Book Clasps

Project details

  • Object number – 5696-JR
  • Material – Copper Alloy
  • Place of Origin – Likely England or Germany
  • Date – Mid 16th to Early 17th Century
  • Context – James Fort
  • Location – Vault
  • Category – Religion

Book clasps were attached to the covers of large books to secure them in a closed position. 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 and catch pieces would keep such a weathered book closed.

More than 100 pieces of this book hardware have been found at James Fort. One was decorated with five Tudor rose stamps. Another has a simple design of linework at the top that matches known clasps from the 16th century. The clasps would have been used not just on Bibles but also devotionals, travel guides, or medical books.

This is evidence there were individuals in the fort who could read and write. For the most part, only the gentlemen were formally educated at this time. However, historic documents also talk about the Rev. Robert Hunt, the first Anglican minister at Jamestown, who lost a portion of his library in a fire that swept through the fort in early 1608.