Brass reckoning counter, Rechenmeister type
Nuremberg, Germany, mid-16th century AD
The pre-modern pocket calculator
Reckoning counters, jettons or Rechenpfennige ('reckoning-pennies'), were intended to be used in computation, in the European equivalent of the abacus. They were laid out in rows on a checker-board, cloth, or table on which lines or boxes could be drawn. They were used in almost all arithmetic in the later Middle Ages and Early Modern Period, well into the seventeenth century. For most of this time Roman numerals were still in regular use, and these were difficult to deal with in written calculations. In daily business counters were most commonly used for reckoning accounts or sums of money. At first, actual coins seem to have been used, until the idea occurred of producing cheaper counters in base metal. In the late middle ages some cities came to specialise in jetton production, and monopolized much of the European market for common, everyday pieces.
In the sixteenth century and later, Nuremberg was responsible for vast quantities of such counters. They are found today in large numbers. In fact, they are more common than the coins of their time. This particular counter has a design of counters actually being used on a board or table.
M. Mitchiner, Jetons, medalets and tokens, v (London, Seaby, 1988)
F.P. Barnard, 'The types of certain early Nuremberg reckoning-pennies used in England', Numismatic Chronicle-1, series 5 (1924), pp. 261-309
Weight: 4.240 g
Gift of C.B. Sherbon