In the spirit of Labor Day I would like to share a story. Doing what I do–scouring flea markets to find things to upcycle into Steampunk jewelry, I wind up with roundabout history lessons. Today’s lesson is courtesy of one of my patrons, Casey. A year ago Casey purchased a necklace from me, it was made with cute pink glass beads and a tiny silver metal bow and a bronze metal tag that I had purchased at the Stormville Flea Market.
While Casey and her husband were grocery shopping, the gentleman who checked them out was astonished by the bronze metal tag on Casey’s necklace. He asked her excitedly where he could find one and told her of their rarity. As it turns out, the bronze metal tag (which I took to be an old hotel room key tag) was in fact a coal miner’s tag! Coal miner’s tags are rare because they are often kept within families as an heirloom and passed down from generation to generation. Coal miner’s tags are unique to American history and cannot be found elsewhere.
I was eager to know more–and so, like most people, I googled “coal miner’s tag” and a very interesting interview popped up which I urge you to read if you’re at all interested. Carol Malcolm-Parsons, daughter of a coal miner, provides us with a definition & description of what coal miner’s tags are and what function they serve: These tags are a “symbol of a career”–the career of a miner. Each miner has a tag and, in her words, “each mine, I guess, can do it different. Some of [the tags] just have their Social Security number. Some of them have the miner’s last name and first initial or something. So before you go underground, you have to move your tag to the section of the board that shows that you’re underground.” These tags were a safety measure–though not as famous as a canary in a birdcage.
I bought three tags at the flea market that day. I only have one coal miner’s tag left and I wish I could discover who it belonged to because it is more than a “symbol of a career” but a life lived–so whoever you were, Coal Miner no. 38, Happy Labor Day.