I frequently present my antiques appraisal events in the southern United States. The region is rich in history and particularly the stories of the slave trade, the Civil War and the heroes of the 19th century come to life in objects from that region of America.
Small objects and keepsakes can say a lot about history. A small item, a copper tag that was worn around the necks of some people of color known to be slaves during the late 18th century until the end of the Civil War, speaks volumes about the background of our union.
In Charleston, S.C., slave owners could rent out the services of their slaves to others for a fee. The registration fee for slave tags brought income to the city of Charleston.
To oversee the slave trade, slaves in Charleston were required to wear a slave tag or identification marker. Fees for the tags, like a license, were set based on the abilities and skills of the slave.
A serial number related to the individual slave. The tags further noted the slave's occupation, and annual date of issue. By law, the slave tag had to be worn at all times during the calendar year marked on the tag. Most tags were made of copper by silversmiths or blacksmiths with a contract to make tags for the city.
An authentic slave tag included the city "Charleston" in raised lettering in an arched shape at the top of the tag near a punched out hole for the rope to wear around the slave's neck.
Most slave tags measured approximately 2 inches square and were worn in a diamond orientation.
Tags included a one-word description of a slave's skill such as "porter," "servant," "fisher" or "huckster."
The tax year in raised numbers such as "1829" or "1841" also was found on authentic slave tags.
Also, an authentic slave tag had a unique serial number for one individual slave only.
There were laws in place in the early 1800s, which allowed slave owners to hire out their slaves.
These laws were in place in southern cities including Mobile, Norfolk, New Orleans and Savannah.
But, the only southern city that had a strict regulatory method for keeping track of these slaves was Charleston. One requirement known only to slaves in Charleston related to the use of slave tags, which are highly collectible today.
Authentic slave tags command from $75 to $3,000 depending on condition, occupation noted on the slave tag and date of issue.
Ph.D. antiques appraiser, author, and award-winning TV personality, Dr. Lori presents appraisal events to audiences worldwide.