3LOVE TOKENS

(or engraved coins)

 

by GUY DE LA BEDOYERE (revised JULY 2014)

 

Back to the Home Page

 

Back to milled coinage

 

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 With the new coinage available, the old silver coins disappeared from circulation, or were withdrawn for reuse in the new coins.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 US coins of the 1800s were engraved in some way. This coin dealer’s website has a page devoted to a range of examples for sale: http://www.bottles.freeserve.co.uk/Medals-Love.htm.

 

 

Here are some examples of ‘love tokens’:

 

1. A grandmother’s gift: Charles II crown of 1664 with engraving of 1783

 

This love token proved exceptionally easy to trace because the name is unusual, and the date precise.

 

This crown bears the inscription:

The Gift of

Christiana Baugh

To Margaret Baugh

February 25th

1783

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 25 May 1782 at Llanymynech, Shropshire. I am extremely grateful to Joan Zorn for informing me that this younger Robert Baugh can be identified as the map maker and engraver ROBERT BAUGH (1749-1832) of Llanymynech. It is her opinion, which I share, that this Robert was almost certainly responsible for engraving the coin (his signature on a will of 1785 shows the word Baugh written very similarly to how it is on the coin). She has provided this quote from the local parish registers and the following links:

 

Robert Baugh was a copper-plate engraver and a map-maker of considerable genius. He worked in conjunction with the great engineers, Telford and Stevenson, and assisted in the Surveys for the Holyhead Road, and the Aqueduct at Pontcysylltau, across the Dee. He did not neglect local responsibilities, or opportunities. He filled the office of Parish Clerk, and for some years was Church-Warden.”

 

More can be read about Robert Baugh in the Gentleman's Magazine and his obituary

 

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 25 February 1783 at Llwyntidman, Llanymynech, Shropshire (found on Family Search).

 

4. Margaret Baugh also turns up on a webpage devoted to Caernarfon traders. She married a draper called Richard Owen on 12 December 1805 at Llanymynech, and produced two sons: Richard, and Robert (the third of that name), and a daughter who later became Mrs C.B. Parry.

 

5. Unfortunately, Margaret died on 2 March 1811. Richard Owen married again and had more children but was dead himself by 1828.

 

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 at 117 Park Road, Llanelly, with his wife Lucy and their sons John and William.  Robert (iii) is not in the Census. Her daughter is not readily identifiable either but might be the widow Ann Parry, aged 44 and born at Oswestry, living in Chirk Denbighshire in 1851.

 

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:

            AE

BORN JAN[UAR]Y 25

            1803

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:

Tho[mas] Drury

Died 8th Feb[ruar]y

        1805

 

Using websites like Family Search I found that only one Thomas Drury is recorded as having died on February 8th 1805. A little more searching about pinned him down as the man christened on 31 May 1719 (0r 1729) at St Clement Danes in London. His parents were Robert and Susanna. He married a woman called Elizabeth Hilton and was a great friend of John Wesley. Their son Joseph Drury (1750-1834) became a famous headmaster of Harrow School. This is all on a webpage I found. You can read it here. I imagine that a number of these engraved coins were prepared and perhaps handed out at the funeral. Who knows?

 

4. James II, crown of 1688

 

 

The inscription here reads:

 

Mercy

Born August

23 1796

Corke

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 23rd August 1796. The inscription is ambiguous. Does it mean ‘Mercy Corke’ or does it mean ‘Mercy, born in Cork(e)’ in Ireland. Since place-names don’t seem usually to appear on love tokens I suspect Corke is indeed her surname. There is no record of this individual on http://www.familysearch.org/.

 

 

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, 26 May 1780, makes it a relatively early example of the dated love token habit.

 

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 May 20 1794. That could be a birthday or the day he/she died.

 

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:

 

NANNY MAY

BORN AUGST 2D

1797

OBEY YOUR

PARENTS

LOVE & FEAR

GOD

 

Nanny May’s birthday can be found on http://www.familysearch.org/. She was born in Falmouth, Cornwall, on the day the coin states, and her parents were Walter May and Margaret Hodge. They married 26 April 1791 at Falmouth. It seems Nanny May never married. I found her on http://www.ancestry.co.uk/ - apparently she died in December 1867 at the age of 70 in Barnstaple, Devon. Presumably then her effects were dispersed after her death, perhaps amongst relatives, but if she had no children of her own there’d have been no-one to cherish the love token.

 

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 (Edinburgh)

 

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 2 November 1802, at New Burn, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, to Thomas Maughan and Dorothy Atkinson.

 

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 Oldham in Lancashire. What I’ve found is that (amongst others) a Sarah Mellor was christened on 17 March 1791 at St Mary, Oldham, in Lancashire. She was the child of James and Lucretia (or Lucreatia) Mellor. On the reverse are the initials IM and the date 1788. I’m guessing that’s a John Mellor born in 1788. There were two, both christened at the same church on 6 April 1788 and 20 July 1788 respectively but their parents were Ralph and Sarah Mellor, and Joseph and Ann Mellor. Had either one of the boys been a brother of the Sarah of 1791 I’d think I was home and dry but they’re not so it remains unresolved. In any case, it could be ‘James Mellor’ but that doesn’t solve anything either.

 

Moreover, there were several other little girls christened in England that year with that name. Without an exact day and month I can’t pin her down. There is a Sarah Mellor who died that year, but she was born in 1790 and that doesn’t fit the even more tantalizing engraving on the reverse: I M 1788. The 1788 engraving looks to be in a different hand at first glance but it isn’t: the 17s are identical. So it was done by the same person, and I’d guess retrospectively when the 1791 engraving was executed.

 

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 United States (1797-1801). It’s a rare coin, and was struck in the young US mint at Philadelphia, one of only 327,536 silver dollars made that year. Without the hole and the engraving it would have been far more expensive, and it wasn’t cheap to begin with. An exceptionally crude engraving, that seems to read CRC or CHC, has been cut right across Liberty’s neck. I’d like to think it was done by some wildly exciting pioneer in Wyoming Territory in the early 1800s. But there’s a much more interesting possibility. In Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Tom is given a pierced silver dollar by his master’s son George. If Harriet Beecher Stowe was describing a common practice, then is it possible this coin with its crude engraving was once the property of a slave too? Here’s the passage:

 

"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.

 

Back to the Home Page

 

Back to milled coinage