A special display of work by contemporary artists responding to the Foundling Hospital tokens.

Visitors were invited to discover the work of contemporary visual artists, writers and designers whose work has been inspired by the Museum’s unique collection of tokens. Included in the display were pieces by celebrated artists David Shrigley and Mary Fedden, alongside work by one of the UK’s leading jewellery designers, Alex Monroe.

Between the 1740s and 1760s, mothers leaving their babies at the Foundling Hospital would also leave a small object as a means of identification. The hope was that one day they would be able to reclaim their child. These tokens – coins, amulets, ribbons, even a hazelnut – are the most poignant objects and they give us extraordinary glimpses into eighteenth-century society and individual lives.

Children were renamed on admission to the Foundling Hospital, so the tokens were a crucial link to their original identity. In the nineteenth century, hundreds of tokens were separated from their documentation. Most remain disconnected from the child they were left with. The gaps and mysteries that surround the tokens have inspired many to imagine the stories behind these tiny, precious objects.

This display formed part of a wider project including an online exhibition and podcast series which can be explored below.

Podcast series
Listen to individuals who have a connection with the Foundling Museum, including artists, care-experienced young creatives, historians and former pupils of the Foundling Hospital. Each person chose one token that speaks to them across a gap of over 250 years. Over eight episodes they share what they know, what they feel and what they imagine. Contributors include musician Sam Lee, designer Alex Monroe and writer Lemn Sissay MBE.

Online exhibition 
Discover how historians have used the tokens as passports to Georgian London to illuminate a different facet of eighteenth-century life – from courtship, entertainment and fashion, to Empire and belief.

Smartify tour
Discover artist John Aldus’s installation on Marchmont Street. Using the Smartify app, find the tokens embedded on the pavement and learn more about the stories behind these objects.

This digital tour is no longer available however, you can still see the installation on Marchmont Street in London if you’re in the area.

Publicly accessible database
Researchers will be able to access in-depth information and images of the token collection via the Foundling Museum website, including research matching some of the tokens to the children they were left with. To be launched soon.

Take this Token was supported by the Woven Foundation, previously the Artisa Foundation, and the Deborah Loeb Brice Foundation.