What are the Odds: Finding the Perfect Love Token

February 12, 2014

You’re One in a Million!

I am especially fond of Victorian initial jewelery. It’s a popular item to collect because not only is it personal and historical, it is also a major treasure hunt! My favorite pieces are love token coins: coins (frequently silver dimes) that someone carved a picture, date, or name into. It was a heartfelt gift that wasn’t reserved just for lovers. Family members and friends often traded them as well. They were perfect for adding to a watch fob, for cufflinks, stringing on a necklace, turning into a pin, or collecting on charm bracelets:

love token

Love token with the initials “JTA” and a skate engraved onto the back of a silver crown

Love Token Necklace
A silver necklace hung with love tokens made from silver dimes

A pocket love token engraved with “Walter” on the back of a Canadian dime

Love token pin with the initials “L.L” engraved on the back of an 1856 dime

Woman wearing a Collection of Love Token Coins as a Collar Pin

Gentleman Wearing a Love Token as a Cravat/Tie Pin

By the 1880s, love tokens had become a highly stylized art; you could engrave the coin yourself or have it sent off to an artisan to have it personalized for you. Today, it’s just as fun to collect these little charms, but with a mathematical twist! Love tokens come in four major types: dates, initials, names, and pictorial. The dated and pictorial ones can be collected by almost any theme and are easy to find, though the pictorial ones are rarer and more expensive. Names and nicknames are a fun thing to collect (Maggie from Maggie’s Costumes collects antique pins with her name on them) and if you are lucky enough to have an now-uncommon, but very Victorian name like Hattie, Orla, or Bertha, finding your name is rather easy!


Lizzie Love Token on a 1865 Three Cent Nickel
My name!

The most common type of love token, though, is initialed.

What inspired this post is the search for a Valentine’s Day gift for my husband, Chris. I wanted to find him a nice love token with his initials on them: C.W.K. Incredibly, I had actually found one last year, but was foolish enough to let it slip through my fingers! When you look at the odds of finding one like it again, you’ll understand just how magical finding that triple-matched love token was.


— 1:26 —

Matching a single initial like “C” is fairly easy. There are 26 letters in the Latin alphabet (the alphabet we use in the English language), so the chance that an antique love token with a single initial on it will match your own is 1 in 26.


— 1:676 —

Matching two initials is more challenging. Initials are like a combination lock: they are drawing from a set of variables (in this case, letters) and the order matters. Math problems like this are called permutations. By using the permutation formula, you’ll find that that the chance of finding a two initial combo like “C.K.” is 1 in 676!


— 1:17576 —

Remember when I mentioned that I’d actually found a “C.W.K.” love token?

The chances of matching all three initials of your initials on one love token is 1 in 17,567.


Now, this is all simplified, pure math. It assumes that all letters are available in unlimited quantities. In reality, there are some letters like, “E” and “S,” that are more common initials than others, like “U” or “X.” My calculations also don’t take into account the limited number of antique love tokens available. However, if you randomly picked up a 3-initial love token at a jewelry shop, you would have a 1:17,576 chance that it would be incised with your exact initials on it in the right order!


Hard Mode: 5 Initial Love Token on an 1844 Mexican 8 Reales coin!
It’s traditional in Hispanic families to give more than one middle name and keep maiden names intact by hyphenating them. Some of my cousins and friends have three or four middle names and some have two last names. This could also be the initials of a whole family, mother, father, and children.

I may have lost one chance at the most epic cross-century name match-up ever, but there are so many other tokens to look through. I have found matches for my sister and a few friends. I’ve also stumbled across “OW,” “ABC,” and “HAT.” If I can’t find a “CWK,” I always have “CK” as an option or finding an E and C intertwined, for “Elizabeth and Chris.”

While the odds seem staggering, it makes the treasure hunt that much more exciting!
Finding the right love token is a bit like finding the perfect mate in that respect…

Have a Happy Valentine’s Day!

2 Responses to “What are the Odds: Finding the Perfect Love Token”

  1. Zenith Star Says:

    Wow! I had no previous knowledge of Victorian Love tokens at all, and this post is really informative (like most of yours). I have a four-word real name (Zenith Star is a pseudonym), so I would have a booger of a time finding MAES on a token, and my real name is very uncommon, so i guess MS would have to do. Not that anyone is in the market for a love token for me anyhow. Boys these days.

  2. Anna Worden Bauersmith Says:

    Love these. I didn’t know about these either. Thank you for telling us about them. I’ll keep my eye out for them now.

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