Jettons

Project details

  • Date

     February 5, 2015

  • Task

     Study Collection

  • Category

     Exchange

  • Object number – 3877-JR
  • Material – Brass
  • Place of Origin – Nuremberg, Germany
  • Date – c. 1586-1635
  • Context –
  • Location – Study Collection
  • Category – Exchange

More than 500 of these coin-like objects made in Nuremberg, Germany, have been found in the features of James Fort. This is the largest number of jettons recovered from a single site in all of North America. Jettons (or casting counters) were used with a gridded table or cloth to aid in accounting because of the scarcity of pencil lead and paper. Similar to an abacus, the jettons were moved over the lines and spaces representing decimal units. This visual arithmetic eased the complicated maneuvers needed for multiplying and dividing Roman numerals, but it was still a tedious process. Arabic numbers simplified calculations, but they were slow to be adopted by the general public.

At Jamestown, the jettons were used to track goods moving in and out of the company warehouse. Most of these jettons are of the “rose and orb” type made by Hans Krauwinckel (1562-1586) and his nephew of the same name (1586-1635). One side records the maker (the jettons made by Hans Krauwinckel the younger had a second “n” in “Hanns”), and the other side often bears a verse from the bible, like GOTES SEGEN MACHT REICH (‘God’s blessing brings riches”), from Proverbs 10:22.