Love and Lead: A Story of Love Tokens

Alfred Lord Tennyson said it best,“‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”  Love is an experience that transcends time and space. Love is also a double-edged sword. It can be as excruciating as it is exquisite; but most who have loved and lost would probably be willing to take that risk once more.  Love is just that good, and inspirational. From the arts to pursuits of passion, scientific endeavors to astounding physical feats, love is a motivational force behind expression and manifestation. In numismatics, one expression came in the form of love tokens.  Not to be confused with any token of love, which can be a variety of collectible items; a numismatic love token is a very specific object.  According to the Love Token Society, an authority on the subject, ‘love tokens’ are coins from circulation that have been smoothed on at least one side, and engraved or pinpunched by hand to convey affection.  

The love token tradition can be traced back to the late 1500’s in France, when triezains (a set of thirteen personalized engraved coins that remained currency) were bestowed to


Seated Liberty Love Token

newlyweds as a blessing.  Since then, this tradition has evolved to suit the times and cultures that acquired a taste for the trend. Queen Victoria, for example, made it fashionable to wear your heart on your sleeve, by finishing your daily attire with tokens of your love, or loss as it were.  US citizens revived the practice when sweethearts were separated, sometimes forever, during the Civil War, and World Wars I, and II. Mariners of the past also created love-token-forget-me-nots prior to setting sail, perhaps never to return.  Though sentiments are similar, these tokens are as unique as their authors, despite borrowing symbols and themes to convey their love.Throughout the course of time, several themes have appeared on the faces of these tokens.  A handshake typically indicated the intention of marriage. Lovebirds illustrated fidelity.  Cupid’s bow and arrow implied infatuation. Initials would often appear in interlocking patterns.  Flowers, horseshoes, landscapes, and all manner of design have at one point appeared on a love token.  Of all the themes and designs to appear on the face of these tokens, there is a haunting poem that represents the double edge of love’s sword.  This poem appeared on love tokens during the Georgian era in England, and it goes like this, “When This you see, Remember me, Tho’ many leagues we distant be.”  There are variations to the wording, but these coins are specifically known as ‘leaden hearts’, and they were made by criminals within the English realm that were sentenced to “transportation” by Crown Justices and local magistrates.  

Leaden hearts bring humanity to those criminals, mostly petty but some hard, who were recorded impersonally in the annals of history.  They were most often created around the time of sentencing, and customarily included the name of the prisoner; the name of their love; the length of the sentence; a popular poem or variation of the one above; or images of their choosing.  These criminals would give these leaden hearts to those they cherished before being shipped off to penal colonies in America and Australia.  The sentence of transportation was typically given in lieu of being publicly hanged, drawn and quartered; or later simply hanged in the gallows.

The largest known collection of leaden hearts belongs to the National Museum of Australia.  In 2008, they purchased a collection of 307 tokens from collector Timothy Millett, who had been amassing leaden hearts since 1984.  Millett also sold the museum the accompanying documentation and artifacts for some of the pieces that verified the identities of the convict-artists.  They have a catalog of 314 tokens available at their website for public viewing.  The museum beautifully displays both sides of the token and, when available, the associated artist’s information and story.

One English penny in the collection jumps out at the viewer.  On one side it bears the name “Frost”, and on the other the word “Charter”.  This leaden heart obviously doesn’t demonstrate the passions and longings of romantic or familial love.  Upon closer investigation, however, it reveals the love of human-kind by a long ago espouser of human rights— John Frost.  

John Frost was a Welshman born on the 25th of May, 1784, in Newport, Monmouthshire.  He was born to successful innkeepers, but was orphaned to his grandfather when his mother passed away.  Apprenticed at 16 to woolen drapers and merchant tailors in Cardiff, Bristol, and later London, he returned to Newport at age 22 to start his own business as a draper and tailor.  He was a well-respected community member and family man with eight children. He was known to be of high intelligence, well-spoken, compassionate, just, and eventually, a revolutionary in his own right.

Despite his honorable reputation, Frost was imprisoned briefly for six months under the charge of libel.  He had made statements rightfully claiming malpractice against a Newport lawyer, Thomas Prothero, who was well connected to powerful industrialists and land owners at the time.  Once released from jail, the Thomas-Paine-inspired-Frost would aggressively pursue Prothero’s friends and allies with factual accusations of mistreatment of the greater community.  He became increasingly more politically active, and in 1835 became a Councillor and Magistrate for Newport, then went on to be an Improvement Commissioner, and Poor Law Guardian of the community.  In 1836 he was elected Mayor of Newport.  He sought political reform and aligned himself with the Chartist movement and their six points.  He even professed his support of universal suffrage, and its importance in political reform.

He was an intelligent and successful man, but he made a mistake that would alter the course of his life forever.  He devised an insurrection of the political establishment of Newport, in what became known as the Newport Rising.  This insurrection did not go as planned and Frost, unfortunately and unintentionally, got 25 of his fellow Chartists killed, 45 wounded, and many more imprisoned.  He was captured and sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered. This actually marked the last time in British history that this sentence was given out. The sentence was later commuted to transportation due to public outcry and threat.  He was sentenced to life in modern day Tasmania in 1840, and carved his leaden heart sometime after.  In 1856, he was pardoned and he lived out the rest of his days in Bristol lecturing on the hardships of convicts, and delving into spirituality.

This is perhaps the most glorious story tied to a leaden heart.  Most leaden hearts were carved by petty thieves who were caught red handed simply trying to survive abject poverty.  They were carved by oppressed people with tough lives who were struck with the realization they would never see their loved ones again.  Though most love tokens across time and space are sweet sentiments that celebrate the positive side of love, leaden hearts are the love tokens that blatantly express the other side of the emotion. Though a sense of sadness comes with most leaden hearts, there is great history and humanity behind them.  That potent combination gives these specific love tokens great value to numismatist collectors and history buffs alike, and will for generations to come.

-Rachael S.


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Silver Sixpence and Other Love Coin Traditions

Coins appear frequently in folklore, mythology, and superstition, and they feature heavily in legends about relationships.


img_4241The old phrase often recited to brides, “Something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue” used to have a final phrase: “and a silver sixpence in her shoe.” It is a custom in Great Britain (as well as other countries) for a father to place a sixpence or other coin into the shoe of a bride. (In Sweden, the bride’s mother puts a gold coin in her other shoe as well.) The coin is said to bring wealth, happiness, and luck. Wales has a slightly different version, in which a coin is put into the cork from the bottle of champagne served to the newly married couple; the cork then serves as a souvenir and good-luck charm. In Derbyshire, girls would put the silver sixpence under their pillows, with a sprig of rosemary, in hopes of dreaming of their future husband.


The “luck of the Irish” extends to coins and relationships, too. The old Irish custom of “luck money” paid to the family of the bride evolved into modern couples exchanging coins along with rings during the wedding ceremony. Some even say that if the coins clink during the exchange, it’s a sure sign that children will be added to the new family quickly. Traditionally, the groom would give his bride a new coin, as a symbol of sharing all of his possessions. The coin would become a family keepsake; when the couple’s eldest son came to be married, the coin would be passed to him as a good luck charm, and he would present his own bride with a new coin.




19th century English love token coin. Photo credit: Woody1778a on Flickr, used under CC by SA 2.0.

In Poland, instead of throwing confetti, wedding guests toss coins at the couple; the couple then gathers up all the coins, which is intended to be a bonding experience. Nearby Lithuania adds a coin with the couple’s initials on it: the bridesmaids and groomsmen collect the coins, and whoever ends up with the special coin gets to dance with the bride or groom. It’s said that this tradition sprang up around a poor young couple who were engaged to be married. Since he couldn’t buy a ring, the groom-to-be carved a design into a coin for his bride. Before the wedding could take place, he was sent off to war; for ten years, his fiancee waited for him to return. Return he did, but in the intervening years, the coin had been stolen. When the wedding finally occurred, the village collected coins so that the returning war hero and his bride could afford rings. One of the coins collected was the very same carved coin that had been lost; the ecstatic couple grabbed the villager who had contributed it, and all three began to dance with joy.



An old Roman custom of paying for broken pledges resulted in the Hispanic wedding tradition of giving the bride 13 gold coins, often in an ornate box, as a symbol of the husband’s pledge to care for her. This is called “las arras,” from the Latinate word “arrhae.” (Quite a few of these coin and box sets are posted on Pinterest.)
wedding-1404620_960_720India has many different cultural practices, as it is a large and diverse nation; one of the most poignant is a tradition known as “vidai,” in which the bride scatters coins behind her as she leaves her parents’ house; the coins are intended as acknowledgement and repayment of all the sacrifices they have made in raising her.



China also uses coins to mark and celebrate relationships, striking coins for engagements, wedding ceremonies, and the actual marriage. The Chinese philosophy of feng shui dictates that shiny coins must be displayed on bright red fabric, to enhance their good fortune.



As indicators of wealth and fortune, coins will always be popular subjects of folklore and superstition. And the next time you hear that little rhyme for the bride, you’ll know how it’s supposed to end!

Wedding Cake Toppers

Weddings have always induced a traditional way of thinking – from the extravagant white dress to the exchanging of vows down to the little figurines topping a stacked pearly cake.  Well, times have changed and so has the wedding cake topper!

Wedding toppers have become a key element of weddings over the years and have a more extensive history than you might imagine.  No wedding is complete without a beautiful and mouthwatering baked delicacy.  The concept of the wedding cake extends back to the ancient Roman Empire.  Cakes were made of whole wheat flour and were not so sweetly lavished. These bread cakes would then be broken, possibly over the bride’s head, and guests would excitedly consume the pieces for good luck.

Wedding cake toppers, or wedding cake ornaments are derived from various cultural traditions. Most significantly the toppers represent a symbol of togetherness for the bride and groom.  Another traditional symbol is the white wedding cake, white being a universal symbol for purity.

In the United States, wedding cake decorations started appearing in middle income and affluent families before the American Civil War.  Cake toppings, ornaments and toppers became even more common in the 1890’s.  At this time the decorations were minimal, often including flowers, bells and small objects associated with the bride and groom.  In the 1920’s, High Society incorporated the use of placing bride and groom figurines on top of wedding cakes, along with all the other frills.


Once introduced, the popularity of cake topper figurines was fueled by two historical United States events.

First, in 1922 revered etiquette expert and Best-Selling author, Miss Emily Post published that, “The wedding cake is an essential of every wedding reception.”  She elaborated, commenting specifically that, “It is usually in several tiers, beautifully decorated with white icing and topped by small figures of the bride and groom.”

Secondly, American retail giants such as Sears and Roebuck & Company began mass producing and selling the bride and groom wedding cake figurines.  These toppers commonly depicted the bride in a white dress, either with or without a veil, and the groom standing beside her in a tuxedo.  Some were shown holding hands, others under a gazebo, but all in the classic wedding theme.

In a 2006 article entitled “Bride and Groom Wedding Cake Toppers,” author Robert Reed writes about deals on wax toppers advertised in wholesale catalogs in 1924: “The catalog listing offered them as a couple, or in groups of 100 for wedding favors.” Reed also comments on the significance of including cake toppers in the Sears 1927 mail order catalog, stating it included an entire page devoted to wedding cake ornaments.  This anecdote helps illustrate the significance of the toppers at that time.

Wedding cake toppers maintained dominance in the Unites States through the 1950s. The ornaments were a nonperishable piece of the cake that could be kept over years and passed down through families.  However, through the later half of the 20th century toppers declined in popularity, possibly by association of being “old-fashioned.”

Today, many couples continue to embrace the ceremony of a traditional wedding.  However, the modern bride is no longer expected to hold herself to the standards previously associated with weddings.  There is a transition happening, away from the traditional wedding formula, and toward weddings as a celebration of a couples’ individuality.  On track with this trend, cake toppers are becoming more reflective of a wedding’s decorative theme or specific reception style.

With this surge in non-traditional weddings, cake toppers are making a valiant comeback. Available now are toppers that reflect diversity in marriages including: multi-ethnic toppers, same-sex toppers, comical & humorous toppers and toppers that reflect a couples’ hobbies and interests.  Cake toppers are now outlets of self-expression, as opposed to simply being icons of togetherness.

Here at The Stamp & Coin place we’ve embraced the old and new versions of the wedding tradition.  Cake toppers are a wonderful keepsake from any type of wedding, and can make a great conversation piece or even a collectible.  We’d love to see any unique cake toppers you’ve come across, so please feel free to share!

By Clever Cupcakes from Montreal, Canada (Custom Wedding Cake Topper) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

By Clever Cupcakes from Montreal, Canada (Custom Wedding Cake Topper) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Mysterious Lover’s Eye Miniatures

They’re so mysterious that no one but the original wearer knows whose eye they display, and that’s kind of the point.

These tiny eye paintings started as a fad in the late 1700s. Their purpose? To carry a piece of a loved one at all times without revealing their identity.

It’s a true token of a love affair, and fodder for a story of romance.

The alleged beginning of these “lover’s eyes” comes from the prince of Wales, later King George IV, who once became determined to court a Catholic, twice-widowed woman named Maria Fitzherbert. The court frowned upon this courting and at first Maria Fitzherbert was not particularly impressed either. Finally, she reluctantly agreed to marry him, though their marriage would not be officially recognized since George III had not approved it.

Some accounts say that Maria came to her senses before the marriage and fled to America. But the prince did not give up. He sent her a locket with a miniature painting of his eye inside and the note, “P.S. I send you a parcel, and I send you at the same time an eye. If you have not totally forgotten the whole countenance, I think the likeness will strike you.” Whether it was the portrait or his letter, Maria decided to give in and marry George. Rumors say that George kept a portrait of Maria’s eye as well.


The whole event sparked an interest in miniature eye portraits. Worn not only by lovers and spouses, but also close family members and friends, they were the perfect way to openly wear special jewelry without having to worry about anyone knowing who was being represented.

Miniaturists like Richard Cosway and George Engleheart were some of the first to paint these pieces.

Some say these trinkets were a French invention, though no one knows for sure. Lady Eleanor Butler wrote in her diary at the time of the fad, “an Eye, done in Paris and set in a ring – a true French idea.”

Only limited amounts of eye miniatures from the 18th and 19th centuries exist today. The estimated number is under 1,000.

You can find the eyes most often set in lockets, brooches and rings, often surrounded by jewels or pearls. The biggest currently known collection is owned by the Skiers of Birmingham, Alabama, who have been collecting these pieces for decades.

Hidden Symbolism in Victorian Jewelry

No one loves symbolism like the Victorians loved symbolism.



In an age of complex manners and rules, Victorians used symbolism to speak a secret language.

Especially when it came to courting, jewelry held its own hidden messages. Men went through complicated processes to court women, closely guarded by their parents and chaperones, and jewelry conveyed more heartfelt messages than he was able to communicate in person.

Queen Victoria, the fashionable queen with more than a little influence on Victorian style, received an engagement ring from Prince Albert in the form of a snake, the symbol of eternity.


The star symbolizes spirit and guidance in this Victorian star, moon, diamond and pearl necklace.

Sometimes it takes serious contemplation before figuring out the meaning behind a piece of Victorian jewelry.

There are plenty of complex symbols. Jewelry with different types of stones spell out a message as an acronym of the stones’ first letters. For instance, if a ring has a ruby, emerald, garnet, amethyst, another ruby, and a diamond, it spells out “REGARD”. This is one of the most common words in acronym jewelry, and carries a meaning like “with my regards” or “I highly regard you”.

And that’s just the start of the hidden meanings. Symbols abound in Victorian pieces. For instance, if a couple was on their honeymoon, the bride would wear a pin with a crescent moon and flowers. The flowers represented the nectar, or “honey” part of the word “honeymoon”.

290px-Victorian_WomanSome other symbols in Victorian jewelry:
Pearls – Tears
Forget-Me-Nots – Remembrance
Doves – Domesticity
Crowned Heart – Love Triumphant
Butterfly – Soul
Clasped Hands – Friendship, Lasting Love

Do you have any jewelry with hidden symbols? Go here for a comprehensive list of symbol meaning in jewelry, and tell us if you find anything!