On this Valentine’s Day, we figured we’d add in a numismatic twist. Love tokens are generally defined as coins where one or sometimes both sides have been smoothed down and engraved with initials, names, phrases and/or scenes. These were often given to young ladies as “tokens of love” by suitors.
The manufacture and practice of giving a “Love Token” seems to have originated in Great Britain in the early 1800s, and then migrated to the United States in the mid-to-late 1800s.
The Liberty Seated dime is perhaps the most popular coin used to create love tokens (likely because of its smaller size and silver content), but love tokens are known to have been made from all denominations of U.S. coins, from half cents through 20-dollar gold pieces, as well as numerous world coins and denominations.
The standard reference work on love tokens is Love Tokens as Engraved Coins (1991) by Lloyd L. Entenmann. You may have to search a bit to find a copy but they are available.
Being personalized items from a wide variety of creators, each love tokens has its own personality. Each one of these coins represents a love shared between two people.
These items really are not tokens. It is a coin that has been defaced by planing down and engraving one or both sides. In the European tradition, which began in the 17th century, such items are simply called “engraved coins”. Leave it to the Americans to give them a fancy name.
They didn’t become popular in the United States until about the time of the Civil War. By the turn of the century, the custom was waning.
Most American love tokens you’ll encounter will have the initials of a person, sometimes a name or a message. A few will have an ornate depiction of some object or symbol, such as a bird or a heart.
There is nothing to stop someone from making his or her own love token today. However, if you were fortunate enough to find someone with the patience, talent, and desire to make one for you, it would probably be machine engraved. The collectible 19th-century U.S. love tokens are all engraved by hand.
One factor in the desirability of the piece is the denomination selected for the love token. Another important factor is the ornateness of the artwork involved. The more detailed and fancy the engraving, the more desirable and expensive the love token.
Some people collect love tokens with specific names, specific initials, or just by whatever happens to catch their eye or hold special meaning for them.
Love tokens are not expensive. Most love tokens made from a Seated Liberty dime sell for perhaps $10-20 each. The more ornate coins and gold coins will cost significantly more.
Looking for that special numismatic gift for Valentine’s Day to give to your loved one? I think you’ve found it.