Skip to content

Love Tokens From The Thames

February 13, 2021
by the gentle author

We are having a VALENTINE’S SALE with all titles in the Spitalfields Life Bookshop at half price this weekend. Some books are already sold out and others are running out, so – with weeks of lockdown yet to go – this is the opportunity to complete your collection.

Enter the code VALENTINE at checkout to claim your discount.


On the eve of St Valentine’s, I feature these love tokens that are published in THE GENTLE AUTHOR’S LONDON ALBUM which is included in the sale.

These love tokens are from the collection gathered by my Thames mudlark friend Steve Brooker, widely known as Mud God.

The magical potential of throwing a coin into the water has been recognised by different cultures in different times with all kinds of meanings. Yet since we can never ask those who threw these tokens why they did it, we can only surmise that engraving your beloved’s name upon a coin and throwing it into the water was a gesture to attract good fortune. It was a wish.

With a great river like the Thames racing down towards the ocean, there is a sense of a connection to the infinite. And there is a sweet romance to the notion of a lover secretly throwing a token into the water, feeling that the strength of their emotions connects them to a force larger than themselves.

Naturally, it was not part of the conceit that someone might ever find these coins, centuries later – which gives them a mysterious poetry now, because each one represents a love story we shall never learn. Those who threw them have gone from the earth long ago, and all we can envisage are the coins tossed by unseen hands, flying from the river bank or a from the parapet of a bridge or from a boat, turning over in the air, plip-plopping into the water and spiralling down to lie for centuries in the mud, until Steve Brooker came along to gather them up. Much as we may yearn, we can never trace them back to ask “What happened?”

In the reign of William III, it was the fashion for a young man to give a crooked coin to the object of his affections. The coin was bent both to become an amulet and to prevent it being reused. If the token was kept, it indicated that the affection was reciprocated, but if the coin was discarded then it was a rejection – which casts a different light upon these coins in the river. Are they, each one, evidence of unrequited affections?

From the end of the eighteenth century and until the early twentieth century, smoothed coins were used as love tokens, with the initials of the sender engraved or embossed upon the surface. Sometimes these were pierced, which gave recipient the option to wear it around the neck. In Steve’s collection, the tokens range from heavy silver coins with initials professionally engraved to pennies worn smooth through hours of labour and engraved in stilted painstaking letters. In many examples shown here, the amount of effort expended in working these coins, smoothing, engraving or cutting them is truly extraordinary, which speaks of the longing of the makers.

Steve has found many thousands of coins in the bed of the Thames over the years but it is these worked examples that mean most to him because he recognises the dignity of the human emotion that each one manifests. Those who threw them into the river did not know that Steve was going to be there one day to catch them yet, whatever the outcome of these romances, he ensures that the tokens are kept safe.

Benjamin Claridge.

The reverse of the Benjamin Claridge coin, from the eighteenth century or earlier.

The intials M and W intertwined upon a Georgian silver coin.

The intial W upon the smoothed face of Georgian silver coin, bent into an S shape.

Crooked Georgian silver coin, as the token of a vow or promise.

The initials AMD upon a smoothed coins that has been pierced to wear around the neck.

A copper penny with the letter D.

C.M. Marsh impressed into a penny.

The letter R punched into a penny within a lucky horseshoe.

Pierced coin set with semi-precious stones.

Who was Snod? Is this a lover’s token or a dog tag?

This pierced silver threepence commemorates the date January 11th 1921.

On the reverse of the silver threepence are the initials, L T. Are these the initials of the giver, or does it signify “Love Token”?

A smoothed penny with the name Voilet upon it. A phonetic spelling of the name “Violet”as the beloved spoke it?

Cut coins from the early twentieth century.

Read my stories

Steve Brooker, Mudlark

Click here to buy a copy of The Gentle Author’s London Album for half price

5 Responses leave one →
  1. February 13, 2021

    Incredible and most awesome!

    Love & Peace

  2. Diana Jones permalink
    February 13, 2021

    Thank you for a fascinating article and wonderful accompanying pictures. As your article states, one can only really surmise as to the true purpose or intent of these amazing coins being tossed into the river but it is great that the river has offered them up to ‘Mud God’ and I am sure I am not alone in saying that we are grateful he has taken the time and trouble to find them, thus enabling us to share in his wonder and enjoyment. Thank You. Diana

  3. February 13, 2021

    “It was a wish.” — In the midst of my enjoyment of the visuals here as well as your astute writing, this is the phrase that pulled at my sleeve. We are all awash in wishes these days.
    Wishing for progress, for health, for optimism, for kindness, for community, for normalcy, for festivity, for peace of mind, for civility…….there is no bottom. It seems quite apt that these relics, rescued from the waters, are here to remind us to keep wishing.

    As a mixed media artist, I love found objects — and the divine imperfection of these small tokens warm my heart.

    Thank you, GA for always shining a light.

  4. Boudica Redd permalink
    February 13, 2021

    Great story of love and great pics bravo did you know in thee early 17th century 1603 thee Thames iced over but it wasn’t till thee 18th century when thee ice was thicker that they held frost fairs on it

  5. Cherub permalink
    February 14, 2021

    A fascinating story and touching that someone is taking the care to keep these found tokens of affection saved. In Scotland we have a traditional token of affection called a Luckenbooth dating back to the 18th c. They are silver brooches fashioned in a coronet design that were originally sold from small booths on Edinburgh’s old town High St. A man would gift one to his true love and it would be pinned on the shawl of their first born to ward off evil.

Leave a Reply

Note: Comments may be edited. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS