These jettons include imagery showing how a jetton was used. Jettons, also called rechenpfennige or “reckoning-pennies” were used on a checkered table or cloth like an abacus to complete mathematical computations involved with business transactions, such as reckoning accounts or sums of money.
On one side of this jetton, a Rechenmeister (literally “reckoning master”, or accountant) is using the counting pieces in a checkered cloth or table. On the opposite side, the alphabet is written in a 5 letter across by 5 letter down grid. The letters are A, B, C, a backwards D, E, F, G, H, I, (J is skipped), K, L, M, N, O, P, Q, R, S, T, (U is skipped), V, W is represented by two parallel dots, X, Y, ZZ.
The checkered table or cloth that was used with jettons is the origin of the UK government minister’s title “Chancellor of the Exchequer.” The Chancellor is a high ranking member of the British Cabinet, responsible for the work of the Treasury. In 1607 when Jamestown was established, the Chancellor of the Exchequer was Sir Julius Caesar.
Through his first marriage, Caesar became the son-in-law to Richard Martin, the master of the royal mint. In later years these two men’s positions were combined under the chancellor’s role, and today the Chancellor of the Exchequer retains the responsibility of minting new coinage. Richard Martin’s third son (and Caesar’s brother-in-law), John Martin was one of the first arrivals at Jamestown in 1607. John Martin survived the Starving Time of 1609-1610 and was involved in local searches for gold and other precious metals, assaying, and other metallurgical efforts. John Martin may have also carried coinage, potentially including tokens and jettons, or scrap copper, like the Trial Plate to Virginia to initiate a commercial system. John Martin himself was married to the daughter of a well-known goldsmith based in London, so precious metals and financial dealings ran in the extended family.
There are only 10 Rechenmeister jettons in the Jamestown collections, making it one of the more rare types out of a total of a little over 500 jettons. If jettons were used as part of a monetary system at James Fort, this style may have been for a high denomination.