obverse and reverse of a token
Obverse and reverse of the Elizabethan token

A total of 26 tokens of this type have been excavated at Jamestown. So far, they have not been found on any other archaeological site in the United States. About half of the tokens were found in mixed contexts, but of the other half, ten were from the First Well and others in Pit 1, Pit 5, and the Kitchen and Cellar. These more tightly-dated contexts indicate that the tokens were brought to Jamestown prior to 1610.

The tokens depict an English crown above the Tudor rose with the initials ER and the legend GOD SAVE THE QVENE on the obverse side and a double-headed eagle on the reverse. Because of this iconography, they are believed to be associated with Queen Elizabeth I. The double-headed eagle may be a representation of the Queen’s role as both the secular leader and the titular head of the Anglican Church. It is unclear whether Elizabeth herself commissioned the manufacturing of these tokens, or what their original use in England was. At Jamestown, it is likely that the tokens were used for trade with the Virginia Indians or within the fort as currency.

Two varieties of these tokens were manufactured. The earlier examples date to the end of Queen Elizabeth I’s reign (ca. 1590-1603). They depict a central cross flanked by fleur-de-lis and the initials ER astride the rose. The later examples date from the first few years of King James I’s reign (ca. 1603-1613). They are almost identical to the earlier ones, although the initials ER are no longer present and the crown is more of a Scottish style, representing the Stuart monarch James I with a fleur-de-lis as the central element flanked by crosses. All of the Jamestown tokens are of the earlier Elizabethan type, meaning that they predate the settlement by at least four years.