Love Tokens are real coins which have been altered by engraving. While craftsmen in every country have altered coins, the most collectible love tokens are from Great Britain, the United States and Canada. My focus is primarily on U.S. love tokens and all of the examples shown here are American.
The first love tokens appeared in the U.S. in the mid-1800s, just before the Civil War. At that time in American history there was a shortage of pennies, so love tokens were usually made from dimes, the most plentiful and available coin. Nickels, though half the cost, were too hard to engrave. Compare the metal composition of a nickel which is 25 parts nickel and 75 parts copper, to a dime which is 8.33 parts nickel and the remainder copper.
The transformation by engraving most often took place on the front of the coin leaving the reverse with the date still present. Sometimes coins were engraved on both sides resulting in a two-sided love token, date unknown.
What was engraved? Most commonly names and initials, but pictorials of all sorts can also be found.
Initials and names represented the giver, the receiver, or a loved one past. Sometimes they honored a birth or a marriage. When you see a love token, you have to imagine its meaning.
LOVE TOKENS BY CATEGORY
The majority of the love tokens I find have initials or names on them. Some are fairly straight forward and easy to read; some take a bit of concentration because the initials overlap or the script is old-fashioned.
Add a third letter to the monogram and it can be more complicated to decipher. Because there were no industry standards, the order of the letter placement was usually left to the discretion of the engraver.
Can't make them out? Put the photo in an editing program and trace each letter with a different color. Try not to trace the flourishes; just trace the basic letter. When you're done, you'll wonder how you missed something so obvious.
From top row left to right: May, Father, Annie, Bruno, Bessie, Lida
People and animals, Job and Tradesman Symbols, Rebus, Religious, Sailor/Sea, Scenic and floral, Fraternal Organizations and Pornographic
The gold coin above is a 2 1/2 dollar gold coin with Odd Fellows symbol engraved. The second from last love token is a lighthouse - or is it phallic?
Enameled, Jeweled, Pierced, Overlaid, and Non-Traditional Shapes
LOVE TOKENS IN JEWELRY
Photo of the cupid pin above worn at the collar of its original owner.
Love tokens are a cross-over collectible. Jewelry collectors and coin collectors compete for them. Competition is the bad news; the good news is that in addition to finding love tokens at antique shops, flea markets and antique malls, they can be found in coin shops.
- Sid and Carol at the Love Token Society for generously offering their photos for this blog post.
- A Genuine Find, on eBay, Etsy and Ruby Lane
- The Miacomet Collection
Love Tokens as Engraved Coins, Lloyd L. Entenmann
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