World Coins

Australia revives convict love tokens as coins

From 1788 to 1868, many British convicts were sentenced to transportation (exiled) to Australia. While the sentences were normally for seven or 14 years, returning home after their time was served was impossible for many.

Before this heartbreaking separation, many convicts created love tokens, which are being replicated by the Royal Australian Mint in a new program.

The convict love tokens “came to be a way to maintain a sentimental bond between convict and loved one, and became cherished souvenirs for those people left behind,” according to the RAM.

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When convicts were being held in British prisons or hulks before transportation, they would wear down large, low denomination coins (typically the ”Cartwheel” penny) and engrave them with poetic love quotes, their names, sentencing dates and pleas to never forget the deportees. Some tokens were engraved by the convicts themselves, while some prisons had established forgers who, with their tools of the trade, became the resident token crafters. Today, many of these tokens take pride of place in museums and private collections as a testimony to the history, love, and craftsmanship they forever symbolize.

Three different Uncirculated 2016 copper dollar coins replicate famous designs, titled “Forget Me, Not,” “Gaol Bird” (“gaol” in Irish translates to “jail”) and “Remember Me When This You See.” 

The original Gaol Bird token (now housed in the Powerhouse Museum) shows a chained bird, as created by Thomas Tilley, a convict transported July 29, 1785, for theft, according to the New South Wales Migration Heritage Centre. Tilley was a convict on the First Fleet bound for Australia, with a sentence of seven years. 

Neither the names of the convict or recipients of the Forget Me, Not token are known; the original remains in the British Museum.

The design of the final token replicated echoes the voice of John Howe, a 14-year-old boy providing a somber memento for his brother William, according to RAM. Currently housed in the Powerhouse Museum, the token uses a combination of touching sayings such as “When this you see, remember me” and “liberty is sweet” with images of leg irons and manacles.

The coins are individually hand antiqued to resemble the copper pennies originally used for the purpose and are packaged each in its own presentation card featuring designs and information about the coin.

The obverse of the coins features the Ian Rank-Broadley effigy of Queen Elizabeth II. The coins weigh 14.5 grams, measure 33.02 millimeters in diameter and have a mintage limit of 10,000 pieces each. 

The coins are available individually for $24.95 each or $65 for a three-coin set with matching envelope. Shipping and handling are an additional charge. All pricing is in Australian funds.  

To order, visit the RAM eshop.  

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