Can Buy Me Love

Moon Township’s Milana “Mim” Bizic owns a romantic collection of 1800s love tokens: coins that were polished, engraved and given to young ladies by their suitors.



Milana "Mim" Bizic with love tokens from the 1800s.

Photos by Becky Thurner Braddock

For Valentine’s Day, the thought of giving money as a gift seems terribly unromantic and impersonal. But in the mid- to late-1800s, money could be the most romantic and personal of gifts—if it had a certain twist.

Milana “Mim” Bizic of Moon Township collects love tokens, which are coins from the Victorian era and earlier that were smoothed down on one side to a flat finish then beautifully engraved (usually by a jeweler) and given as a token of love.

The practice of creating and giving love tokens began in England in the 17th century, but reached its greatest popularity in the United States in the 1880s. Bizic says all denominations were used, including pennies, quarters and even gold pieces, but the most common were Seated Liberty Dimes: 10-cent silver pieces that feature an image of a seated woman holding a flag and a shield that reads, “Liberty.”
“A dime was an average day’s wages back when the love tokens were popular,” Bizic explains. “Also, silver was softer and easier to engrave than copper or nickel.”

Bizic loves the history of the pieces, and she has quite a history herself. The South Side native who is the child of Serbian-American parents is well-known locally as an authority on Serbian-American history and culture. Bizic has worked for the federal departments of Energy and Commerce, including a job in the U.S. Patent Office. She was also involved in the Internet in the technology’s infancy around 1985, and worked for Apple helping to develop ways computers could be used in education. Her favorite job, though, was as a teacher in the Quaker Valley School District, a position she held from 1969 until 2004, and she still keeps in touch with many students on Facebook.

As a devotee of history, Bizic says she was always interested in coins and stamps—not because of their value, but because they gave her a way to teach about and connect with history. “I couldn’t afford the real collectible coins, and when I saw the love tokens, I fell in love with them,” Bizic says. “Each one told a story.” She finds the tokens at antiques shows, and flea markets and has received some as gifts. The most common love-token engravings are monograms, followed by two intertwined initials (representing two lovers), full names, phrases, birds or animals and scenes such as homes or landscapes.

Because of her scholarly nature, Bizic has become an expert on love tokens, giving presentations at national conventions for the American Numismatic Society. But it’s the personal history of each that gives her the most pleasure.

The tokens strung on bracelets or other jewelry are the rarest collectibles she owns. “Girls collected love tokens like girls in future generations would collect charms for a charm bracelet,” Bizic explains. Some tokens were engraved by sailors and given to girls they met in foreign ports (wink); others were given to parents, and love tokens were common gifts from convicts with inscriptions like this: “May the rose of England never bud, the thistle of Scotland never grow, the harp of Ireland never play ’til I, poor convict, gain my liberty.”

Bizic’s favorite token in her collection is the Lord’s Prayer meticulously inscribed on a gold piece smaller than a modern dime. Alas, love tokens became too popular to survive. So many coins were being taken out of circulation for love tokens that in 1909 a U.S. law was passed making it illegal to mutilate coins.

For Bizic, though, who says, “I think we’ve lost a little bit of romanticism in our hectic lives,” love tokens, like love itself, will never die.


For additional photos of Mim's collection, see gallery at bottom of page.

Love tokens from the 1800s. Collection of Milana "Mim" Bizic.

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


Meet Rescued Animals at Carnegie Museum of Natural History

Meet Rescued Animals at Carnegie Museum of Natural History

The new Live Animal Encounters program introduces museum visitors to rescued wildlife.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Feast Series Returns to Carnegie Museum of Art in Oakland This September

Feast Series Returns to Carnegie Museum of Art in Oakland This September

The third iteration of the series will feature chef J.J. Johnson, formerly of The Cecil and Minton's Supper Club in Harlem.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
Best Places for Kids on Rainy Days in Pittsburgh

Best Places for Kids on Rainy Days in Pittsburgh

Read on for some under-the-radar ideas on how you and the kids can survive a rainy day this summer.

Comments


Tres Rios Has Potential, But Hasn't Distinguished Itself Just Yet

Tres Rios Has Potential, But Hasn't Distinguished Itself Just Yet

The tacos-and-tequila bar and restaurant on the South Side doesn't do anything wrong, exactly, but has room to grow.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Who Belongs on a Pittsburgh Steelers Mount Rushmore?

Who Belongs on a Pittsburgh Steelers Mount Rushmore?

As the team prepares the inaugural class of its Hall of Honor, Mike Prisuta selects the four members of the Steelers family most deserving of inclusion.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Make a Trendy Transition into Fall Style

Make a Trendy Transition into Fall Style

No. 14 Boutique in Lawrenceville put together this chic outfit for the tricky period when summer cools into autumn.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
A Hitman and His Bodyguard Get Into Trouble (No Need to Overcomplicate Things)

A Hitman and His Bodyguard Get Into Trouble (No Need to Overcomplicate Things)

Reviews of "The Hitman's Bodyguard" and "Wind River," plus local movie news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Delicious Design: Our Cookie Table Contest Winner & Runners-Up

Delicious Design: Our Cookie Table Contest Winner & Runners-Up

These Pittsburgh couples certainly know how to bring the cookie table tradition to life.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
Produced in Pittsburgh: MONMade Takes Local Crafters National

Produced in Pittsburgh: MONMade Takes Local Crafters National

Close to a half dozen local businesses, among them Savannah Hayes and Stak Ceramics, will make their debut next week at the mega interior design and home goods-focused show in New York City.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Tuition Increases at the University of Pittsburgh

Tuition Increases at the University of Pittsburgh

School trustees voted this week to increase tuition for in-state and out-of-state students.

Comments

Edit Module

Edit Module