(or engraved coins)
by GUY DE LA BEDOYERE 2004 (revised FEBRUARY 2012)
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 With the new coinage available, the old silver coins disappeared from circulation, or were withdrawn for reuse in the new coins.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
“Robert Baugh was a copper-plate engraver and
a map-maker of considerable genius. He worked in conjunction with the great
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
Baugh also turns up on a webpage devoted to Caernarfon traders. She married a draper called Richard Owen
Unfortunately, Margaret died on
son Richard, born about 1807, is probably the man of this name who turns up in
the 1851 Census, now a coachman, living at
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.
3. Charles II, crown of 1680
This coin is engraved:
Died 8th Feb[ruar]y
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. William III, crown of 1696
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 coin 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
6. 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
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.
7. Anne, crown
of 1707 (
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,
8. 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
Does IM stand for another Mellor, like ‘Isaac Mellor’, or is it a Latinized I for J, thus John Mellor? Or does it represent In Memoriam 1788? If so, that can’t be one of Sarah’s parents because they could scarcely have died three years before she was born. So is it a brother or sister? Well, none of the Sarahs recorded for 1791 had a brother or sister recorded in 1788. 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.
9. George II, halfcrown of 1732
This coin is rather frustrating. The style of the engraving could have been done at almost any time in the eighteenth century, but probably not later. There is no date, and instead all we have are the two pairs of initials on either side of the king’s face: WR and ER. This is most likely to record either a pair of twins, or perhaps a marriage.
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
Guy de la Bédoyère, June 2004, updated December 2005
Other links on love tokens:
Love Tokens - but watch out, this link also generates advertisements
http://www.lancastercastle.com/lovetokens.htm - all about convicts facing transportation and how they used coins to engrave their messages on
http://www.colchestertreasurehunting.co.uk/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.