger and subsequent operation of the line the short version is all we need to know. In 1877 the line was acquired by the American industrialist Cornelius Vanderbilt on behalf of his powerful New York Central Railroad. The L.S.& M.S. RY. would be merged into the much larger New York Central in 1914.
Finding the “easy way” hadn’t worked in this case so I had to bring out the big guns. By “big guns” I mean internet resources that one has to subscribe to ($$). Although a lot of information can be found for free the pay sites are of immense value and actually provide a good bang for your buck. I use them extensively, and have found the most useful ones are those that provide access to historic newspaper archives, city directories, tradesman listings (tool makers, silversmiths, etc.), patent records, genealogy databases, and so forth. With so much out there it takes patience and persistence to be successful. The use of a strong adult beverage is also helpful at times. I’m referring to coffee of course.
After thoroughly reviewing several genealogy websites I finally came across a man named John Loveless. The 1860 U.S. Federal Census listed him as a day laborer living in Monterey, Allegan Co., MI. Of course the mention of Allegan County drew my attention but I was initially skeptical because of his occupation. Certain tradesmen are more likely to make or have made counterstamps for the purpose of marking tools or products they’ve manufactured, for advertising purposes, or for any number of other reasons. I’ve only come across a single instance in my years of research of a laborer stamping coins. That and the fact that at this point in my investigation I assumed that J.H. Loveless worked for the railroad. As a consequence, I put him on the back burner for the time being. One must be careful about assuming too much and in this case I wasn’t careful enough. Later on however I did come to the conclusion that he was the man I was looking for. More details on him coming up.
After returning to a general search on the internet I came across a written history of the L.S.& M.S. RY. that was digitized and made available on Google Books. It was printed in 1900 and was sort of a “year book” as it had lists of hundreds of past as well as present employees with short biographies of each. Some even included pictures. Finding a picture of your subject is the Holy Grail for people like me. Of course I was very excited to come across this source and was ready to pat myself on the back for having found it. The pat never happened. I went through the chapters with a fine-tooth comb several times and found nothing. I wasn’t happy but don’t recall using any foul language to express my disappointment. I simply made myself another drink…er, cup of coffee and went back to work. The conclusion I came to by not finding him was that he either never worked for the railroad, simply wasn’t listed, or had some other, more obscure connection to it. I was right about the last possibility.
Not discovering anything of merit in “my” newspaper archive website, in patent office records, tradesman’s lists, or anywhere else for that matter, I returned once more to a general internet search. In these cases if you don’t succeed initially by searching the obvious, then move on to more obscure possibilities. This time I did just that. A good example of what I mean by researching the less obvious would be to look at variations of the exact legends stamped on the coin. If you find nothing for” J.H. Loveless” + Allegan + Mich for example, then search for John or James or Jacob H. Loveless with or without Allegan, Mich. Since you only have an initial to go on pick the most common names starting with “J”, not in our time but in theirs (1860s to 1900 in his case). I actually found a site on the internet years ago that recounted the most common names given American children in the Victorian era.. Let me tell you, there wasn’t a Brittany, Chip, or Barbie anywhere on the list. Zebulon, Levi and Sophronia were there though. From there you can search using a combination of words appearing in the legends. Look for “L.S.& M.S. RY.” + Loveless for example or other combinations. Try typing in “history Allegan, MI” and see what comes up. There are many city and county histories and directories available for free on the internet and at times can be useful. These more unorthodox methods sometimes yield results.
After completing the second general search and coming up empty, I decided to return to the John Loveless I’d come across earlier. After a bit of work I eventually stumbled upon a John H. Loveless who apparently was the same man as the laborer from Monterey in the 1860 census. His occupation, year of birth and birthplace were the same. According to those 1860 records John “no H” Loveless had a wife named Mercy. That was a bit of a problem because a number of other records indicated that John H. was married to a woman named Hannah Maria (Mariah) Mead.. Three choices here. He was either married twice, married to two different women at the same time…that’s not good…or the census records were inaccurate. The logical explanation would be number three. Misspellings, poor penmanship, misunderstandings between the enumerator and resident, and a host of other problems were all too common in early census records. Looking closely for a second time at “Mercy” it seemes possible at least that the enumerator made an error or that I’m misreading it because of poor penmanship.
Anyway, after piecing together various bits of data from directory, census, and family histories I came up with the following. Although as I said earlier there was no “gotcha” moment, I felt the trail of circumstantial evidence in this case was strong. Mr. L. was well hidden but through persistence I now felt that I had him in the bag. Virtually at least.
John H. Loveless was born in Lysander, Onondaga Co., NY in November, 1838 to farmer Erastus Loveless and his wife Eliza Pulsfer. John had four siblings, three sisters…Maria, Melissa, and Clara…and an older brother named Sylvester. By 1855 the New York State Census noted the family’s residence as Ira in Cayuga Co. John was 18 years old and working on his father’s farm when the census was recorded. For no reason that was apparent to me…itchy feet maybe… the family relocated 425 miles west to Gaines, Kent Co., MI early in 1858. Erastus continued farming but John was no longer listed as a member of the household in the 1860 census records. This tends to verify that John H. was the same man as John “no H” who appeared in the 1860 census residing in Monterey, Allegan Co. He had married Hannah (or whoever) on July 4, 1858 and apparently had settled into married life in a new home. He remained there until at least the summer of 1863. Military draft records tell us that he registered for Civil War service in July of that year. In those records he was listed as a farmer and resident of Monterey. Apparently, he was never called to serve as I found no record of him doing so.
For nearly ten years John H. Loveless seems to have disappeared from any historical records. I searched high and low for him in the 1870 U.S. Federal Census and other documents but found nothing. Failing there, I searched for his wife and daughter Emma (born 1862) but had to mark both of them absent as well (two days detention perhaps?). It wasn’t until 1872 that the family reemerged. In a family tree entry on Ancestry (VanDam/Faulkner/Jamieson/Smith) I came across a notation that noted the December 10, 1872 birth of John’s son Fred. At that time the family lived in Manlius Twp., Allegan Co., MI but unfortunately the entry provided no information about John’s occupation. The move to Manlius had only taken the family 25 miles further west of their previous residence. Circumstantial evidence indicates that they lived in Manlius until at least 1878 but sometime before 1880 had removed to Mayfield, Grand Traverse Co., MI. where John was still farming. As yet no mention of him ever working for the L.S. & M.S. Ry. or any other eailroad for that matter. That would change in time.
Dutton is an unincorporated community in Gaines Twp. MI founded in 1870 and located 13 miles south of Grand Rapids. It was here that the Loveless family, John, Hannah, Emma, and Fred, ended their wanderings and settled down for good. One source (Chaney: 38) made mention of a case heard before the Supreme Court of Michigan in the 1882 session in regard to a sewer project in Gaines Twp. John H. Loveless and his brother Sylvester A. it was noted were both township freeholders. Other than that single record, nothing more was found on John until I came upon some late 1890s, early 1900s Grand Rapid’s city directories. I was able to review those from 1896 through 1906 and they yielded some tantalizing clues. For the first time Mr. Loveless was removed from the farm and landed in the railroad business. Not with the railroad but with a railroad.
The 1898 and 1899 directories listed his occupation as “Trucker RR / D.G.R. & W.R.R.” or a trucker (teamster or driver) for a railroad. The line was the Detroit, Grand Rapids & Western Railroad. Although the 1900 city listing noted his occupation as only “laborer”, the federal census described him as “Trucker RR” with no mention who he worked for. Presumably, it would be the D.G.R. & W.R.R. The 1901, 1902, and 1903 city records note his occupation respectively as “Employee, GR Match Co.”, “Janitor”, and “Porter, EF Beaver”. I wasn’t able to identify the GR Match Co. or EF Beaver. Perhaps some connection to the railroad but unlikely. The last three years of Grand Rapids directories that he appeared in were 1904 through 1906. In 1904 he was simply described as a “Flagman” but in 1905 “Flagman / P.M. RR”. The P.M. RR is the Pere Marquette Railroad. The 1906 listing also describes him as “Flagman”.
John Loveless seems to have disappeared from sight sometime after 1906 as I found nothing more about him. The 1910 federal census and later Grand Rapids city directories…1910, 1913, etc…no longer listed him. Although his wife passed away in the summer of 1900 of heart disease, I found nothing of his passing. She was interred in Dutton Cemetery but there’s no record of John being buried there. Their son Fred remained a resident of Grand Rapids the rest of his life. He died in that city on June 12, 1958. I couldn’t trace their daughter Emma any further.
So now you might ask given the evidence I’ve presented, why would I assume this man to be the issuer of the counterstamp? It’s rather a process of elimination and common sense not assumption. As is most often the case in these investigations, there’s no smoking gun. Some historical document just doesn’t pop up that tells you Mr.X…or Mr. L in this case…issued these stamps. You must be persistent and have the patience to follow up leads wherever they may take you. By thoroughly reviewing bits and pieces of information a picture emerges that tells a story about your “subject”, whether it be a person, company, political statement, or something else.
When I feel that I’ve gathered together everything History has to offer I sit down and construct a chronology. By starting with the earliest known facts and moving forward to the latest a clearer picture emerges. After the chronology is complete it’s time to review and evaluate your work. Does it make sense? Are there any inconsistencies in data that needs to be addressed? Has the physical evidence exhibited by the counterstamp and host coin been considered? If so, do they fit with your emerging narrative? Don’t be afraid to question your conclusions and to reinvestigate areas of concern if necessary. Finally, are you comfortable with your attribution?
The physical evidence mentioned above, if properly understood, speaks volumes. Within reason, it provides clues as to the time period the stamp was applied, the occupation of the issuer, and may even suggest a geographical area. Wear patterns on the host coin and stamp tell tales. If a coin dated 1820 for example shows heavy wear but the stamp doesn’t, it was probably applied many years after the coin was minted. Font, style, and general “look” of the counterstamp’s design elements also have a story to tell. Silversmiths or other fine metal craftsmen’s marks matched the exacting standards of their trade. Silversmith marks are small and well manufactured, while a hardware merchant or metal founder wouldn’t necessarily be so. Font style suggests a timeframe. Older stamps were generally “fancier”…serifs on letters,etc… while more modern ones (1880s or so) were plainer and “sterile-like”. After the advent of hardened steel in the late 19th century, dies and punches became more durable. The resulting impression from such a punch would show sharper edges and crisp clean valleys in the devices. Older punches manufactured with softer steel will show a more mushy, indistinct impression. Again, a small aid in helping determine the age of a counterstamp.
Even the coin used to strike the die on might be of help in determining its geographical origin. California Gold Rush era issues, for instance, nearly always appear on gold or silver coins and not copper. These precious metals were the accepted standard of exchange in the far western states and territories. Very simply, copper didn’t circulate to any degree in the frontier areas. Thus a counterstamp on copper isn’t likely to be from this part of the country. Consequently, a substantial majority of other known issues appear on copper coins, particularly Large Cents. They mostly circulated on the eastern seaboard which provides another clue as to possible origin. So substrate choice does matter. While not a foolproof indication of origin, it certainly provides one that should be considered.
My final thoughts and conclusions on Mr. Loveless. After I’d come to realize that John Loveless probably didn’t work directly for the railroad, I considered the possibility that he was a subcontractor who provided a service to the line. But what service would that be? His short tenure with the Detroit, Grand Rapids & Western…1898-1900…tells us that he was a trucker (teamster or driver). In all likelihood he performed the same task at the Allegan Depot of the Long Shore & Michigan Southern RY many years earlier. I now believe the counterstamped coin, suspended on a chain or something else, acted as an identification badge that allowed him to transport freight to and from the depot. The worn condition of the suspension hole indicates that it was used often over a long period of time. Although he was repeatedly described as a farmer in numerous census records the railroad job was likely used to supplement his farm income. The hauling of freight would require the use of a wagon but what farmer doesn’t have one.
A map of the Long Shore track system found online confirms the existence of a depot in Allegan. As Loveless resided in Allegan Co. from the inception of the railroad in 1869 until at least 1878, it wouldn’t be a stretch to date the issuance of this counterstamp within that time frame. From the look of the lettering…uneven and sloppy… I would hazard a guess that Loveless made the badge himself. If it were made by the railroad it likely would have been from a prepared punch, at least the “L.S. & M.S. RY” portion of the stamp. It would have a more professional and refined look to it.
The final determining factor, and not an unimportant one, is that during an extensive investigation I found no one else who could have been the issuer. While Loveless is a fairly common surname none of them stepped up to the plate to take a pitch. I suppose we now know who’s on first.
By the way, I’m going to let you find out who Riley Haskell was. He’s an easy one to find. Just think Painesville, Ohio.
B.R.& M. / 10 October, 2014
Cary, Ferdinand Ellsworth; Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railway System and Representative Employees (1900) Biographical Publishing Co. / Chicago, Buffalo.
Chaney, Henry; Michigan Reports: Cases Decided in the Supreme Court of Michigan (Vol. 55 / Pg.38 ) /1886, Callahan & Co. / Chicago
1st Annual Report of the President and Directors of the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railway Co. (December 31, 1870) Fairbanks, Benedict & Co. / Cleveland
http://www.ancestry.com / family trees/military records/directories, etc.
http://www.findagrave.com / cemetery records
http://www.google.com / maps/images/books
http://www.migenweb.org / allegan