100831 | UNITED STATES. First Prize Double silver Love Token.
100831 | UNITED STATES. First Prize Double silver Love Token. Engraved on an 1856 Seated Liberty Dime (18mm, 1.97 g, 12h).
"First Prize Double" above "85" within horizontal lunettes / Liberty seated right, head left, holding Phrygian cap on pole and resting hand upon union shield; 13 stars around. Edge: Reeded.
Cf. KM A63.2 (for host coin). Engraving & Host Coin: Choice Very Fine. Lightly toned.
Though not entirely certain, the text on this piece could be referring to horse racing and, specifically, to a winning steed in a double harness race. There are references in late 19th century journals mentioning various horses as winning "First Prize (Single)" and "First Prize (Double)," just as on this love token, with the harness being implied. Quite possibly, the '85' is a nod to the year (18)85 when such a prize winning race would have occurred.
Being borrowed from the early 18th century practice in Great Britain, and being related to even earlier forms of engraving on European coinage, "love tokens" were an extremely popular form of sentimental art that saw their high point in the United States in the mid-to-late-19th century, whereby coinage was smoothed down on one or both sides, and some form of initials, a message, and/or imagery was engraved so that it may be presented to a loved one. The most commonly encountered 'canvas' in the United States was the dime, and usually one from the Seated Liberty series. At their height, the U.S. Mint blamed an alleged shortage of dimes—a staple of most late-19th century transactions—on this craze. Rising again in the early-mid 20th century during the depths of despair that were the world wars, this form of coin art, usually referred to in this context as "trench art," would see another revival, offering soldiers a brief chance at escapism through sentimental creativity.