Happily - she said yes, and we agreed that the subject of love tokens is perfect for February! Here's her Valentines gift to me - and you. Enjoy!
What is a love token you may ask? It is an artistically altered coin, typically made of silver ore, which has been smoothed on at least one side and engraved with the name of one’s beloved, or images, or poems.
People were quite sentimental in the Victorian age and love tokens are an enduring testament to those feelings. According to the Love Token Society website, which is an excellent source of information and images, there are 2 basic requirements for a love token: First, the engraving must be on a legitimate coin (i.e. a coin of the realm) In the United States, the liberty seated dime of the late 1800’s is the most common, likely because it was softer and thus easier to engrave than say the nickel, and a more valuable gift than a nickel or the lowly copper cent. Second, the engraving must be done by hand. Love tokens are not unique to the U.S. They were also made in significant quantities in Great Britain, Germany, and Canada. Smaller quantities were also made in numerous other countries.
I discovered love tokens in the fall of 2014, quite by accident, and have been drawn to them as a collector ever since. I was looking for a unique gift to mark a special milestone and exciting moment in the life of my daughter, Madeline. She was 14 at the time and had been cast in the role of Clara in Ballet Austin’s 52nd production of The Nutcracker. As I searched online for a jewelry memento related to the ballet that I could give to her at the end of the show’s run, the results were exactly as you’d expect. There were myriad nutcracker charms and even a charm in the image of Clara with outstretched arms holding the nutcracker while gazing at him admiringly, but something told me to keep on looking.
Finally, out of desperation and in an attempt to cast the net wide, I simply typed the word “clara” into the search engine and was amazed by an image that appeared. It was a delicate and lovely silver coin engraved, Clara, with what looked like an elegant swish underneath the name, which I have since learned is referred to as a “bale.”
The coin had a very thin gold frame that encircled the perimeter of the coin and the effect was lovely: simple and timeless. I ordered the Canadian love token coin and found the lightest of gold chains for it and took a deep breath. I was pleased with the one of a kind memento I had discovered. Since then, I have become a collector of sorts and must admit the thrill of the hunt keeps me coming back for more. Over the past couple of years, I’ve put together several love token necklaces for family members and friends, all containing the names and/or initials of children, grandchildren, and other loved ones.
The antique quality of a genuine love token is definitely part of the allure of these charms. The patina silver acquires over at least a century lends depth and richness to these treasures that captivates the imagination and transports us to another time. The idea that someone took the time to hand work and engrave a coin to perfection for a loved one over 100 years ago, only makes the gift have more depth of meaning when given today.
Happily, I found myself in the market for another love token engraved Clara, when Madeline learned she was cast as Clara for a second time in 2015. Somewhat remarkably, I was able to find one with a beautiful inscription of Clara once again. No two love tokens are identical of course and that is what makes them so beautiful. The love token I found this year, a U.S. liberty seated dime from 1883, is a bit bolder and more nuanced than the first, just as I found Madeline’s performance to be her second year, so the congruity of this particular find was not lost on me.
As I type this in my kitchen on December 27th, Ballet Austin’s 53rd annual production of The Nutcracker has very recently come to a close and Madeline ducks into the kitchen to get a snack. She walks over to say hello and sees what I am writing. She smiles and touches the latest Clara pendant she’s been wearing since receiving it at our celebratory dinner with family at Uchi on 12/23 after the company’s final performance of the season. With that simple gesture, I know the experience itself and the love token remembrance will both be treasures to her always.
Until next time.