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The Parker Family Collection of Irish Communion Tokens

Parker Family

The Parker Family Collection of Irish Communion Tokens


elmas Parker, Sr., was the seventh child, born on Boxing Day 1906, to a couple settling the Oklahoma prairie panhandle. His mother soon died from complications of the birth given in the sod brick house. His father put him on a train with his oldest sister, and one dollar, to grow up in Kansas with an aunt. Delmas obtained a BA degree in English as a Shakespearian actor, from the University of Iowa. Upon graduation in 1934, there being no employment in the arts during the great Depression, Delmas signed with the U.S. Merchant Marines. He served 11 years on oil tankers, as the Chief Steward, hauling Venezuelan crude during all of World War II, from the deep water ports of Aruba and Curacao to the Texas city refineries. He survived two of his ships being torpedoed and sunk.

Seventh born children are natural diplomats, as they are the deciding family vote, and being physically diminutive, are forced to learn language and social coping skills during their formative years to be competitive. Being outcast from before he could remember, Delmas rose to the challenges of his early life, putting to memory and understanding vast sections of Shakespeare and the poets of the English Romantic Movement, and the American poems of Robert Browning and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. He was a man of letters, writing constantly with his older brothers, two of whom were priests to their congregations for 50 years each. Both his older sisters lived to be 100. Delmas had command of the depths of English literature and was able to share and instill haunting and unique perspectives, as the situation required. He was a collector of vignettes of language. He loved and relished the English language, and could stand and deliver for hours, from memory.

Following the War Delmas married Alice, also from a family of seven from Oklahoma, who working as a public health nurse in Texas City, Galveston. The couple moved to Houston in 1949 and Delmas became the first chef at the new Shamrock Hilton Hotel, where he cooked for Clark Gable, and later the Houston Yacht Club. Delmas was a co-founder of the Texas Culinary Society, and wrote regular cookbook reviews for the Condé Nast magazine Gourmet. He was elected to the local Houston school board and provided the recipes and organization for the annual Chili Supper. He authored two books, Curry for America and Recipes for 50. Delmas died on 1 May 1972.

The present group is derived from the inherited collection of ports of call during the years at sea, and the collecting spirit, to achieve some degree of perfection in the human endeavour. Collecting communion tokens is a parochial activity. If one has two collections, say, of 30 tokens each, one might expect considerable overlap. This is typically not the case, as most original groupings tend to be centred around the activities of pastors and congregants, of limited geographic distribution.

Communion tokens are derived from the Irish wars of religion of the mid 1600s. Protestants assembled in large church meetings, which served, not just as religious meetings, but also as political gatherings. To keep track of just who was attending these larger meetings, which were subject to activities of political spies and people that did not belong, communion tokens came into being. They were given to known local congregants by the priest or pastor to whom, like the Catholics, confession was made. The tokens would then be surrendered upon taking communion at the larger church meetings. The tokens, thus, act as passes, allowing members from smaller congregations to assemble in larger churches and not be deemed political spies, or worse, unrepentant sinners.

Cataloguer’s note: The tokens in the following 72 lots, totalling 455 pieces, form what is believed to be the best collection of Irish communion tokens ever to be offered at auction. Majoring on pieces from the northern counties Antrim, Down and Londonderry, the group includes pieces from the Norweb, Noble and Macmillan collections, as well as that of Lester Burzinski, author of the standard reference.

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