The Gloucester Courthouse Tokens of 1714-1715: Introduction

Very little is known about the Gloucester Courthouse tokens beyond the information found on the tokens themselves. For over a hundred years it was thought only two examples survived, with both examples so well worn so that the full legend could not be determined. In 1875 Crosby mentioned one example owned by George Cram which was later sold to L. G. Parmelee and in recent times has been in the Garrett collection, then in the Roper collection and is now owned by Donald Groves of Long Island. Crosby also mentioned a specimen owned by Parmelee that can be traced back to the collection of Dr. Charles Clay. This piece was in the William Sumner Appleton collection which was donated to the Massachusetts Historical Society and then appeared in the 1976 ANA Convention sale held by Stacks Coin Company of New York City. It was purchased by Roper who discovered it to be a cast copy of the other surviving example. According to Hodder, Stacks refunded the purchase price and donated to copy to a public institution.

A second genuine example was discovered in 1981 in a collection of coins that had been accumulated over several decades by a resident of Gloucester, Virginia. It was subsequently sold in the Bowers and Ruddy sale of the Gerry Nelson collection of April 29-May 2, 1982 as lot one. Between the two original examples a description of the token can be constructed. On what is commonly called the obverse is a long building with a central door flanked by two tall windows on either side and a chimney at each end of the roof. Below the building is XII, leading one to suspect the coin was denominated as a shilling. Around the edge is the legend: "GLOVCESTER . COURTHOUSE . VIRGINIA ." with an outer border of round beads. On the reverse is a five pointed star with the legend: "RIGHAVLT . DAWSON . ANNO . DOM . 1714 ." and an outer border of round beads.

It is known that a Christopher Righault purchased land at Craney Creek near the Gloucester Courthouse in 1654 and obtained additional lands in 1668. It is suspected the Righault in the token legend is his relative, possibly a son. It is also known a Samuel Dawson was a landowner in the Abingdon Church section of Gloucester County, presumably this person or a relative is the Dawson mentioned in the legend.

In his description of the Garrett Collection David Bowers suggested the token may have been a tobacco warehouse receipt rather than a pattern for a shilling token. Hodder has suggested this is possible but if it were the case one might suspect more examples would have survived. Both examples are made of brass with a high copper content and measure 24 mm. in diameter but their weights greatly differ, with the Garrett-Roper-Groves example weighing 61.1 grains while the more worn, newly discovered example weighs only 43.44 grains.

Also, a third related token has been uncovered. A local Gloucester resident named Anthony German came upon this unique piece while searching for indian relics with a metal detector in the vicinity of the old courthouse. This latest find is smaller than the other examples at 18.2 mm. and is only 25.3 grains, leading some to call it a sixpence. It is extremely worn. On the obverse the central image (if there was one) is completely worn off but a few letters in the legend are legible; at about 7:00 o'clock are the letters "VLT ." (from Righault) and part of a beaded outer border, the remainder is worn smooth until about 3:00 to 4:00 o'clock where the letters "N . DO" (from anno domini, AN. DOM.) are visible. On the reverse at about 2:00 o'clock is a single point of the star and, from the legend, "715" The remainder of the reverse is worn smooth, except for what might be the tip of a point on the star at about 8:00 o'clock. Thus, this smaller size token shows a new date, 1715, and displays a reworking of the legend as the name Righault along with the AN. DOM. are on the obverse while the legend continued with the date on the reverse. Because of the large blank space it is not known if the location, Gloucester Courthouse Virginia, was mentioned. If it was on the obverse then the word Dawson would not fit and, if his name was included, would need to have been placed on the reverse. If the location was not on the obverse then Dawson could have easily fit in the available space and the location, if added, could have been on the reverse.

It now appears there are different size tokens from two different years associated with Righault. The legend "Gloucester Courthouse Virginia" may not refer specifically to the courthouse but to the location, as many southern rural areas were named by the closest landmark including courthouses (as the village of Appomattox Courthouse). Thus, the building on the obverse may be a courthouse or possibly some other structure as a business (possibly in a home) or less likely a warehouse (a warehouse would not usually have large windows and a small front door). It does appear Righault and Dawson formed a partnership of some kind that produced these private tokens.

That few examples remain (and those in poor condition) dramatically limit speculation on the nature of these pieces. Their small number and diverse weight are characteristic of patterns (i.e. prototypes). However, as privately made local products presumably produced by local artisans without the aid of advanced minting equipment, one might expect a certain uniformity in the planchet size but certainly there would be less standardization in planchet thickness, resulting in weight variations. Also, one would not expect experimentation with patterns by local artisans. Rather, once a die was prepared it would be put into use until it was not longer serviceable. Possibly these pieces were produced in fairly limited numbers for local use as coinage. There are still many unanswered questions about what appears to be the earliest datable private token produced in the colonies.


Michael Hodder, "The Gloucester County, Virginia Courthouse Tokens," The Colonial Newsletter  vol. 37, no. 1 (April 1997) serial no. 104, sequential pp. 1679-1682 with illustrations of the better 1714 and the 1715 tokens; Breen, p. 39 and Crosby, p. 323. Also see, See also Russell Rulau, Early American Tokens, 3rd ed. (Iola, WI: Krause, 1991), (Rulau-E Va 1 and Va 3) on p. 68 and his Standard Catalog of United States Tokens: 1700-1900   second edition, Iola, WI: Krause, 1997, p. 55 (both Rulau sources have the wrong measurement for the 1715 token).

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