101888 | UNITED STATES. Maude McGehee Hankins silver Love Token.
101888 | UNITED STATES. Maude McGehee Hankins silver Love Token. Engraved on an uncertain date (1824-1897) and mint Mexican 8 Reales (39mm, 25.22 g).
"MAR 22, 1875 / G. N. Murphey / TO / Maude S. McGehee / MAR 22, 1896" in five lines in a variety of block, Old English, and cursive scripts; decorations around; all within patterned border / REPUBLICA MEXICANA, eagle, with wings spread, head right, and serpent in beak and talons, standing in cactus over water. Edge: Reeded.
Cf. KM 377 (for host coin). Engraving & host coin: Choice Very Fine. Toned.
Oftentimes, a love token will contain mere initials, with just the giver and receiver understanding its true meaning and their place within it. In rare instances, however, enough information will be present whereby the piece can come to life, revealing such details as the actual individuals involved. The love token here in one such example, with enough data points triggering an undoubted attribution.
Maude McGehee (named Sophia Maude McGehee, but generally going by her middle name "Maude" and her first name "Sophia" instead as a middle name) was born 22 March 1875 in western Kentucky. She studied at Potter's College in Bowling Green, where she would appear to have crossed paths with a G. N. Murphey, whose lesser-encountered surname spelling enables a more precise search. Indeed, a Murphey with those very initials was in Bowling Green in the 1890's, where she would have been studying as a young woman. Given that the date at the top of the memento is her birthdate, what of the duplication at the bottom some 21 years later? The answer seems obvious—a gift on her 21st birthday. While the meaning may have been even deeper, possibly a proposal, one cannot be certain. What can be known, however, is that love tokens were generally created using dimes, so one such as this—on a Mexican 8 Reales, the equivalent of a silver dollar—was a sign of someone of means. Dr. Murphey certainly would appear one of means, as he had a sixth-page advertisement for his practice in the 2 February 1897 edition of the Hopkinsville Kentuckian newspaper. If this token were a symbol of romantic affection, it quickly dissipated, as Maude was married the following year to Cornelius Haley Hankins on 20 October 1897. Cornelius had a long career as an artist, painting agrarian southern landscapes as well as posthumous portraits of Confederate generals based upon images of them. Maude paralleled Cornelius in the arts, becoming, according to the Tennessee Encyclopedia, "an artist who specialized in china painting, miniatures, and watercolors." In addition to this form of art, she wrote poetry and even published a children's book, Daddy Gander, very much in the Art Deco style of its year of publication in 1928. She passed away in Nashville in 1968, just a month shy of her 93rd birthday. Though the actual meaning of why this token was produced some 125 years ago, we can be sure of the individuals involved, giving a fantastic glimpse into the past and all that may be learned from just a few data points from which to search. A unique piece of Kentucky history with great ties to late 19th and early 20th century art in the American south
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.
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