The magical potential of throwing a coin into the water has been recognised by different cultures in different times with all kinds of meanings. Yet since we can never ask those who threw these tokens why they did so, we can only surmise that engraving your beloved’s name upon a coin and throwing it into the water was a gesture to attract good fortune. It was a wish.
With a great river like the Thames racing down towards the ocean, there is a sense of a connection to the infinite. And there is a sweet romance to the notion of a lover secretly throwing a token into the water, feeling that the strength of their emotions connects them to a force larger than themselves.
It was not part of the conceit that anyone might ever find these coins, centuries later – which gives them a mysterious poetry now, because each one represents a love story we shall never learn. Those who threw them have long gone from the earth and all we can envisage are the coins tossed by unseen hands, flying from the river bank or a from the parapet of a bridge or from a boat, turning over in the air, plip-plopping into the water and spiralling down to lie for centuries in the mud, until Steve Brooker came along to gather them up. Much as we may yearn, we can never trace them back to ask “What happened?”
In the reign of William III, it was the fashion for a young man to give a crooked coin to the object of his affections. The coin was bent, both to become an amulet and to prevent it being spent. If the token was kept, it indicated that the affection was reciprocated, but if the coin was discarded then it was a rejection – which casts a different light upon these coins in the Thames. Are they, each one, evidence of unrequited affections?
For centuries, smoothed coins were used as love tokens, with the initials of the sender engraved or embossed upon the surface. Sometimes these were pierced, which gave…