Coin Weights

Project details

  • Object number – 91-JR
  • Material – Copper Alloy
  • Place of Origin – Antwerp, Belgium
  • Date – ca. 1583-1592
  • Context – James Fort
  • Location – Archaearium
  • Category – Exchange

In early Jamestown, brass coin weights were necessary to verify the values of gold and silver coins. Unlike modern small change, which only represents a government-established worth, the value of colonial coinage was determined by its content — the actual amount of gold or silver it held. It was a common practice to clip coins for their metal. This illegal practice was not always detectable on the hammered coins made before 1662 which — unlike the later machine-made coinage — were not finished with a milled edge.

Coin weights portray the obverse, or front side, of the coin they represent. This made identification easier for the largely illiterate population of the time. All of the weights recovered from the site are square, and three dated between 1612 and 1619 are for Stuart coins. The only Elizabethan weight is for the gold ryal worth 15 shillings. It is stamped with a hand, indicating that it was made in Antwerp, and bears the maker’s initials “PVG.” The Elizabethan ryal was issued between 1583 and 1592.

Coin weights were sold in portable boxed sets complete with scales. The weights found at Jamestown are for an angel, worth 11 shillings; a unite, valued at 22 shillings; and a double crown of 11 shillings. They each bear a deeply stamped secondary impression of a crowned I, for King James, which may be the mark of the government official validating each weight’s accuracy.