In early modern Europe, when a coin’s value was based directly on its precious metal content, creating small change was no easy feat. Under Elizabeth I a penny was the smallest coin that could be issued, but everyday commercial goods often cost less than a penny. Local merchants therefore created their own “change” in the form of lead, tin, copper, and even leather tokens. The value of these tokens was not based on their inherent composition, but rather on the public’s faith that local merchants would accept them for payment. Use of trade tokens was prohibited by King James in 1613 but reintroduced at the start of the Cromwellian era around 1648. Finally, in 1672 King Charles demonetized trade tokens and issued the first royal copper halfpenny and farthing.
This particular token was issued by The Globe Tavern in London in 1667 under vintner John Langston. On one side it reads “JOHN LANGSTON AT THE” and features an image of a globe on a stand. The other side reads “HIS HALFE PENY/TAV IN [Tavern] CHANCERY LANE – 67.” The Globe Tavern was located at the corner of Chancery Lane and Fleet Street in London, near Globe Court and across the Thames from the former site of Shakespeare’s Globe Theater (which was closed by the Puritans in 1642).
This token was found near the site of Jamestown’s last statehouse, which stood on the western tip of Jamestown Island in the late 17th century. Three other trade tokens have been uncovered at Historic Jamestowne, all from un-dateable plowzone contexts. The Globe Token is dated 1667, but its date of deposition as well as its connection to the statehouse remain unclear. After being demonetized this token may have been brought to Virginia, where coins remained in short supply. However the lack of similar tokens at Jamestown could suggest it was brought here for another reason, perhaps by someone who wanted a souvenir of The Globe Tavern.