Personal Finance: The currency of love

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Indy Lifestyle Online
On St Valentine's Day, John Andrew takes a break from his regularstock market column in this section to look at the value of old tokens of affection

THERE are some strange notions about the force of money. Take Liza Minnelli's tongue-in-cheek hit song from the film Cabaret, Money makes the world go round. Gilbert and Sullivan had a different view in Iolanthe, claiming that it really is love that makes the world go round. Spendthrifts occasionally attempt to justify their expenditure by remarking: "Coins are round so they go round".

Scientists dismiss claims that it is either love or money that makes the world spin on its axis. Similarly, economist are unanimous that a currency's velocity of circulation has nothing to do with the shape of coins.

Having rejected any link between currency and motion, it is interesting to explore if there is any connection between coins and love. Old records reveal that there is indeed such an association.

According to Addy's Folk Tales and Superstitions, published in 1893, Derbyshire girls on All-Hallows Day placed a sprig of rosemary and a crooked sixpence under their pillows so that they might dream of their future husbands.

Our ancestors seemed to have an obsession with crooked or bent coins. Take the crooked man who walked a crooked mile and eventually found a crooked sixpence. Why had the coin been vandalised?

lt is most likely to have been dropped by a courting couple, for it was the custom up until the early 18th century for lovers to exchange bent coins. It is unlikely they believed that a crooked coin assumed amuletic properties, but by bending it the "love token" could easily be identified and therefore not accidentally spent.

The earliest mention of a "collection" of coins in Britain refers to bent or "bowed" pieces. The 1512 Will of Sir Edward Howard reads: "I bequeath him my rope of bowed nobles - containing 300 angels". Nobles or angels were gold coins which circulated for a third of a pound. Although we know nothing of Sir Edward's exploits, it is safe to conclude that he was not a coin collector.

One of the quaintest references to coins and love is found in the Tatler for 11 November 1710. An essay entitled The Adventures of a Shilling traces the birth of a talking ingot from a silver mine in Peru to its reincarnation as a Queen Anne shilling. It then follows its life as a coin of the realm.

At one point the animated shilling tells of a Recruiting Sergeant, who "sacrificed me to his pleasures and made use of me to seduce a milk-maid. The wench bent me and gave me to her sweetheart applying more properly than she intended the usual form of, `To my love and from my love'".

With the mechanisation of the coining process, thicker coins were produced and bending money for love tokens was no longer practical.

Thousands of bent old coins have survived the years, forgotten memories of previous loves. Although interesting, collectors seek coins which have not been bent and such love tokens are of no commercial value.

However, there is a demand for the monetary love tokens that followed the bending craze. Worn coins of the period 1760-1800, were frequently engraved with names, monograms and typical symbolism of love such as a knot or Cupid's arrow.

Most of those which have survived are the work of early 19th century hands. For example, there is a flat disc, previously an 18th century copper coins, which is inscribed on the obverse, "Peter Hart aged 23, Transported for seven years, August 1833", while the reverse bears these heart-breaking lines:

"When this you see Remember me

And bear me in your mind

Let all the world say what they will

Don't prove to me unkind"

Daniel Fearon of Bonhams Coin Department advises that an average 18th century copper coin engraved with a love theme is worth about pounds 25, while outstanding examples will sell for pounds 65 or more.

However, any specimen with a love and transportation theme could be worth up to pounds 1,000 as these are keenly sought in Australia. The more heart rending the verse, the higher the price.

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