English Jettons

When were English Jettons first recognized?

The first recorded illustration of a medieval English jetton in a numismatic context appears in the catalogue of the Pembroke Collection published in 1746 where it was described as “a copper coin (as it seems) of Edw. III, probably one of those coins brought from abroad and prohibited by the name of black money etc.” [Figure 1] The earliest known illustration appears in the arms of Spence published by John Guillim in his 1660 Display of Heraldry (see below).

The second numismatic illustration [Figure 2] appears in 1751 in a paper, by Charles Clarke, titled Some Conjectures Relative to a Very Ancient Piece of Money lately found at Eltham Kent, Endeavouring to Restore it to the Place it merits in the Cimeliarch of English Coins and to prove it a Coin of Richard the First King of England of that Name.

This provoked a dismissive reply (1752) by George North titled REMARKS ON Some Conjectures, relative to an ancient Piece of Money endeavouring to prove it a Coin of RICHARD, the First King of England of that Name. SHEWING The IMPROBABILITY of the Notion therein advanced; that the Arguments produced in Support of it are inconclusive, or irrelative to the Point in Question. North described the object as an example of Penyyard Pence, a supposed base metal coinage struck in iron foundries at Penyyard near Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire. North described another example in his own possession that had a cross Moline on both sides. An earlier reference to Pennyard pence occurs in the previously mentioned Display of Heraldry by John Guillim, 1660 ”He beareth, Azure, three Peny-yard pence, Proper, by the name of Spence”. [Figure 3]

In 1756 Withy & Ryal’s Twelve Plates of English Silver Coins included two full plates of “Ancient Copper and Brass Coins usually called black money”, with 24 well drawn illustrations of medieval jettons, 22 being English and 2 German. [Figure 4],[Figure 4a]. It is interesting to note that these were then in the possession of John White, who is nowadays better known for his activities as a forger.

Andrew Colteé Ducarel’s 1757 Anglo-Gallic Coins included two medieval English jettons described as “Black Money” [Figure 5] but in 1769 Thomas Snelling published his monograph Gold, Silver, Etc. Coins struck in France by English Princes - - - and illustrates on page 5 what he describes as “probably the oldest jetton extant” depicting on the obverse Edward III seated with legend reading “Edwardus Rex Regnat” and an elaborate reverse with legend reading “GARDE ROBE REGIS”. This, I believe, is the earliest correctly described illustration of a medieval English jetton. [Figure 6]

In the same year Snelling published A View of the Origin Nature and Use of Jettons or Counters. This 16 page work illustrated 191 jettons, 27 of which are English, although he did not identify them as such [Figure 7]. Almost 150 years passed before another major listing of medieval English jettons occurred in Francis Pierpoint Barnard’s seminal 1916 publication “The Casting Counter & The Reckoning Board”. It is curious that Barnard insisted in calling them “Anglo-Gallic” although Jules Rouyer & Eugene Houchet’s 1858 publication Histoire du Jeton au Moyen Age had correctly described items on plate 16 [Figure 8] as being “Anglais” and recognised, probably for the first time, their central punch mark as being unique to English jettons.

It was only as recently as 1938 that L.A. Lawrence in his Numismatic Chronicle paper On Some Early English Reckoning Counters confirmed their identity as English rather than Anglo-Gallic by showing that punches used to create coin dies for the English coinage of Edward I and II were also used for the manufacture of jetton dies.