Dr. Sol Taylor

How Many Love Tokens Are There?

By Dr. Sol Taylor
"Making Cents"
Saturday, December 29, 2007

n 1988, I took on the task of conducting a survey of how many love tokens there were in collectors' hands.
    A love token or engraved coin is the term referring to any coin (or medal) in which something has been engraved — sometimes one entire side, sometimes in the existing field, and rarely on both sides.
    This practice goes back several centuries, as engraved pieces are known for coins in the 1700s. In the United States, however, the practice was most popular in the decades from the mid 1800s to early 1900s.
    As a member of the Love Token Society (LTS) at one time, one question frequently was raised as to how many such pieces existed. Since there are no mintage figures — each piece is unique — the answer would come from a survey of members of the society who probably owned a good percentage of all such pieces.
    The United States officially banned mutilation of coinage in 1909, so coins after that date are hard to find, since very few were made.
    Perhaps the most common use of an engraved coin was for a memento or token of affection. Many included the name of a person and often were holed, to be worn on a bracelet similar to today's charm bracelets.
    It was generally believed, from the pieces in collections, that the Liberty Seated dime was the coin most often used in making these love tokens.
    Since there was no published data to that effect, I elected to conduct a two-year survey of the members of LTS.
    The 1988 data, which was published in the Love Letter, the LTS newsletter, showed that collectors in the survey owned a total of 5,735 love tokens. Of that number 5,247 were United States and or Canadian coins. The rest were foreign coins, medals and tokens.
    It was also evident to members of the society that coin dealers rarely had any of these pieces, so the LTS membership probably owned the lion's share of love tokens.
    The old dealers who were in business before 1940 often had many such pieces as parts of estates they managed to buy during the Great Depression, when cash was in very short supply and heirs and collectors alike were willing to part with their family heirlooms and coin collections.
    In the Maurice M. Gould estate, which I sold in 1976 and 1977, there were some 4,000 love tokens — probably the largest number in one dealer's hands at the time. He and partner Frank Washburn owned the Copley Coin Co. in downtown Boston for many years and acquired many estates of longtime New England families.
    The figures from the survey show the following:
Half cents - 2
Large cents - 63
Cupro nickel cents - 12
Indian cents- 128
Lincoln cents - 11
Two cents - 27
Three cent nickel- 18
Three cent silver - 33
Shield nickel - 12
Liberty V nickel - 49
Buffalo nickel - 13
Bust half dime - 15
Seated half dime - 270
Bust dime - 24
Seated dime - 2,952
Barber dime - 177
Mercury dime - 24
Bust quarter - 10
20c piece - 13
Barber quarter - 77
Liberty standing quarter - 5
Bust half - 11
Seated half - 58
Barber half - 12
Walking Liberty half - 35
Bust dollar - 3
Seated dollar - 12
Trade dollar - 10
Morgan dollar - 76
Peace dollar - 9
$1 gold Type I - 67
$1 gold Type II - 20
$1 gold Type III - 70
$2.50 gold - 37
$3 gold - 14
$5 gold - 24
$10 gold - 5
$20 gold - 2
Columbian 50c - 8
Hawaii 25c - 2
    When the survey was conducted, the value of a love token dime was about $3.
    However, coins with elaborate designs, certain themes, and names of prominent persons would bring very high prices. One such Morgan dollar in a Rich Harzog sale in 1977, with a steam locomotive crossing a bridge over a valley with a cow and farmhouse, brought $125.
    An engraved Morgan dollar at the time would sell for about $35.
    About the same time, I bought the Stephen Taylor collection of 123 gold love tokens — most of which resold for less than $30 each. I also purchased the Dr. Wilkinson collection of some 400 pieces at less than $2 each and managed to sell them off at not much over my cost.
    As the popularity of love tokens caught on and more collectors joined the hunt — especially with online auctions — common Seated liberty dimes with a monogram can bring up to $25, and Morgan dollars with a common name such as "John" can bring $100 or more. A Seated dime with crossed baseball bats dated 1880 brought $77 in a 1980 auction. Many other examples show that the value lies in the collector's eyes.
    Sid Gale of the LTS recently sent me some eBay auction pieces of very high quality — and very high prices — indicating a renaissance in the collecting of these little art pieces.
    Perhaps a new survey would be in order to see if the population of love tokens has changed since the 1988 data. Most collectors I know say the change would be only slightly higher than the 1988 data.
    In an informal survey I conducted a year ago of about 50 coin dealers at the Long Beach Coin, Stamp & Collectables Expo — one of the largest coin shows in the country — not only did none have any pieces for sale, but most had not handled one in "quite a while."

    Dr. Sol Taylor of Sherman Oaks is president of the Society of Lincoln Cent Collectors and author of The Standard Guide to the Lincoln Cent. Click here for ordering information.