obverse and reverse of a lead token
Crowned phoenix token

This lead token has the letters “ER” astride a crowned Tudor rose surrounded by the legend “REGINA BEATY” (blessed queen), symbolism indicating that this token was issued during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. On the reverse is seen a crowned phoenix with a legend “SOLA PH-NIX MVNDYE” that translates to “only one phoenix in the world.”

The phoenix, a mythical bird which is said to live for hundreds of years before burning itself on a funeral pyre and then rising from the ashes with restored youth, was adopted by Elizabeth I as a personal symbol. Only one phoenix is said to live at any given time, highlighting Elizabeth I’s uniqueness and power as queen. Representing a faith in her ability to regenerate the Tudor dynasty and the chastity of the ‘virgin queen,’ the phoenix is seen in a broach worn by Elizabeth I in a c. 1575 portrait painted at the height of her reign.

Some attribute this token to fear of Elizabeth’s death from the plague. It may date to the same period as the portrait. If this is the case, the token may have already been at least 30 years old by the time it arrived in Virginia. Others say this token may commemorate Elizabeth’s death in 1603. Found in a pit at Jamestown that was in use in the earliest years of the settlement (c. 1607-1610), the token was not in use for long. In England in the late 16th to early 17th century, tokens were mostly used as receipts for goods or services. However it is also possible that when this token was brought to North America it may have been kept as someone’s good luck charm.  

This token is one of more than 20 found at Jamestown that depict a crowned rose on one side and are associated with Queen Elizabeth I’s reign. Yet this is the only Elizabethan token found at the site to date with a phoenix on the reverse.