History of Coins and Coin Jewellery
For centuries coins have been important in cultures around the world, ever since people started trading and using coins as currency. Nowadays, coins are used in a number of ways and are not just a method of payment; but what is the history of the coin and how did they become popular fashion accessories in jewellery? If you’ve wondered about the origin of coins and the significance of coin jewellery, read on to learn more about their history.
When were coins first made?
It’s estimated that the first coins for trading were made in the 5th or 6th century BCE, however the location of where the very first coin was made is still up for debate. It’s suggested that the first coins appeared in Lydia, now known as modern-day Turkey, and were made of gold and silver, roughly shaped and struck with a lion symbol.
This coin, known as the Lydian Lion, is regarded as the oldest coin in the world and is similar in weight to the quarter yet smaller than a US dime.
Using items as currency wasn’t a new concept in history, however it was only when metal coins appeared that society began recognising them as a significant method of payment. In Britain, coins were introduced by traders from overseas and the first coins used were known as Potins, coins cast from copper, zinc and lead. Shortly after, areas across Britain began casting their own coins, known as Staters. These coins were made of gold and silver, and featured artistic designs that represented each area, or tribe, in Britain.
It was only after the invasion in 43 AD that the Roman coinage system was introduced to Britain but using coins as currency for payment wasn’t fully adopted until the Anglo-Saxon period.
When were coins used in jewellery?
Making jewellery from coins (known as “Gemme Numari”) dates back to Ancient Rome when people collected coins they came across on their travels from overseas, or when trading for other goods. They kept these coins as souvenirs and turned them into jewellery items like necklaces, rings and bracelets.
Throughout history there have been many uses for coin jewellery, including the following:
- Love Tokens: Coin cutting was popular amongst soldiers and sailors in the 16th century who were away at war for long periods at a time. They would engrave names, carve symbols, words and images on coins to create “love tokens” to impress their lovers with coin jewellery they could keep and remember them by.
- Social Status: Across Egypt, Ancient Greece and Rome, wearing gold coins and medallions was a way to show fortune and wealth. Over time, these coins displayed more important motifs like family crests, significant portraits and engravings for people to admire and they were a way to show off and flaunt wealth.
- Symbolism: Although synonymous with prosperity and fortune, coins also hold meaning and are often regarded as symbolic talismans. Throughout history, coins have been worn in jewellery for protection, love and luck, most commonly as necklaces worn close to the heart.
The origin of the coin necklace
In many cultures, coin jewellery has been used for decorative purposes however, much of this jewellery holds sentimental and symbolic value that is steeped in tradition. Coin necklaces have been worn throughout history, often for protection or to bring good fortune to the wearer. To learn more, read our guide on coin necklaces and their meaning and discover how this jewellery style has been cherished over time.
The origin of coin rings
Coin rings are popular pieces of jewellery and just like coin necklaces, are often worn as keepsakes with sentimental value. Historically, soldiers would make coin rings to send home to their wives and girlfriends but since then, coin rings have been worn as special keepsakes and items of jewellery to commemorate meaningful events. Our guide on coin rings and how they’re made offers more insight into these symbolic jewellery pieces.
Historical coin jewellery
As we’ve shown, coin jewellery has been extremely popular throughout history, with many countries around the world incorporating coin necklaces, rings and bracelets into their cultures. Here we look at some historical and ancient coin jewellery that has been discovered through the ages:
- The Liudhard Medalet: The Liudhard Medalet was discovered in Canterbury in 1844 and is now kept in the World Museum in Liverpool. The coin is set in a mount so that it could be worn as a coin necklace and depicts Bishop Liudhard on the obverse, with an ornamental cross engraved on the reverse. The coin necklace pendant signifies the conversion to Christianity and was found in a 6th century woman’s grave.
- The Harpole Treasure: In December 2022, a 1,300-year-old coin necklace was discovered at a burial site in Northamptonshire. Regarded as a “once in a lifetime find” this necklace is thought to be the most significant find at a female burial site of this era, with the woman considered to be of extremely high status.
The coin necklace features a rectangular pendant at the centre of the necklace and features a cross motif made with red garnets. The rest of the necklace is made up of approximately 30 coins and gemstones set in gold, spaced out by gold beads.
- Bulgari Monete Jewels: Since the 1960s, Bulgari has been creating jewellery inspired by the history of Roman coins. Known as the Monete collection, these jewellery pieces feature ancient and rare coins set within modern jewellery items like necklaces, bracelets, brooches and rings. To celebrate its 50th American anniversary, Bulgari launched a limited-edition collection of jewellery pieces that featured historical Roman coins dating back to 222 AD.
From treasures buried across the world to iconic fashion pieces, there’s no doubt that coin jewellery is as popular today as it was thousands of years ago. The history of coin jewellery is vast, and as we know coins weren’t just used for currency, there’s no wonder that wearing them as symbolic tokens of power, luck or love has continued throughout the ages.