January 3, 2021

Coin-Mounted Jewelry

Niki Tiliakos

Coins have been mounted to be worn as jewelry for centuries.  This type of jewelry can be symbolic in different ways, including being worn as a symbol of wealth and fortune, good luck, love or even to celebrate history and ethnicity. There are several lots of coins, and coin mounted jewelry in the current Lark Mason Associates sale, including two bracelets, a necklace, and some loose coins and medallions.  They are popular and getting a good number of bids, but they are not just mounted coins, they are a nod to an ancient jewelry form.

Gold Coin Charm Bracelet, available on iGavel Auctions until January 7, 2021

The tradition of wearing coins mounted as jewelry dates back to Ancient Rome, however, in modern Italy and Greece it is still popular to mount ancient coins into jewelry.  These pieces stem from a tradition where the coins celebrate wealth and good fortune, but it has become a way to honor history and a way to celebrate ethnicity. This style is popular enough that modern copies of ancient coins are often used in place of an ancient coin. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York has an ancient Roman example in its collection that dates to the 3rd century AD where two coins impressed with the image of Emperor Severus are mounted as a necklace

Gold necklace with coin pendants3rd century A.D., The Met Museum

There are many American examples of coins mounted as jewelry, where buffalo nickels, Native American coins or liberty head coins are popular choices to mount and to celebrate the development of the nation.  

In some places the tradition of wearing coins as jewelry arose from the need to keep your wealth on you.  Historically gypsies wore coins mounted as jewelry, because keeping their savings safe as they traveled from area to area was difficult. By mounting the coin and wearing it, they were able to always keep their fortune close and safe.

In England the tradition of giving an engraved coin as a symbol of love can be traced as far back as the 14th Century.  An engraved coin would be given when courting as a symbol of love, and it is thought this may have been the genesis for the term "love token".  Traditionally, the piece would have to be an authentic coin from the current circulation and it would have to be engraved by hand.  The coin would be prepared for hand carving by polishing each side of the coin until flat.  Known engravings include the initials of each half of the couple entwined, simple love notes, important dates, or drawings including hearts or flowers may have been included on the token.  Although this tradition started in England, it was brought to the United States and was popular from the late 19th Century through World War II. These gifts were sometimes called "sweetheart jewelry", or this could be where the term "love token" came from.  

Variations of this tradition existed in various parts of Europe, including  Norway.  In Norway a bride wore a bridal pendant, which was often a coin mounted as jewelry.  This type of jewelry was often called a "bridal dollar".  An example of a 17th Century coin mounted in the 19th Century to be used as a "bridal dollar" is part of the collection at the Victoria and Albert museum in London.

Silver chain with partly gilded silver pendant, Victoria and Albert Museum