Every item has a story attached to it. Some are boring, mundane; recycled rubbish. Others are extraordinary, but all have stories framed by their interactions with and interpretations by us humans. Some of these stories span decades or even centuries, and if we look beyond the first few pages and deep into the dusty tome of its existence, we arrive, perhaps, as close as we can get to the people who wrote the opening lines of the objects story.
I have a jetton coin. It’s a counter that used to be used for chequer-board accounting, such as the Royal Exchequer in England. They were popular throughout the middle ages and early modern period, until Arabic numerals, and their much less complicated 1’s and 0’s, replaced the cumbersome Roman numerals. My jetton is in poor, green-and-rust condition you sometimes see in pennies that have been drowning at the bottom of a well for too long. It’s made from an incredibly thin piece of brass, but despite its age it’s still possible to read on the obverse side GLVCK KVMBT VON (good fortune comes from God), and on the reverse; HANS SCVLTES NOR (that’s the makers name, Hans Schultes, and Nor is short for Nuremberg, which was a centre of Jetton production). There were a few Hans Schultes, so it can’t be dated for certain, but it was produced sometime between 1586 and 1612.
Despite the age, it’s not valuable in monetary terms. As well as the poor condition, some previous recipient decided to poke a hole through the middle, and at some point in time it was folded across the centre. More chapters added to the jetton’s story.
Folded coins are often signs of pilgrimage, particularly in England. People would pray to a saint for good health of better fortune, and bend a coin as a sort of token that would then be offered at a saint’s particular shrine should they fulfil their part of the bargain. Was this the case with the jetton? It’s impossible to tell for certain. Like a story, there is often subtext and allegory. To say that someone almost 400 years ago was going through such difficulty that they made a pact with a saint is to scrawl our own notes over their manuscript.
Of course, the jetton also a hole punctured through the centre. To be worn as a pendant in memory of the saint’s intercession, perhaps, if our own notes are highlighted in bold. This reading offers its own plot twists and conundrums; when did the jetton arrive in England, and who in such a strict protestant country would openly practice such a Catholic tradition as veneration of Saints?
Perhaps our notes need to be rubbed out so we can better read what they wrote. The puncture may simply have been a merchant’s mark so that the jetton wasn’t passed off as a coin to be traded. Did this happen in Nuremberg? Elsewhere in continental Europe? Is there any significance in it being pierced through the obverse? Was it folded deliberately at all, or rather trodden on?
History isn’t a short-story; it’s a saga of epic proportion. To look into the past is to try to understand which chapter goes where in order to produce a coherent narrative. And the story of history will never reach its conclusion. Grab your pens and start scribbling.