While the legacy of the bubonic plague preserved superstitions about the bubonic plague for centuries after the Black Death in the 14th century, Queen Victoria's official rat catcher Jack Black was also the pioneer of a trend in Victorian England - the fancy rat. During his ratcatching gigs, Black would look for unusually colored rats to breed and sell to, in his words, “well-bred young ladies” who intended to keep the rats in squirrel cages. These fancy rats were kept by many members of high society who organized various competitions for their rats, keeping the trend alive well into the 20th century. Perhaps one such person commissioned this love token to commemorate their beloved pet rat.
This love token is engraved on the heads side of a US Seated Liberty Half Dime, minted in 1853, and is approximately 16mm in diameter and is set in a 14k YG and diamond bezel with an openable bale. Chain picture is sold separately.
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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 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.