Jettons are metal discs which feature designs and often inscriptions, and which were intended for use as counters for most of the period in which they were produced, that is in the medieval and early post-medieval periods. Being like a coin in terms of its properties, along with tokens, medals and medallions, jettons are items of ‘paranumismatica’.
Our word ‘jetton’ (on the PAS database it is spelled with two ‘t’s) comes from ‘jeter’, meaning ‘to throw’ in French, and relates to the ‘casting’ of accounts. The German term ‘rechenpfennig’, or ‘reckoning penny’, also refers to the use of jettons for accountancy purposes. Most finds of jettons recorded by the PAS are copper alloy, although some silver examples are known, mostly produced overseas.
Jettons facilitated calculations which were otherwise difficult to perform with Roman numerals (Mernick and Algar in Saunders ed. 2001, 213). Sums were carried out using counting boards or cloths which bore a chequered pattern or lines. Jettons were set on the lines/squares, each line/square having a value in Roman numerals, and moved around the board/cloth to perform addition or subtraction: see Mernick and Algar (in Saunders ed. 2001, 214) figs 76, 77, or Philip Mernick’s website, for illustrations.
From the 1630s, the widespread use of Arabic numerals made accountancy far easier and jettons became redundant for such purposes. By the 18th century jettons were explicitly used as card counters (‘spielmarken’), although their use in gaming started far earlier.
PAS object type to be used
It is crucial to use ‘jetton’ as the object type (rather than ‘token’) so that you will be able to enter details into the ‘Jetton/Token data’ section of the database which is important for searches. Once you have saved the core data form, this section will appear as an option for completion via a separate button.
For jettons that have been converted into something else, use the Object Type term relevant to the latest use, e.g. PIN.
PAS object classification to be used
Leave this field blank, as with most other numismatic or paranumismatic records: relevant data can be entered in the ‘Jetton/Token data’ form.
Terms to use in the description
When recording jettons, the usual numismatic conventions and terms apply, such as writing terms out in full rather than abbreviating. On the ‘jetton/token’ data form Obverse and Reverse Descriptions can be taken from the reference works, but do check every aspect to make sure that it applies to the jetton that you are recording. If you can, add reference numbers from Mitchiner (1988). On the artefact form, the opening sentence can be written in the following format:
A status/completeness/treatment (as applicable) period(s) material class jetton of issuer + dates (if applicable). Type and legend + translation (if applicable) (reference number) dating to date range. Mint. Reference – author, year and page(s).
Some examples of opening sentences –
An incomplete medieval copper-alloy French jetton. Crown type with AVE MARIA GRACIA legend (Mitchiner 532) dating to c. 1385-1461. Mint uncertain. Ref.: Mitchiner (1988, 236)
A post-medieval copper-alloy Nuremberg jetton of Hans Krauwinckel II (active 1586-1635) produced at Nuremberg (Germany). Rose/orb type with HEIT RODT MORGEN TODTT legend (Today red, tomorrow dead) (see Mitchiner 1575) dating to 1586-1635. Ref.: Mitchiner (1988, 345)
To be followed by: details of any piercings including location of etc, dimensions, any other details including condition and wear.
As noted, jettons began in the medieval period and continued to be made in the post-medieval period; depending on local recording capacity, some later jettons might not be recorded. It is thought that ‘exchequer reckoning’, that is using a cloth to maintain the accounts of the royal household, was devised in the early 12th century (Mernick and Algar in Saunders ed. 2001, 214). However, dedicated counters (i.e. jettons) were not employed until the mid to late 13th century in France and England, with coins used to perform the calculations previously.
In England the earliest jettons are either foreign (French or Italian) or were struck using dies which shared punches with contemporary coins. Jettons of this ‘sterling series’ can be dated in parallel with the coins with which they share busts.
The majority of jettons recorded are those issued at Nuremberg in the post-medieval period, many of these being the ‘rose/orb’ type as issued by Hans Krauwinckel II; you may wish to go straight to the relevant sub-section.
Rather conveniently, most jettons in use in England at a given time came from a particular source. In the late 13th and early to mid-14th century English jettons predominated. From around the mid-14th century most jettons used came from France. In the 15th century, one of the French mints, now located in modern-day Belgium, came to dominate: Tournai.
Finally, we do see a few medieval jettons from Nuremberg (in modern-day Germany), but it was not until the early part of the 16th century that it took over as the major supplier of jettons to England, after which it remained predominant. These major sources will be discussed in turn, with other sources mentioned at the end of the section.
Jettons made in England always have a central punch mark on one face, which is thought to relate to centring the disc during flan production (Mernick and Algar in Saunders ed. 2001, 218); sometimes this has developed into a central piercing. Most, though not all, English jettons are anepigraphic, that is, they lack a legend; sometimes examples that carry legends are nonsensical.
The major works on English jettons are Berry (1974) and by Mernick and Algar (in Saunders ed. 2001); between them they divide the English series into five main groups based on the module, and a further number of types based on design. An online resource which includes an up-to-date catalogue is curated by Philip Mernick.
In the past many English jettons were termed ‘Anglo-Gallic’ (e.g. by Barnard 1916), but this was before their relationship to coins struck at the Tower mint was established; only a few jettons can now legitimately be called Anglo-Gallic.
The first group, consisting of the so-called ‘sterling’ and allied issues, represents by far the most common type of English jetton. As noted, these are of similar size to contemporary pennies, but in copper alloy rather than silver, and bear either the same busts (Berry Type 1), or a multitude of other designs (Berry Types 2-20).
A second group of English jettons are thought to be contemporary with the earliest of the sterling series, but are larger, at c. 25-27mm in diameter. Their size might relate to the short-lived groat of Edward I (issued 1279-1281). They might have been used as ‘wardrobe counters’ relating to the king’s personal expenditure (Mernick and Algar in Saunders ed. 2001, 222). Examples often feature a long cross on the reverse with stars and crescents in alternating quarters. As with groats of Edward I, these large early English jettons were often converted into jewellery items, by the addition of a riveted clip (Bliss 2017; these needs to be recorded under the appropriate Object Type term); it was normally the cross on the reverse which was displayed.
A third group of English jettons are of a later date. Their size, bigger than the broadly penny-sized sterling and allied issues, can be related to the coin denominations issued for Edward III in the 1340s, specifically his halfgroat. The most common reverses in this group are the Standing King and Seated King. Another fourth group are generally even larger and are thought to be wardrobe counters of the second half of the 14th century. A final group consists of contemporary copies of jettons (Mernick and Algar in Saunders ed. 2001, 224).
Certain jettons made in France are contemporary with those made in England in the second half of the 14th century, and only a very few date earlier. It is important to note that certain designs – such as the Standing King and Seated King – are seen on both French and English issues as they share the same coin designs as prototypes. The French jettons can be distinguished from English ones in two ways: the flan will not have a central punch and many feature a legend.
A main feature to look for on French jettons is an elaborate, but generally neat, reverse cross. These crosses are generally have multiple strands and their arms terminate in lis. The most common is a triple-stranded straight cross within a double quadrilobe border; less common is a double-stranded arcuate cross (i.e. with incurved sides), with other minor varieties also encountered.
Note that many of the earlier types within the French series are of smaller size and bear an arcuate cross on their reverse. The classification of French jettons is based on their obverse designs; designs from this early period include the ‘Moor’s head’ type, and small module examples of the ‘Crown’ and ‘Chatel Tournois’ types. The main series is dominated by obverse designs such as a larger module ‘Crown’ type and the ‘France Modern’ type, depicting a shield with three lis; the ‘France Ancient’ type has more than three lis. The predominant legend is the Hail Mary, ‘AVE MARIA GRACIA PLENA’, often with the final word abbreviated.
Within the French series a number of different mints are represented and it is generally not possible, nor is it required, to identify where a French jetton was struck, be it Paris, Tournai (except later types, described below), Bourges, or elsewhere. Certain jettons, however, make allusion to the French provinces and might have been struck there. Examples include the ‘Dolphin’ type (alluding to Dauphiné), the ‘Lamb of God/Berry’ type (alluding to Berry), and the ‘Beast/bear’ type (which may allude to Languedoc). Overall, French jettons are well documented by both Mitchiner (1988) and Mernick and Algar (in Saunders ed. 2001).
Late Tournai jettons
As noted in the previous section, Tournai (in modern-day Belgium) was an official French mint. It came to dominate production from the 15th century until the very early 16th century, especially from after c. 1450, and so it is useful to isolate as a separate category following on from the more general French production in this period.
The obverse types ascribable to Tournai in this period fall into two main groups. The first is a group of derivative French designs. They are struck more crudely than earlier jettons, and on larger, thicker flans. In particular, look for Crown types and shields of France Modern, the latter with slightly bulging sides to the shields at their tops (Mernick and Algar in Saunders ed. 2001). Other characteristic traits of this group include saltire cross initial marks and the presence of letters on the reverse cusps, rather than florets.
The second group consists of relatively neat jettons with a reverse design of a cross potent with flowers in each angle. They often have a legend based on ‘SIT NOMEN DOMINI’ (from ‘Sit nomen Domini benedictum’ – ‘Blessed be the name of the Lord’), with the Ns often unbarred. Obverse types include angular shields, three circles (of Tournai) and monograms (Mernick and Algar in Saunders ed. 2001, 257; fig. 85). This group tends to be dated c. 1475-1525.
Nuremberg jettons (medieval)
Although Nuremberg dominated later jetton production, its rapid rise came only in the last few decades of the 15th century, at the very end of the medieval period. The earliest jettons attributable to Nuremberg fall into two groups. The first are broadly 15th century in date. They measure c. 19-20 mm in diameter (Mernick and Algar in Saunders ed. 2001, 240) and depict local (German) devices such as shields of arms and iconographic motifs (see Mitchiner 1988, 331-344). The second group are far larger and imitate devices from other locations, such as Burgundy and France (see Mitchiner 1988, 345-351). The latter continued into the post-medieval period where they were joined by designs which would become far more common , not least the rose/orb jettons.
Jettons from other sources
Medieval jettons are occasionally encountered from sources other than England, France and Tournai (late). Chief among these rarer examples are pieces from the Low Countries. Medieval jettons of the County of Flanders have reverses similar to French types, but feature a rampant lion for the Count on their obverse (see Mitchiner 1988, 250-251). Most Burgundian jettons somewhere feature a firesteel. A very few examples are truly Anglo-Gallic (see Mitchiner 1988, 132-133).
The majority of jettons encountered (c. 70%) are of post-medieval date, and almost all of these will come from Nuremberg. Exceptions are jettons whose production continued from the medieval period into the early part of the post-medieval period. These include those noted above from France, Burgundy and Tournai (late). Jettons continued to be struck in France and the Low Countries for use in governmental institutions (Mernick and Algar in Saunders ed. 2001, 216), and for many of these, such as those relating to the French ‘Chambre des Comptes’, Mitchiner (1991) can be consulted.
Nuremberg jettons (post-medieval)
Post-medieval jettons from Nuremberg can be broadly divided by their obverse design, the most common one being crowns and lis alternating around a central rose. These designs, which also include the Lion of St Mark and the ‘ship-penny’, tend to be paired with an orb within an elaborate trilobe on the reverse.
The issues of Nuremberg can also be divided between early examples which feature fictitious legends, dating to the first three quarters of the 16th century, and examples from c. 1550 onwards which are signed by their manufacturers, the most prolific of which being the Krauwinckels, the Schultes family and the Lauffers. These are looked at separately and in detail below.
After the middle of the 17th century copper-alloy jettons ceased to have an accountancy function, and tended to be used in gaming and gambling instead (Read 1995, 106). They, and 18th-century examples, can still be interesting to record.
Early to mid 16th-century Nuremberg jettons
Early examples of the main series of Nuremberg jettons have various features by which they can be distinguished from later examples. They are anonymous, with fictitious legends, rather than signed by their manufacturer. The script used is primarily Lombardic (Egan 2005, 174). On the reverse, the orb can be notably large or crudely rendered; there can be items around the orb’s border. Note that for rose/orb types, early examples can have annulets on the tips of the crowns, and five petals to the rose on the obverse.
Mid 16th-century to 18th-century Nuremberg jettons
From the 1550s onwards jettons started to be signed by their issuers (these people are generally referred to as ‘masters’); from the 1580s jettons became far neater, following minting reforms (Mitchiner 1988, 377). The post-reform jettons have neat designs, literate inscriptions formed of Roman lettering and regular die axis measurements; roses tend to be formed of either eight petals or six bilobed petals. The rose/orb type is very commonly encountered, and those issued by Hans Krauwinckel II some of the most frequently found (see below).
From the mid-16th century jettons were increasingly used for gaming; all the more so as they began to lose their accountancy function from the second quarter of the 17th century. Nuremberg jettons of the 17th and 18th centuries have a variety of designs, some allegorical, others in imitation of presentation pieces or ‘show’ jettons relating to countries such as England and France.
Nuremberg jettons of Hans Krauwinckel II
Hans Krauwinckel II (active 1586-1635) is one of the most commonly found issuers in England and his rose/orb jettons can be further divided by inscription, the most common of which are listed below:
GLVCK BESCHERT IST VNGEWERT – Fortune given is not guaranteed (Mitchiner nos 1508-1511)
VERBVM DOMINI MANET IN ETERNVM – The word of God remains eternal (Latin) (Mitchiner nos 1512-1517)
GOTT ALLEIN DIE EERE SEI – To God alone be the glory (Mitchiner nos 1518-1533)
DAS WORT GOTES BLEIBT EWICK – The word of God endures forever (Mitchiner nos 1540-1552)
GOTES GABEN SOL MAN LOB – One should praise God’s gifts (Mitchiner nos 1534-1539)
GOTES REICH BLEIBT EWICK – God’s Kingdom endures forever (Mitchiner nos 1540-1552)
GOTES SEGEN MACHT REICH – God’s blessing maketh rich (from Proverbs 10, 22) (Mitchiner nos 1553-1573)
HEIT RODT MORGEN TODTT – Today red, tomorrow dead (Mitchiner nos 1574-1589)
Please see the period-specific sub-sections (above) for sample images