At first glance you may think that this love token was crafted by a young woman, given the intricate needlework skills that were taught to prospective housewives in the past. In fact, this beautiful love token was made by a man. Many other love token pincushions like ours are dated around the 19th century, during Queen Victoria’s reign (1837-1901).
We do not know the exact date that this one on display was created, but the beaded anchor tells us it is from a sailor to his sweetheart. Various beads, ribbons, coloured threads, and other textiles available to sailors were used to decorate these pincushions. This one appears to be made of a pink satin-like material, with tassels and beaded details, and says ‘Ever True’. Like ours, pin cushions were often stuffed with sawdust, a material readily available to soldiers/sailors. For this reason it is surprisingly heavy and firm to the touch.
It is likely that the practice of crafting love tokens had been around before this period in time, but it appears that Queen Victoria encouraged embroidery as an engaging and distracting past time for men away from home. It could have also boosted moral as it kept their minds focused on their families. Being an enthusiastic needle-worker herself, Victoria’s influence helped this practice live well into the 20th century, with some pincushions created in WWI and WWII.
But if we stop to think just how much time went into these love tokens, it is incredible considering the lack of fine needlework skills taught to young men at the time. It really does give you another perspective of couples in the Victorian era.
Another example of this kind of dedicated craftsmanship can be seen in various Victorian Valentines cards, and highly decorative chocolate boxes. It is likely that the more highly skilled and decorated the love token was, the more the creator valued their sweetheart.
The true origin of these sweetheart pincushions remain quite unknown, and there are a few theories floating around. One theory was that they were churned out by small businesses, and sold to soldiers and sailors to send back to their sweethearts. Certainly this may be true to some degree, but the diversity of these cushions just shout originality and personalisation. Ultimately, they served as a reminder of hope and love in distressing times.
The pin cushion is on display in our Littlehampon Homes case.