This blog attracted a lot of interest when it was originally posted. Alas, it is now lost and what you see is only a partial resurrection based on what I remember and what I’ve gleaned from an earlier piece of writing. The comments generated and the pictures I received from subscribers at the time are now gone. Sorry.
I’m sure that the womenfolk in my life wouldn’t go so far as to refer to me as ‘romantic’, but I do have my moments – thanks to William III – but more about that later. Like many of you, I have learned more about history since starting the hobby than I ever managed to do at school.
Before that, I had never linked the rhyme, there was a crooked man and he walked a crooked mile. He found a crooked sixpence against a crooked stile, with detecting. What a revelation to realise that there were such things as crooked sixpences.
In times gone by, it was common practice to give a coin to your sweetheart as a token of love. The coins were usually smoothed down almost obliterating the monarch’s head and then bowed. Sometimes they would be engraved with initials or love signs such as hearts or knots. If she kept the token it meant that his affection was reciprocated, but if she had no feelings for him, it was thrown away. And that’s perhaps why detectorists find so many – especially at the site of old fairs.
Mrs. John vehemently disagrees with this theory and likes to think they were lost whilst climbing over a stile. She insists that the lady wouldn’t be silly enough to throw a silver coin away!
The custom was at its height during the reign of William III and it was one of his sixpences that I found in the early days of detecting. At first I thought it was just a buckled blank disc and didn’t give it too much notice … until Mrs. John realised the significance.
As it was the day before our one of our wedding anniversaries, I presented it to her as a token of my love. My friends called me a ‘cheapskate’ but she was ecstatic and has coveted it ever since … in fact, I have had to have an escort and sign a pre-nuptial agreement before I could prise it from her for the purposes of scanning for this article. Maybe after reading this, you will go out and find one for yourselves. In the meantime, I’m shining up a silver threepence found in the Christmas pudding in preparation for our big celebration in a few year’s time! As you were … just been informed it should be at least a gold noble!
A subscriber – whose name I forget, but seem remember that he was a Scottish detectorist – sent me a number of tokens that he had found over the years. An impressive collection and I remember asking him what the vast number said about the tradition north of the border. If he contacts me I shall credit his picture.
Truth or Conjecture?
I have already said that the custom of making love tokens was at its height during the reign of William III and the coin was always rubbed smooth (some say) and then bent. Indeed, It is said that a young man would prove his love to his young lady by physically bending a coin in front on her. With a thin hammered coin this wouldn’t be too difficult.
Other commentators say that that a number of bent coins were not love tokens at all. The reason for them being that way relates to conditions prevailing a the time, when counterfeiting was rife. Copper fakes were often dipped in silver and passed off as a higher denomination coin. To check whether they were fakes they were bent to check if they were genuine. Counterfeit coins would be revealed as the worn thinner edges of silver would split as the copper pushed through. Fascinating this hobby … innit!
Thanks for sharing. My venerable friend, celebrated detectorist and all-round Good Guy Jerry Morris, has found a few love tokens in his time and tells me that the one above is his favourite.
See HERE for more on the ‘love token’
John Mills – aka John gm – writes …
Thanks for the reprise John … another very interesting piece. Like you, I found my first love token the day before our wedding anniversary – back in 2004 – and gave it to my wife Stephanie as a ‘special’ gift.
Like your good lady wife, Stephanie was over the moon with the gesture and covets it to this day. What made it even more special is the fact it is a gold coin. Not only that, but although I have seen a fair number of George III gold coins converted to love tokens, the one I found is a half guinea of James II, dated 1686.
Although I’ve been fortunate enough to have since found a number of silver love tokens – including several hammered examples (all of my hammered examples have come from searching the foreshore of the river Thames), from Elizabeth I through to Charles II, it is the earliest gold love token I’ve seen or heard of.
For reasons John – and some other subscribers to his blog – might understand, I have very recently had this token of love sympathetically and discreetly personalised to which end I hope will add to it’s historical value and which – together with paperwork explaining a bit about the history of love tokens, plus details of when and where I found it, how I presented it to Stephanie on our wedding anniversary, and details of when and why I commisioned the personalisation – I hope my find will become a precious family heirloom. I’d be very interested to hear if any of your readers have seen or heard of any earlier gold coin that has been converted to a love token. Here is the said love token ‘As found’, and as seen on the UKDFD
UPDATE FROM JOHN MILLS – DECEMBER 2014
“Back in August I surprised Stephanie with something I’d been working on for a while. I’d arranged a little ceremony to renew our wedding vows. I had booked it for Friday, the 7th November. The significance of this date is that it was on 7/11 last year when I was given the devestating news that I had perhaps 6 months or a year to live.”
When John and his wife Stephanie renewed their vows of marriage, a video was made of the rather special occasion. It is rather long and you may not wish to watch it all, but I draw your attention to the surprise John had in store for his wife. You’ll find it at about 13 minutes in …
Rest in Peace, John
9/05/1961 – 09/02/2016
Update December 2016
My friend and Ace Detectorist Dean Crawford has another theory why – and how – these coins were originally bent …
“I believe coins were bent to test authenticity- silver and gold bent easier and also when bending – the plating would often split on the edges of coins where higher wear occurred too. Thus previously bent coins would not be questioned during transactions. It became the fashion.
(We) also found a hoard of Georgian coins (about 500) which also had over 60 shillings and sixpences of William 3rd, all 60 silver coins were bent this way – so they remained in circulation after being bent.”
Thanks for your input, Dean. It is appreciated.