Let's Talk About Love

Ever since I was young, I've been told I have an old soul, which, I suppose, explains my love for antiques.  Shortly after I started my jewelry business, I stumbled upon Victorian love tokens and was immediately betwitched.  Love tokens are antique coins that were planed down on one or both sides and embellished with names, personal messages, images and bon mots.  The most common technique used is hand engraving (SWOON), followed by enameling, cutouts and overlays of precious metals. In the picture above, the large love token in the rose gold halo has yellow, green and rose gold applied as the initials of the lucky recipient.  It is spectacular.

Since the vast majority of people who see these coins know nothing of them, I thought I'd explain their history so readers can become equally enchanted with this romantic lost art.  The exact origin of this practice is up for debate: some numismatists trace the history back to 13th century England and the practice of bending coins.  When asking a favorite saint for a favor, coins were bent and pledges were made as a physical token of the pledge made.  The practice of engraving coins took off during the late 1600’s through the 1800’s, when coins were engraved with everything from primitive to highly skilled techniques in equal measure. 

Typically, the minted words and images were removed from the obverse side of the coin - the front of the coin, or what we call heads when we flip a coin as they are commonly decorated with the bust of a prominent person.  In some cases the reverse of the coin was used as the blank canvas for the embellishment, which is why you may see a love token of the same year with a different backside. While both sides of the coin are interesting, using the reverse side makes it difficult to determine the year in which the coins were minted. 

Love tokens were executed on practically all denominations of coins in many countries.  According to the US Mint, the love token phenomenon caused a shortage of dimes during the peak of the craze.  Dimes were not a huge amount of money to throw away, thus their popularity. When other coins were used, the choice of coin communicated social and economic status:  gold coins and larger denominations of silver coins were a sign of the givers’ wealth, whereas nickels and pennies were seldom used as they were considered common due to their composition – nickel and copper versus silver or gold.  

While love tokens started off as gifts from a beau to his belle, their popularity extended far beyond these traditional boundaries to commemorate more than just romantic love. I have numerous love tokens in my collection that say Mama, and also Papa, Father, Brother, Uncle and even an Aunt Helen, which I am saving for my own Aunt Helen.

What I love most about these coins is the history behind them, even if I will never know what it is, I can use my imagination. The most mysterious coins are not the ones with names, but the ones with words or phrases.  Some of the best ones I have in my collection are: Pickles, Excuse me, Wild and Stories.  These coins could talk…..