James 1 silver penny

James I penny, silver, reverse, ca. 1619-1625

Crooked Sixpence

Contributed by Sara Rivers-Cofield, curator of the Federal Collections at the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory in St. Leonard, Maryland. Her article “Keeping a Crooked Sixpence: Three Hundred Years of Coin Magic and Religion in the Chesapeake” will be published in Historical Archaeology.

James I Silver Penny other image

James I penny, silver, obverse, ca. 1619-1625

I explore the probability that a silver sixpence recovered at the Naval Air Station Patuxent River in St. Inigoes, Maryland, represents an everyday item that had supernatural significance to its owner. As part of my study, I examined parallel finds around the Chesapeake, including this bent James I silver penny found at Flowerdew Hundred, near the remains of the manor house. Coin magic was practiced in the British Isles prior to English settlement of the Chesapeake. Silver sixpences, especially when folded or pierced, were believed to contain many properties that made them useful as protective amulets and good luck charms. My research indicates that coin bending occurred as much--if not more--in predominantly Anglican Virginia, than it did in Maryland, which was predominantly Catholic.