Chosen by Christine, a Museum volunteer

About the object

For most of the tokens we are unable to identify the child with whom they were left - and the medal of eminent scientist and mathematician Sir Isaac Newton falls into this category. Each half has a hole which could mean it was meant to hang on a thread, and the medal has been inscribed with the letter E. Initials (and words or symbols) were sometimes added to such tokens to make an object unique. They may relate to the child or the mother’s name.

The medal itself is an inexpensive tin copy of a copper medallion designed in Switzerland by Dassier, the back shows Newton’s marble tomb (Rysbrack and others 1730) in Westminster Abbey. Newton was a popular subject and various commemorative medals were produced. There are five drill marks down the centre cut edge where the split has been started. Because it is a cheap metal it would then not be difficult to cut it in half with a narrow file or saw.

Left at the Foundling Hospital with a child at admission, eighteenth century. Purchased for the Foundling Museum by William and Helena Korner, 2005.

Token: Sir Isaac Newton halved medallion, 1730s, split medal

Creative responses & inspirations

One of the inspirations for Christine's art was Bob, former pupil of the Foundling Hospital, talking about the tokens as part of our Foundling Voices project.

I was escorted up to London by one of the school welfare officers, and taken first to Brunswick Square, which was the first time I'd ever been there, that I could recall, anyway. And I was taken up to the picture gallery and told that... Mr Nichols, the school secretary wanted to see me before I went into hospital. And he would send me-- for me, when he was ready, and not to move from the picture gallery. But in the picture gallery, beside the pictures on the wall were... two or three showcases, I can't remember. It was certainly two, may have been three, showcases, and I walked over to one of these, and... there was nothing to say what it was, but I knew instantly what it was. There was all little tokens in there... bits of ribbon, bits of lace, buttons, bits of material, bits of tickets, coins... and it was-- I mean, I knew instantly that these were things that parents had-- mothers had left to be able to identify their child by, if they were... I suppose they all hoped at some stage or another they'd be able to claim them back but... it was seldom the case. But I won't-- I was just transfixed by this, and... I don't think I saw anything else in that room, and I just stayed there all the time, looking at that case, and I kept wondering what my mother had left with me. Not realising, at that stage, that that system had finished years before. But it was... [pause] sorry.  It was just a heart-breaking moment. And I... just can't forget it. It's okay, leave it be. I've never forgotten that, and I can see that case to this day.