About the object

A protective symbol

This token depicts a hand making the ‘fig sign’, or mano fica, in which the thumb is pushed between two fingers. This ancient gesture has a wide range of meanings across the world today, ranging from good luck to a crude insult. Mano fica amulets like this one have been worn for protection against evil since at least ancient Roman times. In this object, the hand is show within a protective sleeve or gauntlet which continues over the wrist and shows the beginning of the forearm. Originally there was a black ribbon threaded through the hole, so the amulet could be worn.

A boy from West Ham

Researchers have been able to match this token with a child admitted in 1756, renamed Henry Penlove by the Hospital. Henry was from West Ham, now part of London, but then a small village to the east of the city with only around 600 inhabitants. In addition to this token, a note was left with the boy. It is folded and pinned through the fold to his admission record, or billet. For now, it remains unopened due to the risk of damage if the pin were to be removed.