Monday, May 20, 2013
Slate has a captivating piece on "foundling tokens."
During the 18th century, mothers who left their babies at London’s Foundling Hospital would deposit something small, but unique, with the hospital to serve as an identifier in the event parents returned to reclaim their children. These “tokens”—scraps of fabric, small metal objects, or bits of jewelry—were sealed in the child’s official record as proof of the parental connection, even as the babies themselves were renamed and vanished into the institution.
Some tokens seem to be repurposed sentimental objects from love affairs, like the ring with a heart inset, which has a poignant inscription on the interior of the band: “He who neglects me loses me.” [...] Some tokens were humble everyday objects, like the hazelnut and the fabric heart: exceedingly simple and slight, given the connection they were meant to signify.
The tradition of leaving tokens ended in the early 19th century, when the hospital began to follow the much more efficient—albeit prosaic—procedure of issuing receipts to mothers who surrendered their children.