About the collection
There are 315 convict love tokens in the National Museum’s collection, ranging in date from 1762 to 1856. The Museum purchased most of the tokens — 307 in all — from British dealer and collector, Timothy Millett.
Millett started his collection in 1984. His interest in convict love tokens began after he joined his family’s firm AH Baldwin & Sons, dealers in coins, commemorative medals, tokens and numismatic (coin collecting) books. In 1984 one of Baldwin’s valued customers offered to sell Millett the 70 tokens that formed the ‘transportation’ section of his numismatic collection.
Millett was fascinated by these poignant keepsakes and the tokens became the basis of his own collection. In addition to seeking out and acquiring the tokens, he tried to find out more information about the people named on the tokens, a task made only more diffcult by the efforts of many families to cover up any evidence of a convict relation. He continued to build the collection until the Museum acquired the tokens in 2008, to add to its small pre-existing collection of love tokens.
The National Museum now holds the largest collection of convict love tokens in the world. Other institutions in Australia and overseas have collected tokens and a number also remain in private hands. Thanks to the efforts of Timothy Millett and other researchers, we know the identity of convicts associated with approximately 80 of the tokens in the collection.
The Museum has a continuing program of research into the collection, which aims to identify further associations and links to particular individuals.
What is a convict love token?
Smoothing and engraving a coin with a message of affection was one of the few ways a convict could leave a memento behind with loved ones in England before being transported. These small tokens are also known as ‘leaden hearts’. They record personal and emotional responses from convicts whose lives are more often represented by official government records.
The tokens often include the names of the convict and their loved one, the length of the convict’s sentence and popular phrases and rhymes of separation. They were frequently engraved around the time of conviction for a prisoner’s loved one or family. The tokens were engraved or stippled, which involves making marks with a series of small pin pricks. They were crafted by professionals and amateurs.
The National Museum of Australia holds the world’s largest collection of convict love tokens.