Artifact Spotlight — Metal Toy Jack

Kristi Nichols, Director of Archaeology, Collections and Historical Research
December 19, 2019
Metal jack game piece artifact
Approx. Date of Artifact: Mid 19th-20th Century

During the 2019 excavations outside the Church, archaeologists recovered this artifact in soils that exhibited much disturbance. Although there is not good context information because of the soils, finding toys that indicate the presence of children at the site is always an interesting find.

This small artifact is made of metal and appears to be missing a cross-section of the jack. The origins of the game Jacks could be traced back to prehistoric times. It is a game that is often called “Knucklebones.” The game would consist of tossing goat or sheep ankle bones and trying to catch on the back of your hand.

Game pieces were found in prehistoric caves in the Ukraine as well as depicted on decorated jars found in Greece. The more modern version is played with a wooden or rubber ball and involved picking up pronged gaming pieces that are called “Jacks.”

It appears that the game of jacks, as represented by this artifact, could have made its way to San Antonio during the first quarter of the 1800s.

It is more likely that the game was easier to obtain after the railroad made its way to San Antonio in 1877. Grenet’s Store and the Hugo-Schmeltzer Mercantile Store would have been ideal places to purchase the game. The game persisted in popularity until the 20th Century.