James E. McClellan III is professor emeritus of the history of science at Stevens Institute of Technology. He has published widely on eighteenth-century French science, scientific institutions, scientific publications, and science and colonial expansion. Decades ago, from his work on French academies, Jim learned of jetons de présence—little silver tokens handed out for attendance at academy meetings—and he began collecting jetons. Along the way he encountered an unexpected divide separating communities of historians and numismatists specializing in early modern and Old Regime France, and he decided to investigate. He came to see that through the lens of these tiny, almost trivial artifacts from the past, a vast panorama opens up on the whole of society and culture of France through to the French Revolution. This book is the result of that inquiry, proving once again just how contingent the course of historical research actually is.
Non-monetary tokens known as jetons originated as counters used on medieval counting tables. In certain parts of France, the Low Countries, and German lands, they continued as such into the nineteenth century. The historical and numismatic interest in jetons stems more from what else they became, particularly though the end of the eighteenth century under the Bourbon monarchs, as perks of office for office holders in the burgeoning nation state of France, New Year’s Day presents exchanged among certain segments of society, and lagniappe handed out for attendance at meetings in town halls, regional estates, and learned societies. Jetons figured in the rites and rituals of the guilds and faculties; they were swag for general meetings of the clergy, and they served as calling cards for noble families. Decoding hidden messages became a parlor game for cognoscenti, and as “petit monuments” some jetons are miniature works of high art produced by the world’s most talented artists/engravers at the world’s preeminent mint. In this book jetons serve as microdots in a pointillist, longue durée account that paints a grand portrait of early modern and Old Regime France leading up to the French Revolution.
Winner of the 2021 Numismatic Literary Guild Award for the best book on medals and tokens
INTRODUCTION: HISTORIANS AND NUMISMATISTS
1. AN HISTORICAL OVERVIEW OF EARLY JETONS
2. OLD AND NEW IN THE OLD REGIME
3. GOVERNING BODIES
4. ASSIDUITY AND THE ACADEMIES
5. GUILDS AND YET OTHERS
6. AESTHETICS AND THE SPECIAL ROLE OF THE ACAD.MIE ROYALE DES INSCRIPTIONS ET BELLES-LETTRES
7. THE MONNAIE DES MEDAILLES
List of Figures and Tables