Often referred to as love tokens, these are coins that have been engraved with a design, often to be given as a keepsake to a loved one. A great many pieces are known, and almost all are unique in their design. The quality of the workmanship can vary from the simplest of scratching on a smoothed coin to masterpieces of the engraver’s art. The engraved details can vary from just a few initials or a name, where the sentiment was only known by the engraver and the recipient, to pieces carrying much more information; names, addresses, dates and even the raison d’etre for the piece.
Most of the pieces once separated from the recipient will have lost all of their meaning and will never be understood, but there are two series of engraved coins that have succumbed to painstaking research. The first are transportation tokens, often engraved or just pricked out with a nail on worn or smoothed cartwheel pennies (George III, 1797). These were made by prisoners whilst held on the hulks prior to transportation to the New World. The second series are coins that have been engraved with designs or allusions to ships, again probably given to loved ones prior to departure on what were often dangerous and often one way voyages.
1. A Charles II hammered shilling, engraved at the time of its issue with the date 1661. We will probably never find the identity of AK, but can surmise some wealth, as a shilling in 1661 was quite a sum of money.
2. Another enigmatic piece, has the simple but touching sentiment "My heart is fixed, I cannot range, I like my choice too well to change" and the initials AMW. On the smoothed off obverse of a 1787 shilling.
3. At a first glance Devol 1898, seems simple, but an unusual name, but then this is Loved back! On the smoothed reverse of a Victorian old head shilling.
4. Even when the information engraved on the coin is good, as here with James Wild of Manchester, on the obverse of a very worn shilling of Anne, the name is too common to find a unique identity.
5. This 1787 shilling has a neatly engraved inscription "W. Middleton, Elected 8 Feby 1803". All attempts to trace this event have so far failed. However we cannot assume this to be a British or Political event.
6. his worn disc of silver, just 26mm in diameter, shows the finest of engraving. On the obverse, Thos Witherage, third mate of the ship phoenix 1772 about to depart on the ship. On the reverse, probably his wife, shepherd’s crook in hand tending animals with a farm in the background. Research is ongoing into this piece.
7. This final piece engraved on a Victoria young head shilling, is hardly a love token, but a receipt or memento of the case of Drury vs Mortimer and the £50 damages awarded. Attempts to trace this case have so far failed.
Useful References and Links
S. Comfort. Forget me not – A study of naval and maritime engraved coins and plate (1745-1918). Privately published by Sim Comfort Associates, 2004.
M. Field and T. Millett. Convict Love Tokens – the leaden hearts the convicts left behind. Wakefield Press, 1998.