What’s It Worth? When Research Equals Evaluation

A jeweler in Illinois called us to “crack the code” of a ring he had purchased. He knew it had some importance, but couldn’t figure out what. The seal on the intaglio carved amethyst depicted a papal hat from Cairo. On the inside was engraved C.R.H. JAN. 12, 1871, A.Mc.K.T.W ST. MARKS.

He sent the ring to us to evaluate. The only Christian church in Cairo is a Coptic Church. We spent several weeks researching the date, to no avail. Then, because the inscription was in English, we thought perhaps the church was an Irish church or a large church in New York; but nothing gelled. There are many St. Mark’s churches in the U.S. and in Dublin, but the initial dates did not fit. And why Cairo?

After three months, I was well and truly obsessed. Katrina and I have always said research is much more fun than buying and selling, but this was getting exasperating! In desperation, we Googled any town in the world named Cairo. Finally we hit pay dirt with St. Mark’s Church in Cairo, Illinois.

From there, I discerned that this was the wedding ring for the Bishop of Cairo, Illinois, Charles Reuben Hale. Hale was a Civil War veteran, as well as a writer and religious intellectual. His bride was Anna McKnight Decatur Twiggs (hence the initials on the ring), and a niece of the Naval hero Stephen Decatur. They were married on Jan. 12, 1871, in St. Mark’s Church in Cairo, when Hale was 34 and Mrs. Twiggs (whose first husband had passed away in 1857) was 48.

Sadly, the marriage was brief – because just three years later, Anna Hale passed away. Five years after that, Hale became the bishop and made this ring into the papal seal.
As to valuation, the Illinois jeweler bought it at scrap gold value for $300. The top portion is Tiffany and the fair market value is $3,000 to $5,000; however, to some it might be considered priceless. We are exploring ways of making it available to the Illinois/ Indiana diocese of the church.

Many dealers don’t understand the true value of such pieces. Do you have any questions?

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