About the object

A puzzle

This silver disk is inscribed with a puzzle known as a rebus. Images stand in for words or parts of words. An eye for ‘I’, W with the image of a little insect for ‘want’ and RE before a leaf for ‘relief’, together giving the desperate message ‘I want relief’. Below are the initials G.B. and the date, Jan.16.1759. At the bottom is a tiny engraving of a baby in a crib.

Word games and riddles were popular in the eighteenth century. They were compiled in books such as The Puzzle; being a choice collection of Conundrums (1745) or Youthful Amusements in Verse (1757). But as these titles suggest, word games were usually lighthearted entertainments, unlike the poignant message on this token.

Things, not words

The name ‘rebus’ for this type of puzzle probably comes from the Latin expression ‘non verbis, sed rebus’, meaning ‘not with words, but with things’. This phase seems appropriate for many of the tokens in the Collection which communicate heartfelt messages through objects.