Shortlisted entries 2013

Counting Copper Wishes

Counting Copper WishesCounting Copper Wishes
Ceri Houlbrook

Pennies are the ‘common currency of longing’, observed poet Kathleen Jamie. We consider them lucky charms; we toss them into fountains in exchange for wishes; and – the subject of my research – we hammer them into trees. This latter custom boasts a long history; in Scotland, people have been surrendering their pennies to these ‘wishing-trees’ since the 1700s. Today, these trees are distributed all over the British Isles, their barks embedded with the copper wishes of their hopeful depositors. As a folklore archaeologist, my research involves cataloguing these wishing-trees and counting the number of coins they contain. The tree in this image, in Yorkshire, holds roughly 48,830; proof that even in our ‘age of disenchantment’, more than 48,000 people from all walks of life have suspended their disbelief long enough to perpetuate a centuries-old folk-custom – and contribute their own wishes to this ever-growing hoard of human hope.

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