(or engraved coins)
by GUY DE LA BEDOYERE (revised JULY 2014)
A love token is the name often given to coins that have been engraved with some sort of personal message or information. The term ‘love token’ is a bit of a misnomer as many of the engravings have nothing to do with ‘love’ but instead recorded births or deaths.
Coin collectors and dealers regard such pieces as spoiled or damaged, with the result that ‘love tokens’ are usually very much cheaper than another example of the same coin in original condition. But in fact ‘love tokens’ can often be very interesting pieces, especially when the names on the coin turn out to be traceable.
The love tokens I’m especially interested in here are the engraved coins of the English eighteenth century.
Between 1696 and 1816 English circulating money consisted mainly of milled coinage struck between early 1663 and 1816. Many of these pieces were silver crowns (5 shillings, equal to 25 pence), halfcrowns, shillings (12 old pennies, but equal to 5 pence today) and sixpences. A popular habit was to take a coin, usually a crown or halfcrown, and engrave on it some special piece of information like a birth date or the commemoration of a death. Sometimes the engraving is detailed and tells you the name of the person, the exact date, and sometimes the event. The engraving is usually many decades later than the coin.
In 1816 the silver coinage was replaced with new issues at a lower level of silver purity. From then on the new silver coins were worth more as coins, than as melted down bullion of the same weight. The idea was to make silver coinage affordable to produce, and to discourage people from melting down coins. With the new coinage available, the old silver coins disappeared from circulation, or were withdrawn for reuse in the new coins. Coins already used as ‘love tokens’ often survived this process. Of course the habit continued, but after 1816 only the new coins were easily available.
What did a coin like this mean in terms of cost? As a very rough rule of thumb, based on bullion price and inflation, you need to multiply by about 60-70 to get a comparison. A silver crown was worth 5 shillings (25 pence) then and was worth a little more than a silver dollar of the period. At today’s values an engraved crown cost the equivalent of £15-17.50, or at present exchange rates US$27-30. Obviously, people only used what they could afford: poorer people used sixpences or even copper halfpennies and farthings. They weren’t even always engraved – sometimes the coins were just bent. See Values for how the system worked and its equivalents.
The coins that recorded deaths were probably linked to the well-established custom of providing ‘mourning rings’ for those invited to the funeral. For example, Samuel Pepys (who died in 1703) allocated money in his will to provide rings valued at 20, 15 and 10 shillings, for the various mourners. Each ring was engraved with the name of the deceased. Giving a ‘mourning coin’ like no. 2 below was obviously rather cheaper.
WHY DID PEOPLE ENGRAVE COINS?
Good question and there isn’t an obvious answer. However, from the seventeenth century onwards it became fashionable to wear jewellery that commemorated a cherished person. Often such jewellery was symbolic, such as Georgian ‘heart’-shaped brooches. Sometimes they contained locks of hair. It was also customary for the wealthier to leave money for rings to be handed out to esteemed mourners at their funerals. Samuel Pepys had forty-five £1 ‘mourning rings’ handed out at his funeral – around £2700-worth in today’s money.
By the late 1700s a new type of commemorative brooch had become very fashionable. These had miniature paintings depicting people grieving for a loved one, or a representation of a lover. Usually some sort of abbreviated message was added to the picture, perhaps initials, a slogan, or a date.
I believe the engraved coins represent a cheaper option for those who could not afford a bespoke brooch or mourning rings. The custom became established after c. 1780, just when the brooch paintings were becoming popular. By then no crowns or half-crowns had been made since 1751. Even shillings were scarce, and just one tiny issue in 1763 and a large issue in 1787 would fill a gap between 1758 and 1816. So until George III’s recoinage of 1816, surviving silver coins had become high-value items that were rarely used as money.
In the 19th century love tokens became more
elaborate and often involved enamelling and/or completely erasing one face (or
sometimes both sides) of the coin so that a message, name, date or initials
could replace it. Occasionally the coin then had a pin soldered to it, so that
it could be worn as a brooch. Engraving coins became widespread – many
Here are some examples of ‘love tokens’:
This love token proved exceptionally easy to trace because the name is unusual, and the date precise.
This crown bears the inscription:
To Margaret Baugh
Although the occasion is not stated, there is no doubt what that was. Christiana Baugh was Margaret’s grandmother. She took the coin from her own savings and had it engraved to commemorate her granddaughter’s birth. The family descent works like this:
1. Robert Baugh married CHRISTIANA (maiden name unknown but born c. 1726), in about 1748
2. Robert and Christiana Baugh’s son, also Robert (b.
1749), married Catherine Edwards on
was a copper-plate engraver and a map-maker of considerable genius. He worked
in conjunction with the great engineers,
See also http://www.llanymynech.org.uk
3. Robert and Catherine Baugh’s eldest daughter, and
first child, MARGARET BAUGH was born exactly nine months later (to the day!) on
4. Margaret Baugh also turns up on a webpage devoted
to Caernarfon traders. She married a
draper called Richard Owen on
5. Unfortunately, Margaret died on
6. Margaret’s son Richard, born about 1807, is
probably the man of this name who turns up in the 1851 Census, now a coachman, living
Marks on the coin’s obverse show that the coin was made into a brooch which Margerat presumably wore. The pin and clasp have long since been removed and only traces of the solder remain. The love token might have been passed on to any of these descendants, or none. Who knows? It turned up on Ebay in November 2005 where I bought it.
2. Charles II, crown of 1673
The reverse is engraved:
BORN JAN[UAR]Y 25
beneath an ear of corn
Unfortunately, the engraving only features the initials so there’s not the slightest chance of identifying whoever ‘AE’ was. But the engraving is very elegant.
3. Charles II, crown of 1680
This coin is engraved:
Died 8th Feb[ruar]y
Using websites like Family Search I
found that only one Thomas Drury is recorded as having died on
4. James II, crown of 1688
The inscription here reads:
My thanks to Christopher Whittell for allowing me to use the picture of this 1688
crown. Unfortunately this one can’t be easily traced. Here
we have the birth of a girl called Mercy on
5. Charles II 1677/6 crown and 6. William III, crown of 1696
These coins are typical of the love token habit – they
have tantalizingly precise dates but only initials. Without any family
information to accompany them it’s now absolutely impossible to identify the
people whose initials these are. I notice that the Charles II crown seems to
say HE.B with the H and E combined – this might refer to a married couple with
the initials H and E and perhaps the date of their marriage, but it is
impossible to be certain. I am grateful to Jack Relph
who kindly supplied the picture of the Charles II piece. The date,
Crowns of William III are the commonest English silver
coins from the 17th and 18th centuries. In 1696 vast
numbers of new milled coins were struck to replace the old hammered coinage
that had been circulating for centuries. Consequently, crowns of 1696 are
probably the most frequently found type used for engraving. This 1696 crown was
98 years old when it was selected for engraving, but it had incurred relatively
little wear by then. The information on the engraving was doubtless of great
value to its owner, but we are left none the wiser since all it says is: MF
7. William III, crown of 1696
One of the most explicit love tokens I’ve seen, this example popped up on eBay in July 2005. It sold for more than $200. The inscription, which has wiped out the reverse of this crown of William III, reads:
BORN AUGST 2D
LOVE & FEAR
Nanny May’s birthday can be found on http://www.familysearch.org/. She
was born in
I’m grateful to Geoff Yates and his assistant Gaye, who sold the coin, for supplying me with high-res images to use on this website.
8. Anne, crown of 1707 (
The engraving on this coin is incomplete but it turned
out to be possible to trace a likely candidate. The engraving was probably not
made after 1816 for the reasons outlined above. So, here we have a John Maughan, 2 No…….. Assuming this is a birthday, which is
more likely than anything else, I started a search for a John Maughan, born on 2 November. As it turns out, there is only
one: John Maughan, born
9. George I, crown of 1726
This is the most tantalizing yet. The obverse is engraved:
Sarah Mellor 1791.
The Mellors were
concentrated in Derbyshire and also near
Moreover, there were several other little girls
Perhaps Sarah died in 1791, following her husband who had died in 1788? Perhaps the surviving records simply don’t cover the Sarah on this coin. Perhaps I’ll never know. Any ideas?
But the frustrating experience of this coin did lead me down another route, which you can read about here.
10. US $1 ‘draped bust/heraldic eagle’ type 1798
This is an early US silver $1, dating from 1798 at the
beginning of the presidency of John Adam, second president of the
"Can't help it! I say it's a shame! Look here, Uncle Tom," said he, turning his back to the shop, and speaking in a mysterious tone, "I've brought you my dollar!"
"O! I couldn't think o' takin' on 't, Mas'r George, no ways in the world!" said Tom, quite moved.
"But you shall take it!" said George; "look here—I told Aunt Chloe I'd do it, and she advised me just to make a hole in it, and put a string through, so you could hang it round your neck, and keep it out of sight; else this mean scamp would take it away. I tell ye, Tom, I want to blow him up! it would do me good!"
"No, don't Mas'r George, for it won't do me any good."
"Well, I won't, for your sake," said George, busily tying his dollar round Tom's neck; "but there, now, button your coat tight over it, and keep it, and remember, every time you see it, that I'll come down after you, and bring you back. Aunt Chloe and I have been talking about it. I told her not to fear; I'll see to it, and I'll tease father's life out, if he don't do it."
Guy de la Bédoyère
Other links on love tokens:
Love Tokens - but watch out, this link also generates advertisements
http://www.colchestertreasurehunting.co.uk/s/silver.htm - this page lists metal-detector finds of milled coins, and includes some ‘love tokens’
It’s also worth looking on eBay at http://coins.ebay.com/ and putting ‘love token’ or ‘engraved’ into the search box to see what comes up.