“Shine on my love in all her ways”
Houghton Library Blog 2015-08-18
This intriguing piece of vernacular art, recently acquired by Houghton, tells a tale of heartsick woe from late 18th century New England. We know little about the author beyond his initials, E.W., and that he apparently created this piece after the object of his affections turned down his proposal of marriage. This item, known as a “love token” offers pleas for his proposal to be reconsidered, and that the universe keep his beloved safe in his absence.
As can be seen from the creases in the above image the love token was folded for delivery into a small interlocking square known as a “puzzle purse“. Each of the triangular shaped pieces on the reverse of the token meet in the middle when it is folded up. (See here for more on the art of letter folding.)
Happily, the manuscript also came with a folded facsimile that makes it easier to see how it looked originally.
While we don’t know what effect if any this gift had on its recipient, it must have been carefully preserved in the more than 200 years since it was created. We can see how this object fits very well with an American folk art tradition of the period from other surviving examples, such as this one, held at the American Folk Art Museum. The practice was introduced to early America by German immigrants to Pennsylvania and spread to New England, where this example, and another sold at auction last year, are believed to have been made.
Houghton’s collections tend, for obvious reasons, to focus on the lives of the great and the famous, but as a curator I’m fascinated by an object that provides such an intimate and charming glimpse into the lives and loves of everyday people. It’s a piece of history we can all relate to, even if the making of love tokens has been replaced by the making of Facebook posts today.
[John Overholt, Curator of the Donald and Mary Hyde Collection of Samuel Johnson and of Early Modern Books and Manuscripts, contributed this post.]