What's a Love Token?

Love tokens were a popular phenomenon in the 1800s, when coins were made with pure metals, and they reached their height of popularity in the United States and Great Britain in the late 1800s, at a time when the populations of both countries were eager to embrace sentimentality.

Love tokens have been smoothed flat on one or both sides and then hand engraved. Engravings are most commonly initials of the giver. Names and dates were also popular and perhaps most special and scarcer were sayings and pictures. Some love tokens were embellished even further with stones, enamel, added raised metal, or cutout designs within the coin. These coins were made as keepsakes and mementos from the giver to the recipient. The giver, important date, place, or event was intended to be remembered through the love token; a commissioned testimony and executed one of a kind special engraving.

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.

However, 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.

During the Civil War, soldiers found they had little use for the change in their pockets that they likely couldn’t spend in enemy territory. Ingenuity kicked in: if a soldier lost a button, all he had to do was drill two holes in a coin. Others would have their personal information engraved on coins and then keep them as a dog tag. Some coins would also be engraved as a romantic gift for a woman waiting back home.