Fur Trade Items in the Museum’s Collection

Article by Jamie Hunter.

From the Huronia Museum Fall 2008 Newsletter

Jamie Hunter presented a half -hour presentation to the Huronia Chapter of the Ontario Archaeological Society on Wednesday, November 12 entitled, “One Should Praise God’s Gifts”, which was an update on the research pertaining to three Rechenpfennigs or Jetons that we have recorded so far to date from Huron Village sites in Tay and Medonte Townships.

Using Jetons to "reckon" accounts

Using Jetons to "reckon" accounts

What is a Jeton you might ask?  They are casting counters used for arithmetical calculations before the so-called Arabic numerals were in popular use throughout Europe.  The earliest Jetons were struck during the reign of Louis VIII in approximately 1200 but they reached their widest circulation between 1250 and 1750.  These little brass or copper discs were used for reckoning- similar to the present day use of the abacus.  These small discs were not coins, as they had no numismatic value.  Rather they were used by the populace to redeem bread from Churches or for their real purpose of “reckoning”.

Jetons were manufactured in specialized locales, but the German City of Nuremberg predominated the industry in the period between 1550 and 1700.  The Schultes family was the first to sign the casting counters with their names and their tradition lasted throughout the next 150 years.  Nuremberg was the prime source of the Jetons used in France, Britain and America.

To date three have been found in Huronia with the following text on them:

  • “Hans Laufer in Nuremberg” on the obverse side of the coin and “God’s word remains eternal” on the reverse.
  • “Hans Krauwinkel in Nuremberg” on the obverse side of the coin and “One should praise God’s Gifts” on the reverse.
  • “Hans Lauger in Nuremberg” on the obverse side of the coin and “All that we have is God’s Gifts” on the reverse.

Both Hans Laufer (1584-1652) and Hans Krauwinkel (1586-1635) were token-coiners from Nuremberg.

Nuremberg JetonsEach of these examples are perforated with a small hole suggesting that these may have been used by the Hurons as a orm of apparel.  This is confirmed to save degree by Fr. Francois DeCreux, SJ, who in 1653 noted “these hung around his neck three fine porcupine round discs like the copper counters that we use in Europe for reckoning” DeCreux, Francois 1951:651

So it seams that the counters were traded extensively to the Hurons but were made popular by the symbols of European power such as the cross, fleur-de-lis and European writing.  it may be that these Jetons from the first popular “power symbols” for protection such as was the case with coinage, religious medallions and eventually medals issued by the King to reward Natives for military service, religious conversion and homage to Governors, Cardinals and Kings.

Research continues on these most remarkable objects that have survived the archaeological record since the 1620s and 1630s.

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