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Love Tokens

Some events in our lives are so special that letting them fly by like wind just will not do. We stop time in its tracks through videos, photographs, and souvenirs. Even a simple outing with a friend or spouse produces memories worth saving. For me, such outings involve a treasure hunt for the one perfect souvenir.

That was my quest when my husband Neal and I explored numismatics—coin collecting. When a show opened in Charlotte, we decided to go. Before entering the showrooms, we had to fill out name and address forms, show our driver’s licenses and pin on official badges with our names in big letters. I wondered why—until we descended the escalator to the cavernous hall. Everywhere we looked, nothing but thousands of coins—and scores of armed police. No wonder!

The centerpiece of the show featured a $100,000 bill that used to be traded only between banks and the Federal Reserve. We gaped at a gold coin produced at the first U.S. Mint—in Charlotte—around 1820 during a North Carolina gold rush. Only four of these coins have been recovered and are worth $500,000 each.

A roped area displayed themed collections, each in a locked, large glass-topped box about three feet long by two feet wide and four inches deep. One held old North Carolina coins; others, French or British coins. Another showed the different mistakes made in minting coins such as stamping the image off-center, or cutting off an edge.

This is all interesting, I thought, but so far, there’s nothing I can take home as a souvenir.

We penetrated the hall and faced a dozen long, booth-filled aisles populated with coin dealers, mostly men, from all over the U.S. On their display tables lay row upon row of coins for sale. Secure under glass shelves, each coin was sandwiched between two squares of thick white cardboard with a round plastic window. Written by hand across the bottom of the card was the date and price.

Well, not much here to interest the feminine mind, I concluded. Maybe I will have to return home empty-handed.

We moved to the far end of the hall and found a man selling one-sided bills, copies of real ones, which he himself had designed by hand. Impressive! A lady sold $30 necklaces made from outdated coins on which Mexicans had painted beautiful scenes or flowers. Chains of gold coin necklaces were on sale too. All beautiful, but too expensive for me.

At least the prospects of finding a meaningful souvenir are improving! I told myself.

We finally passed a table with the sign “Love Tokens.” Hmm, now that sounds more like it. The lady-dealer explained to us that love tokens were coins that have been defaced by planing them down and engraving one or both sides. In 17th century Europe, they were called “engraved coins.” Later dubbed “love tokens” by Americans, they became popular at the time of the Civil War. A lover would engrave the initials or name of his beloved on a coin, usually on the reverse of a Seated Liberty dime. Some had ornate symbols, such as a bird or heart. The coin would be made into a necklace, bracelet or pin or just a simple pocket-piece for the sweetheart to keep and remember her beloved.

Oh wow, now that’s more like it! I responded silently. But the price of $30 and up per token was higher than I wanted to pay.

Disappointed, we went on to another display called Exonumia—anything but true coins. As we talked with the dealer, we discovered he hailed from Neal’s alma mater in Indiana. While the two excitedly shared information on mutual, old friends, I quickly lost interest. Spying a row or two of “tokens,” I started looking through the varieties: animals, transportation, countries, communion, casino, product-shapes, and “fantasy” tokens handed out by prostitutes. Any love tokens? Ah, here they are.

Quickly going through the row, checking each coin-card, I discovered an 1876 Seated Victory dime. Examining the card, I could hardly believe my eyes. It was engraved with my maiden name initials, CFG! Beside myself with excitement, I showed it to Neal. With a smile, he quickly pulled out his wallet to buy it even before I asked. It cost under $10.

Finding this special coin was more than a souvenir of a pleasant afternoon with my husband. My heavenly Father knew my desire and led me to something special. It was a token of love from Him. The word “token” comes from an Old English word meaning “to point or show.” Many have heard the word in wedding ring vows:

This ring I give you, in token and pledge, of our constant faith, and abiding love. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Lovers give each other rings as a token to point to what is to come: constant faith and abiding love. God who loves us has given us a far greater assurance of His intention to love us. His token or “deposit” to us is His Holy Spirit who indwells us when we invite Him into our hearts. Ephesians 1:13-14 says,

And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

With this assurance of God’s care, love and a future with Him, what other token of love need we search for in the market stalls of the world? At one point when the Israelites doubted God’s care, he told them He would never forget them, saying: “See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands” (Isaiah 49:16).

Yes, the hands of Jesus are “engraved” with nailprints—proof of His love—that one day we will see with our own eyes. My love token coin now hangs on a necklace, along with a heart and a cross. The coin will always be a souvenir of God’s special love to me—in the past, and a guarantee for my future.