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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.

Musical inspiration

Hear performances inspired by the convict love tokens from:

About the collection

The National Museum of Australia holds the world’s largest collection of convict love tokens.

There are 315 tokens, ranging in date from 1762 to 1856. We know the identity of convicts associated with about 80 tokens. The Museum continues to research the collection, aiming to identify further associations and links to individual people.

In 2008 the Museum purchased 307 of its tokens from British dealer and collector Timothy Millett.

Millett started his collection in 1984, after he joined his family’s firm, AH Baldwin & Sons, dealers in coins, commemorative medals, tokens and numismatic books. 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 collection. He sought and acquired more tokens and tried to find more information about the people named on them, a task made difficult by the efforts of many families to cover up evidence of a convict relation. Millett continued to build the collection until the Museum acquired the tokens, to add to its small pre-existing collection of love tokens.

Other institutions in Australia and overseas have collected tokens and a number also remain in private hands.

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