100973 | UNITED STATES & FRANCE. Leon W. Lovejoy WWI ID Badge or Memento.
100973 | UNITED STATES & FRANCE. Leon W. Lovejoy WWI ID Badge or Memento. Engraved 1918 on a French Franc (23mm, 4.60 g, 12 h).
Rudimentary emblem of the Marines between "LEON W. LOVEJOY" and "A. E. F. / AUG. 7, 1918 / U.S. MARINES" in three lines; branch to left and right / REPUBLIQUE FRANÇAISE, Marianne advancing left, sowing seeds; rising sun in background. Edge: Reeded.
Cf. KM 844.1 (for host coin). Engraving & host coin: Near Extremely Fine. Lightly toned, a few scattered marks; holed at each side for wearing.
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.
It is this latter scenario which applies to the present piece. Leon Wayland Lovejoy was born 26 February 1899 in Portage, Wisconsin. Enlistment records in the United States Armed Forces show Leon's entry into the military on 7 August 1918, a few months before the close of World War I and matching the date indicated on the memento. Following the war, census records reveal that Leon returned to his family home in Wisconsin; by the early stages of US involvement in WWII—a little over 20 years later—Leon is indicated as living in Crescent City, California near the Oregon border, working at the Del Norte Ice and Cold Storage plant. He resided in northern California for the remainder of his life, eventually marrying his wife Anna and living in Santa Rosa at the time of his death on 5 November 1964 from an apparent heart attack.
Referring back to this interesting wartime memento, it shares many characteristics with other ID bracelets popular with WWI soldiers. Serving a parallel role as "dog tags," these bracelets—many times an engraved contemporary coin from western Europe—would contain pertinent information about the soldier in the event of a severe injury or even death. While dog tags would be worn around the neck, the bracelets would be worn around the wrist, with jewelers offering their services to engrave the aforementioned coins with the relevant details. This piece, however, diverges from others in that it lacks Leon's military service number and rank, though does contain his enlistment date and an indication to the A. E. F. (American Expeditionary Forces), along with a rendition of the emblem of the Marines (note the representation of North and South America merely as pseudo-triangles). This may have been a more personalized memento for Leon rather than strictly a utilitarian ID badge, especially given the additional engraved iconography, or possibly self engraved during a time of boredom on the front or during post-war occupation efforts. In any event, a highly interesting piece of wartime art.