Book hardware, including items like the book latch pictured here, were both ornamental and helped in the overall protection of books. This system began in the 14th century when books were made of wooden covers and contained calfskin pages that would expand when they encountered moisture in the air. The metal latch (attached to the front cover) and catch (attached to the back cover) would work together to keep such a weathered book closed. Books made of these fragile materials often were stored lying flat rather than standing up. They would also be protected by square metal items attached to each corner and in the center of the cover that kept the book lifted and supported.
More than 100 artifacts identified as book hardware, including latches, have been found at James Fort. They each have unique designs that can indicate where they were made. One artifact is decorated with five Tudor rose stamps. Another has a simple design of linework at the top that matches known clasps from the 16th century. Book hardware would have been commonly used on Bibles, devotionals, travel guides, and medical books. The artifact shown here is evidence that some individuals living in James Fort could read and write, most likely only the upper class gentlemen who would have undertaken a formal education.
Some of the book hardware found by archaeologists at Jamestown may be the result of a sad event. In early 1608, historic documents describe a fire that swept through the fort and destroyed a portion of Reverend Robert Hunt’s library. Hunt was the first Anglican minister at Jamestown. This event must have been a tragic loss.