By Carol (Harmes) Bastable, Love Letter December 2003, updated April 2012

 Many love token collectors search for specific initials corresponding to family members, friends, or themselves.  Some collectors happen on desired initials without trying, while for others the search can be endless.  Finding three desired initials is like winning the lottery…well, maybe like winning a new car with a raffle ticket.

 The chance of finding three initials arranged in linear sequence is one in 17,576.  Finding the same initials in a triple overlapping design reduces the odds to one in 2,929.  Since the order of the initials can be interpreted in a variety of sequences, this greatly lowers the odds.  Although two initials are not as common as all three, searching a group of these will have greatly increased odds of success.  Linear format with two initials has a one in 676 chance and double overlapping initials have one to 338 odds.

 Single initial love tokens certainly improve the odds and simplify the quest.  With 26 letters in the alphabet, the “textbook odds” of finding a desired initial are one in twenty-six.  Of course the odds apply to a random unit of single initial love tokens, not the whole population of all types of love tokens.  Although it may sound easy, there are complicating factors to consider.  First, single initial love tokens are much scarcer than those bearing three initials.  Second, names with uncommon first letters like Xavier, Yentel, Zachary, or Quentin present a tremendous challenge compared with names like Annie, Lillie, and Fannie.  Although these may not seem popular by today’s standards, they were common in the 1900’s.

 “Textbook odds” as referenced here, are scenarios that all have an equal chance of occurring. However,  X is the rarest single initial love token and has extremely low odds of being found.  Also with love token initials, some combinations may not have the same chance as others, making the odds biased.  Seldom seen are three matching initials.  The odds are very low that a person’s first, middle, and last name would all start with the same initial.

 Victorian tendencies of ornateness and excess cause overlapping initials to dominate the period even though linear layout is simpler to design and execute.  The arrangement of three identical initials presents a problem for an engraver using the overlapping design method.  Matching initials are almost always restricted to the linear design format, unless the engraver can creatively angle or invert the initials within the design.  Matching initials may also be manipulated with different heights, widths, and varying scale.  Names which end with Jr. or Sr. along with names such as McKinley (abbreviated to McK on a love token) also make for astronomical odds of finding the corresponding love token.  Design and placement of these added letters can also challenge the engraver.

 The determination and patience required for collectors to put together special initial sets carries on the tradition that created love tokens in the first place.  Besides being a labor of love, these mementos marked a remembrance of ones held dear.  They were also fashioned into jewelry to keep those people near to them and in their daily thoughts.  These little gems were initially designed, crafted, and presented with such heartfelt devotion that they earned the name love token.  The time and effort involved in the conservation of this tradition through collecting is as much a labor of love as the original production of love tokens.  A coin designed and engraved in an hour or two, may now take years to obtain.