The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 22, Number 41, October 13, 2019, Article 3


Michael Shutty's new book, Bent, Holed & Folded was this year's winner of the Numismatic Literary Guild's prize for Best Specialized Book: Numismatic History or Personalities. He sent this official announcement for E-Sylum readers. Thanks! -Editor

Bent Holded Folder book cover NEW BOOK. BENT, HOLED, & FOLDED: Coin Talismans for Protection against Misfortune & Witchcraft in Colonial Jamestown, by Michael Shutty, Jr. Published by Wasteland Press. ISBN: 978-1-68111-297-8.

Like many collectors interested in the coins used in Colonial America, I was intrigued by the discoveries in Jamestown, Virginia, made by William Kelso and his team of archaeologists. I dove headlong into the field reports filled with maps, diagrams, and artifacts. I read each report in succession as if it were a Dickens serial. Here, I experienced history unfolding in real time – a delectable oxymoron that does not happen often.

All sorts of coins were found in the dirt within the bounds of the palisaded fort, many of them undisturbed since the first quarter of the seventeenth century. The mix included over seventy English silver and copper pieces, over a hundred Irish pennies, and countless jettons; also there was a potpourri of tokens and foreign coins. What I didn't realize was that some of these coins were fashioned into magical talismans for protection against misfortune and witchcraft.

I stumbled onto this subject after reading about several mutilated coins excavated at Jamestown. The coins appeared to have been damaged on purpose. I was intrigued. And so, I set out to find out how these coins – bent, holed, and folded – were used. This book recounts my quest to understand how the colonists employed these objects to stay safe and prosperous. But I give you fair warning: magic is not easy, as facts and folklore blend together like butter and margarine. You must tolerate ambiguity while embracing the incredulous.

For several years, I worked closely with Jamestown Rediscovery Curator, Merry Outlaw, to view these mutilated coins and compare them with similar coins found all across England. Together we explored magical traditions that stretched back to medieval times when English coins were routinely bent, holed, and folded and offered to the saints for protection. These traditions continued in various forms throughout the seventeenth century and were brought to Virginia by the colonists.

Along the way, I encountered battered coins that appeared no more magical than a rusty nail. But looks can be deceiving. I also learned more about divine providence, dead saints, and witches than I anticipated. But mostly, I was impressed with the ingenuity of common folks who conjured up occult forces when needed. I must confess that like many collectors and historians interested in Colonial America, I overlooked the impact of supernatural beliefs on their actions. Yet, we can all acknowledge that spiritual ideas (or lack thereof) shape what we say and do even now – so it was in colonial times.

This is fresh ground, and I think numismatists and historians interested in the American colonial period will enjoy this book and learn from it. It was not until Ralph Merrifield popularized the topic in his 1987 book, The Archaeology of Magic and Ritual, that archaeologists became attuned to relics with magical significance. Consider horseshoes for example. Before Merrifield, most of them were interpreted as barnyard litter. Now we recognize that some horseshoes protected the farm, as if to say: No witches allowed! The same can be said for some bent coins.

If you have ever wondered about bent, holed, and folded coins, this book reviews the finds at Jamestown and at other colonial sites upriver near Henrico and across the Chesapeake Bay near St. Mary's City. I also consider a few bent shillings from Massachusetts. In addition, I examine hundreds of finds described in the Portable Antiquities Scheme in England (a database of ground finds run by the British Museum). And if you ever wondered about the use of witch bottles, religious medals, horseshoes, or old shoes hidden in the attic, then this book is for you.

Suffice to say that fear is a potent call to action. As a clinical psychologist I know this well. It is an unbearable emotional state that drives folks to defend themselves any way they can. Fear underlies all of the talismans described in this book. Coin talismans represent proactive coping strategies. In each case, the way a talisman was employed was limited only by the creativity and ingenuity of the user. After all, the power of magic was available to anyone familiar with the old ways.

This soft-cover book has 150+ pages, with over 100 references, and detailed endnotes for each chapter. Collectors, numismatists, and archaeologists will not be disappointed. The book has two Forewords: one written by Jamestown Rediscovery Curator, Merry Outlaw, and one written by Numismatist, Author, and my friend, Will Nipper. There are many photographs and descriptions of coin talismans that are not on display at Jamestown and other sites in Maryland. My intent was to write a lively and entertaining book, so I encourage you to give it a read. The book is available for $19.95 from Internet booksellers or from author (signed & postage paid) at Just send me an email if interested. This book won the 2019 Best Specialized Book of Numismatic History or Personalities from the Numismatic Literary Guild.

What a great topic for a book-length treatment! There has been endless discussion and speculation over damaged coins of the U.S. colonial era, especially the so-called "Witch Pieces". I'll look forward to reading the book and learning what Shutty discovered on this subject. -Editor

To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see:

Wayne Homren, Editor

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