Tuesday’s Tip: The Griffin Family Coin and Family History

1881 Morgan silver dollar engraved with birthdates of the Griffin family. It has a pinback, and was purchased on eBay many years ago. (Click to enlarge.)


Tuesday’s Tip: Look everywhere for family history information.

On this Valentine’s Day, it is fitting to feature this wonderful “love token” on the blog.

No, we are not related to the Griffin family, but it would be nice to find someone who is a descendant.

So, what is a “love token”?

During the late 1700s, through the 1800s and even up through World War II, coins were sometimes used as an inexpensive and personal form of memento, jewelry, or good luck token. One or both sides of the coin would be filed or sanded down and rubbed smooth. Designs, words, names, initials, would then be hand-carved into the soft metal of the coin. Sometimes areas were cut out of the coin, enamel or raised metals would be added, or it might be cut into a shape other than round. The finished token might be gold-plated, or more rarely, a gold coin was actually used for the token.

These engraved coins are often called “love tokens,” as a sweetheart might make and give a special coin to celebrate a wedding, anniversary, special event, or just their love. Coins were engraved by soldiers in bunkers (“trench art”), by farmers during a cold and dark winter, by factory workers in the evening after many long hours at work, or at fairs and expositions. Examples of this art might sport very simple or even crude engravings, some punched with a nail or sharp object, or very fine, elegant art cut by a professional engraver. A pinback could be added, and sometimes more than one coin would be made into a brooch. The coins could also be made into a bracelet (love token bracelets were quite the rage at various times), or added to a watch fob; less often were the coins made into pendants to wear as a necklace. A gentleman might even keep one of these special coins in his pocket, for good luck, or wear it as a stickpin. Engraved coins were given not just to sweethearts, either- other family members might receive a personally engraved coin, with initials or the relationship, such as “Mother,” or one might be a remembrance of a special trip. Love tokens were used in other countries as well as the United States, and may be found on the coins of various countries.


The above coin is an 1881 Morgan silver dollar, one of the most popular coins ever made because of its beauty. One side of the coin was filed down, lines drawn across and a branch of leaves added along both the right and left curves of the coin. The top of the coin has the word “Born” and then names and birthdates were added. The bottom center appears to have the date 1901 with a small design on either side.


T. Griffin   Mar. 25 185?
B.      ”         Apr. 19th 1859
R.      ”         Mar. 23rd 1881
M.     ”         Apr. 22nd 1883
E.      ”          July 15th 1885
A.      ”         Nov. 7th 1887
G.      ”         June 15th 1890
L.      ”         June 10th 1893
C.      ”         Jan. 23rd 1896
H.      ”         Aug. 29th 18??

Reverse of 1881 Morgan silver dollar engraved with birthdates of the Griffin family. It has a pinback, and was purchased on eBay many years ago. (Click to enlarge.)

My hypothesis is that this coin was a gift from T. Griffin to his wife, B. ___ Griffin, and it listed the births of their children. If both husband and wife were born in 1859, they would have been about 22 years old in 1881. Their marriage was likely around 1880, estimated from the birth of their first child.

Perhaps the silver dollar was a gift to the wife at the birth of their oldest child in 1881. (Do people still collect coins from the birth year of their child? It was common at least 20 years ago.) Then, twenty years later, in 1901- perhaps as a 20th anniversary gift, or even a Valentine present?- the saved coin was engraved and lovingly given to the mother of eight. She would have worn it proudly, especially since the “worth” of a woman back then was highly correlated to the number of children she could bear.

Please note that the above is just a possible description of the background of this love token- we have no proof for any of it. It has been challenging to learn more about this family, especially since only initials are used for first names, and “Griffin” is a fairly common name. Since the coin was sold on eBay, we may never know how many times it changed hands or travelled to another town.

Our hope is that someone researching the Griffin family name will find this post, and compare the engraved information to known family members. If any of our readers know more about this family, or have suggestions for finding them, please contact us at the blog!

Notes, Sources, and References: 

  1. Coin owned by author.
  2. “Darling, Can You Spare a Dime? How Victorians Fell in Love With Pocket Change”–
  3. “What are Love Tokens?” by the Love Token Society–
  4. Of course, coin collectors are horrified at the defacing of coins for love tokens, and there are some coins that would have been worth quite a bit of money had they not been engraved with an image or words. Love tokens are, however, a delightful reminder of our past. They would have been cherished by their owners and proudly worn, and some, such as this coin, can even tell a family story.


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