This small metal disc was found on Church Cliff beach, Lyme Regis, by detectorist Phil Goodwin who has kindly donated it to the Museum. The inscription raises the intriguing possibility that it may have belonged to famous fossil collector Mary Anning.
The Mary Anning Token
The token is a metal disc about 25mm in diameter, 1 mm thick. It is an alloy, possibly brass, old but not corroded. The exciting aspects are the inscriptions: On the front are impressed the words “MARY ANNING MDCCCX” (1810), while on the reverse it says: “LYME REGIS AGE XI” (11). In 1810 Mary was eleven years old and had yet to find her first ichthyosaur still less the plesiosaur which made her famous. So what is the token? And how did it come to be on the beach? It was found on the beach below Church Cliffs where Mary could well have lost it during a fossil collecting expedition. Or it may have landed on the beach when Mary’s home, battered and damaged by wind and weather, was demolished at the end of the 19th century to make way for the Museum. However it ended up on the beach, it is likely to have joined other debris which would have been swept along by tides and weather. Many domestic items have been found on that stretch of beach along with exciting fossil finds.
Was it a birthday present?
Mary’s dad, Richard Anning, could well have made it for his daughter as an eleventh birthday token. As a cabinet maker, he had the tools to impress a metal disc as he would have hand made metal labels for his furniture. Some other ideas about the token are that it could have been a personal identity disc, possibly for collection of parish poor relief; perhaps it was a token to acknowledge attendance at church or Sunday school. It could even have been an early tourist keepsake.Overall, however, the possibility that the token actually did belong to Mary Anning and was made for her when she was eleven years old seems the most likely.
On display in the Museum
We may never know the real story behind the mysterious token found on the beach. However, it will be on display in Lyme Regis Museum from today (in the sloping desk glass cabinet by Monmouth’s bed board), so visitors are encouraged to come and see it and decide for themselves the mystery of the Mary Anning Token.