Touch pieces

Touch pieces

Touch pieces are coins and medals that have attracted superstitious beliefs, such as those with 'holes' in them or those with particular designs. Such pieces were believed to cure disease, bring good luck, influence peoples behavior, carry out a specific practical action, et cetera.

What most touch pieces have in common is that they have to be touched or in close physical contact for the power concerned to be obtained and/or transferred. Once this is achieved the power is permanently present in the coin which effectively becomes an amulet.

The cure of diseases by coins

Coins which had been given at Holy Communion could be rubbed on parts of the body suffering from rheumatism and they would effect a cure. Medallions or medalets showing the 'Devil defeated' were specially minted in Britain and distributed amongst the poor in the belief that they would reduce disease and sickness.Waring, Philippa (1987). "The Dictionary of Omens & Superstitions". Treasure Press. ISBN 1-85051-009-1] The tradition of touch pieces goes back to the time of Ancient Rome where the Emperor Vespasian (9 - 79AD) gave coins to the sick at a ceremony known as 'the touching.'Coins of the World. DeAgostini. (2000).]

Many touch piece coins were treasured by the recipients and sometimes remained in the possession of families for many generations, such as with the 'Lee Penny' obtained by Sir Simon Lockhart from the Holy Land whilst on a crusade. This coin, an Edward I groat, still held by the family, has a triangular-shaped stone of a dark red colour set into it. The coin is kept in a gold box given by Queen Victoria to General Lockhart.Leighton, John M. (1840?). "Strath-Clutha or the Beauties of the Clyde." Glasgow. P. 24.] It can supposedly cure rabies, haemorrhage, and various animal ailments. The legend gave rise to Sir Walter Scott's novel 'The Talisman'. The amulet was placed in water and this was then drunk to give the cure. No money was ever taken for its use.Coin News. Pub. Token. ISSN 0958-1391. April 2005. Pps. 29 - 32.]

The healing of the King's or Queen's Evil

Persons of royal blood were thought to have the 'God given' power of healing by this condition by touch, and sovereigns of England and France practiced this power to cure sufferers of scrofula, meaning 'Swine Evil' as it was common in pigs,Coin News. Pub. Token. ISSN 0958-1391. January. 1999 Pps. 34 - 35.] a form of tuberculosis of the bones and lymph nodes, commonly known as the "King's or Queen's Evil"Bradley, Howard W. (1978). "A Handbook of Coins of the British Isles." Pub. Robert hale. ISBN 0-7091-6747-4. P. 165.] or "Morbus Regius". In France it was called the "Mal De Roi".Coin News. Pub. Token. ISSN 0958-1391. April 2005. Pps. 29 - 32.] Curiously William the Lion, King of Scotland is recorded in 1206 as curing a case of Scrofula by his touching and blessing a child who had the ailment.Dalrymple, Sir David (1776). Annals of Scotland. Pub. J. Murray. London. P. 300 -301.] It was only rarely fatal and was naturally given to spontaneous cure and lengthy periods of remission. Many miraculous cures were recorded and failures were put down to a lack of faith in the sufferer. The original Book of Common Prayer of the Anglican Church contained this ceremony. This divine power descended from Edward the Confessor, who, according to some legends, received it from Saint Remigius.

The custom lasted from the time of Edward the Confessor to the reign of Queen Anne, although her predecessor, William III refused to believe in the tradition and did not carry out the ceremony. James II and James Francis Edward Stuart, the Old Pretender, performed the ceremony. Charles Edward Stuart, the 'Young Pretender', is known to have carried out the rite in 1745 at Glamis Castle during the time of his rebellion against George II and also in France after his exile. Finally Henry Benedict Stuart, the brother of Charles, performed the ceremony until his death in 1807. All the Jacobite Stuarts produced special touch piece medalets, with a variety of designs and inscriptions. They are found in gold, silver and even lead.Coin News. Pub. Token. ISSN 0958-1391. May 2005. Pps. 36 - 38.]

Robert the Pious or Robert II of France was the first to practise the ritual in the 11th century.Coin News. Pub. Token. ISSN 0958-1391. April 2005. Pps. 29 - 32.] King Henry IV of France is reported as often touching and healing as many as 1,500 individuals at a time. No record survives of the first four Norman kings attempting to cure by touching, however we have records of Henry II doing so. Queen Mary performed the ceremonyRoss, Josephine (1979). "The Tudors." Pub. Arctus. London. P. 118.] and her half-sister, Elizabeth I, cured all "ranks and degrees" and William Tooker even published a book on the subject, entitled "Charisma; sive Donum Sanationis." Queen Anne, amongst many others, touched the 2 year old infant Dr. Samuel Johnson in 1712 to no effect, for although he eventually recovered he was left badly scarred and blind in one eye.Coin News. Pub. Token. ISSN 0958-1391. December 2003. Pps. 50 - 51.] He wore the medal around his neck all of his life and it is now preserved in the British Museum. It was believed that if the touch piece was not worn then the condition would return. Queen Anne last performed the ceremony on 30 March 1712. George I put an end to the practice as being "too Catholic." The kings of France continued the custom until 1825. William of MalmesburyWilliam of Malmesbury, (1815). "Chronicle of the Kings of England", Translation by Rev. John Sharpe, J.A. Giles, editor. London: George Bell and Sons, 1904.] describes the ceremony in his "Chronicle of the Kings of England" (1120) and Shakespeare describes the practice in MacBeth.

The gold Angel coins, were first struck in Britain in 1465 and later dates, particularly of the reigns of James I and Charles I, are often found officially pierced in the centre as illustrated in 'Coins of England 2001'"Coins of England and the United Kingdom." (2001). 36th. Edition. Pub. Spink. ISBN 1-902040-36-8.] to be used as touch pieces. The sovereigns of the House of Stuart used the ceremony to help bolster the belief in the 'Divine Right of Kings'.McKay, James and Mussell, John W. Editors. (2001). "The Coin Yearbook 2001". Pub. Token Publishing Ltd. ISBN 1-870192-36-2. P.112.] Charles I indeed issued Angels almost exclusively as touch pieces to the point where intact specimens are hard to come by.Sutherland, C.H.V. (1982). "English Coinage 600 - 1900". Pub. Batsford Ltd. ISBN 0-7134-0731-X. P. 164.] He was the first monarch to perform the ceremony in Scotland at Holyrood Palace on June 18 1633. The size of the hole may indicate the amount of gold taken in payment by the jeweller or the mint for the work of piercing or punching and the provision of a ribbon or silk string.Coin News. Pub. Token. ISSN 0958-1391. May 2005. Pps. 36 - 38.] The cure was usually more of a "laying on of hands" by the monarch and the angel coin or medalet, etc., although touched by the monarch, was seen as a receipt or talisman of the potential of the monarch's healing power. Originally the king had paid for the support of the sufferer until he had recovered or died. The move to the gift of a gold coin touch piece may represent the compromise payment when the custom of 'room and board' support by the king ceased.Coin News. Pub. Token. ISSN 0958-1391. April 2005. Pps. 29 - 32.] Coffee in the 18th and early 19th centuries was thought to be a relief, but not a cure for scrofula.

The Angel coin was favoured at these ceremonies because it has on the obverse an image of St. Michael slaying the Devil represented as a dragon (actually a heraldic Wyvern).Lobel, Richard; Davidson, Mark; Hailstone, Allan and Calligas, Eleni (1999). "Coincraft's 1999 Standard catalogue of English and UK Coins 1066 to Date." Pub. Coincraft. ISBN 0-9526228-6-6. P. 153.] St. Michael, especially venerated for his role as captain of the heavenly host that drove Satan out of heaven, was also associated with the casting out of devils and thus was regarded as a guardian of the sick.Seaby, Peter (1985). "The Story of British Coinage". Pub. Seaby. ISBN 0-900652-74-8 P.119.]

The monarch himself / herself hung these touch piece amulets around the necks of sufferers. In later years Charles II only touched the medalet as he unsurprisingly disliked touching diseased people directly. He 'touched' 92,107 people in the 21 years from 1661 to 1682, performing the function 8,500 times in 1682 alone.Coin News. Pub. Token. ISSN 0958-1391. January. 1999 Pps. 34 - 35.]

After these coins ceased to be minted in 1634, Charles II had holed gold medalets specially produced by the mint with a similar design of good defeating evil.Bradley, Howard W. (1978). "A Handbook of Coins of the British Isles." Pub. Robert hale. ISBN 0-7091-6747-4. P. 165.] Seaby, Peter (1985). "The Story of British Coinage". Pub. Seaby. ISBN 0-900652-74-8 P.119.] An example of a medalet in the British Museum has a hand descending from a cloud towards four heads, with 'He touched them' round the margin, and on the other side a rose and thistle, with 'And they were healed.'

Samuel Pepys recorded in his diary for 13 April 1661 : "To Whitehall to the Banquet House and there saw the King heale, the first time that ever I saw him do it - which he did with great gravity; and it seemed to me to be an ugly office and a simple one".Latham, Robert (Edit) (1985). "The Illustrated Pepys. Extracts from the Diary." Pub. Bell & Hyman. ISBN 0-7135-1328-4. P.30.] John Evelyn, the great diarist and friend of Samuel Pepys also refers to the ceremony in his diary on the dates of 6 July 1660 and 28 March 1684.Chamberlain, C.C. (1963). "The Teach Yourself Guide to Numismatics. An A.B.C. of coins and coin collecting." The English Universities Press. P. 4 and P. 166.]

Unsurprisingly the system was open to abuse and numerous attempts were made to that only the deserving cases got the gold coin, others would simply sell it.Roud, Steven (2003) "The Penguin Guide to the Superstitions of Britain and Ireland." Penguin Books. P. 395.]

Lucky coins

Good luck coins

In many countries it was believed that coins with holes in them would bring good luck. This belief could link to a similar superstition linked to stones or pebbles which had holes, often called 'Adder Stones' and hung around the neck. Carrying a coin bearing the date of your birth is lucky. In Austria any coin found during a rainstorm is especially lucky, because it is said to have dropped from Heaven. European charms often require silver coins to be used, which are engraved with marks such as an 'X' or are bent. These actions personalize the coin, making it uniquely special for the owner. The lucky 'sixpence' is a well known example in Great Britain.

Holy Sacrament communion coins were thought to acquire curative powers over various ailments, especially rheumatism and epilepsy. Such otherwise normal coins, which had been offered at communion, were purchased from the priest for 12 or 13 pennies. The coin was then punched through and worn around the neck of the sick person, or made into a ring.Coin News. Pub. Token. ISSN 0958-1391. July 2005. P. 40.]

Gonzalez-Wippler records that if money is left with a Mandrake root it will double in quantity overnight, she also states that the way to ensure the future wealth of a baby is to put part of the child's umbilical cord in a bag together with a few coins. Lucky coins are lucky charms which are carried around attract wealth and good luck, whilst many, often silver coins, attached to bracelets multiply the effect as well as create a noise which scares away evil spirits.Gonzalez-Wippler, Migene (2001). "The Complete Book of Amulets and Talismans". Llewellyn Publications. ISBN 0-87542-287-X.] Bathing with a penny wrapped in a washcloth brings good fortune at Beltane or the Winter Solstice in Celtic Mythology. Chinese Money Frogs or Toads, often with a coin in their mouths, bring food luck and prosperity.

A Celtic belief is that at the Full Moon any silver coins on one's person should be jingled or turned over to prevent bad luck, also the silver coins would increase as the moon grew in size.Coin News. Pub. Token. ISSN 0958-1391. July 2002. P. 43 - 45.] A Wish to a new moon could also be made, but not as seen through glass, jingling coins at the same time.Griffith, M.J.S. (1970). Oral communication to Griffith, Roger S. Ll.] American silver 'Mercury' dimes, especially with a leap year date, are especially lucky. Gamblers' charms are often these dimes, Mercury being the Roman god who ruled the crossroads, games of chance, etc. Although these dimes actually figure the head of Liberty, people commonly mistake it for Mercury. A silver dime worn at the throat will supposedly turn black if someone tries to poison your food or drink. American 'Indian Head' cents are worn as amulets to ward off evil or negative spirits. In Spain a bride places a silver coin from her father in one shoe and a gold coin from her mother in the other. This will ensure that she will never want for anything. Silver coins were placed in Christmas puddings and birthday cakes to bring good luck and wealth.Coin News. Pub. Token. ISSN 0958-1391. July 2002. P. 43 - 45.] A variation on this custom was that in some families each member added a coin to the pudding bowl, making a wish as they did so. If their coin turned up in their bowl it's said their wish was sure to come true.

In ancient Rome 'good luck' coins were in common circulation. 'Votive pieces' for example were struck by new emperors, promising peace for a set number of years. Citizens would hold such coins in their hand when making a wish or petitioning the gods.Coin News. Pub. Token. ISSN 0958-1391. July 2005. P. 40.] Coins bearing religious symbols are often seen as lucky; for instance, the Mogul emperor Akbar's rupees carry words from the Islamic faith, and in India the Ramatanka shows the Hindu god Rama, his wife, Sita, his brother and the monkey god, Hanuman. Gold ducats issued in the name of the mid-18th. Century Doge Loredano of Venice bore an image of Christ and were issued to be worn as pendants by pilgrims. The Shinto religion has a shrine called Zeniariai-Benten where followers wash their money in the spring water at certain times of year to ensure that it doubles in quantity. In Roman times, sailors placed coins under the masts of their ships to ensure the protection of the gods from the wrath of the sea.Coins of the World. DeAgostini. (2000).]

A rare example of a 'Wish Tree' exists near Ardmaddy House in Argyle, Scotland. The tree is a Hawthorn which are traditionally linked with fertility, as in 'May Blossom'. The trunk and branches are covered with hundreds of coins which have been driven through the bark and into the wood. The local tradition is that a wish will be granted for each of the coins so treated.Rodger, Donald, Stokes, John & Ogilve, James (2006). "Heritage Trees of Scotland". The Tree Council. P.87. ISBN 0-904853-03-9.] Many pubs, such as the 'Punch Bowl' in Askham, near Penrith in Cumbria have old beams with splits in them where coins are forced 'for luck'.Another local custom at Askham is the throwing of coins from the nearby bridge onto a boulder that lies below the water level of the river. Getting the coin to stay on the rock gives the thrower 'good luck'. Obvious connections exist with water generally and the practice of throwing in coins to seek favours of the water spirits. The Lady's Well in Kilmaurs, Scotland, is a typical wishing well. At St.Cuby's Well (SX224 564) in Cornwall the legend was that if anyone did not leave an offering of money then they would be followed home by Piskies in the shape of flying moths, embodying the spirits of the dead.Straffon, Cherly (1998). "Fentynyow Kernow. In Search of Cornwall's Holy Wells". Pub. Meyn Mamvro. ISBN 0-9518859-5-2 P.25.]

A 'Black Saxpence' in Scots, is a sixpence, supposed by the credulous to be received from the devil, as a pledge of an engagement to be his, soul and body. It is always of a black colour, as not being legal currency; but it is said to possess this singular virtue, that the person who keeps it constantly in his pocket,"how much soever he spend, will always find another sixpence beside it".

A Devonian superstition is that carrying crooked coins is good luck and keeps the Devil away.]

Bad luck coins

In Ireland it is thought to be bad luck to give money away on a Monday. The 1932 silver yuan coin from China showed a junk, rays of sunshine and a flock of birds. These were seen as symbolising Japan (the rising sun symbol) and its fighter planes (the birds) invading China. The coin was re-issued in 1933 without the sun or the birds. The Queen Victoria 'Godless' florin was regarded as bringing bad luck. Finding money was bad luck in some cultures and the curse could only be removed by giving away the money.Coins of the World. DeAgostini. (2000).] It is bad luck to have an empty pocket, for even a crooked coin keeps the Devil away. Hewett, Sarah (1900). "Nummits and Crummits." Devonshire Customs, Characteristics and Folk-lore. Pub. Thomas Burleigh. P. 52.]

Love tokens

The bent coin as a love-token may be derived from the well-recorded practice of bending a coin when making a vow to a saint, such as vowing to give it to the saint's shrine if the saint would intercede to cure a sick human, animal, etc. Bending a coin when one person made a vow to another was another practice which arose from this.Coin News. Pub. Token. ISSN 0958-1391. July 1998. P. 29.]

Protection against evil

It was believed that the gift of second sight came from the devil; as protection, a silver coin was used to make a cross above the palm of a Gypsy fortuneteller, thus dispelling any evil. In Japan, Korea and Indonesia, coins were made tied together to form sword shapes which were thought to terrify, and therefore ward off, evil spirits. They were also hung above the beds of sick people to drive off the malevolent spirits who were responsible for the illness.Coin News. Pub. Token. ISSN 0958-1391. July 2002. P. 43 - 45.]

Touch pieces that influence behaviour

Coins placed on the eyes of the dead, if briefly dropped into the drink of a husband or wife, would 'blind' them to any infidelities that the partner might be involved in.Waring, Philippa (1987). "The Dictionary of Omens & Superstitions". Treasure Press. ISBN 1-85051-009-1]

Also, some groups say that if a penny is thrown into a person's drink, they must 'down' the rest of it

Coins carrying out a specific practical action

In Germany, since Medieval times, it was believed that a silver coin with a Sator square engraved on it will put out a fire if thrown into the conflagration. Coins were placed on the eyes of a corpse to prevent them from opening and also in Greek mythology as payment for the ferryman who would carry the dead person across the River Styx into hades.Coin News. Pub. Token. ISSN 0958-1391. July 2002. P. 43 - 45.] In the 17th. Century coins bearing an engraving of St.George were carried by soldiers as a protection against injury following a lucky escape when a bullet hit such as coin and the soldier remained uninjured (Coins of the World). Some of the gold coins of Edward III carry the cryptic
Sir John Mandeville, this was a spell against the power of thieves.Chamberlain, C.C. (1963). "The Teach Yourself Guide to Numismatics. An A.B.C. of coins and coin collecting." The English Universities Press. P. 4 and P. 166.]


See also

*Angel (coin) The Angel coin
*Samuel Johnson
*Samuel Pepys

External links

* [] Angel Coins
* [] Laying on of Hands
* [] The 'Lee Penny'
* [ Dr Johnson's Touch piece]

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