Friday, July 1, 2016

T-Totum, or teetotum
What: Is it?
A Wooden top, a T-Totum.
Why would it have been made, what use is it?
            A teetotum is a top that has been squared. They were used by children and adults for games of chance for entertainment and gambling. It has gone through other names depending on region. The Latin word totum means all and is represented on English tops with the letter T, hence the name T-Totum. Modernly written teetotum.
Why am I choosing to make it?
My Persona is an ale wife who runs a brewpub. Being the fiercely proud Welsh woman, as well a fine and good Godly woman, she felt it was blasphemous to use Latin (God’s language) on the teetotum, and so in her house the teetotum was carved with Welsh.  And as such, this is my reasoning for choosing to whittle, carve, and make a wooden top called a teetotum. I, felt this creative addition worked, for the languages of the teetotums in different countries have reflected the languages of those countries, and as such, so should a Welsh teetotum.
This also helps to round out my 50th year project, a handmade middleclass tutor gambling/gaming set, which further makes my kit more period, a 50th year goal of mine.
When: What time periods were they made and use it?
            It told that the T-Totum got its start in Rome as an emperor commanded his wisest counselors to come up with a fresh game to amuse him.  Theses tops had four sides and the letters A,D,N,T,  A take “ane” is the eyes of the emperor, D is “Donoto alium” was the disaponted remark of the day in Rome, N was a negative quantity “Nihil”, T  success could go no further “ totum” [9] Whether this is the truth is hard to say But it makes a nice story.
The Elliott Avedon Museum identifies this as a gambling game that dates back to ancient Rome. Each side is marked differently and players wager on which side will end up when the teetotum is spun.
From Pieter Brueghel's "Children's Games", painted in 1560. A child is holding a teetotum in her left hand. Brueghel would most likely have been familar with the French version of the game. Each player contributes a certain number of coins to the pot. The Oxford History of Board Games by David Parlett states the sides were marked as follows: 'P' for "pillar" or "plunder", the player wins the same number of coins he wagered; 'R' for "rein" or "nothing", the player loses his wager and his turn; 'J' for "jocque" or "game, the player loses his wager and must add the same amount of his wager to the pot again; and 'F' for "fors" or "out", the player wins the entire pot and the game ends. Players ante in again to continue playing. [2][8][13][14] The model the child holds has a long spindle requiring two hands to spin it. Modern versions have short spindles which can be spun in the fingertips.[2]
The game is described as being played by English children at Christmas time. Readers may note the game is remarkable similar to Dreidel, a game that's traditionally played by Jewish children during the Hebrew festival of Hannukah which takes place at approximately the same time of the year [10][13][14]
 “According to the David Parlett, The Oxford History of Board Games, 1999, pages 29-30, states that the Teetotum was originally a cubic die threaded on a spindle so that only one of its sides were capable of showing after it was spun” Source: Virtual Museum of Games [7][8]
How (methods) did they make it? What differences are in these two things and why?
There has been lead pewter, wood, clay, ivory, bone, & horn teetotums found. They were made many ways, but whittling a wooden one would be child’s play for a youth or their parent in medieval times. Carpenters and jewelers made and sold some toys during the times especially around the Christmas and Jewish winter holidays when these were often quite the toy of choice.
How did I make it?
I used wood, a chunk off a 2X2. I visually gauged the size I liked for the handle, took a straight edge and marked around the four sides. I then put a circle on the top end for the finished size of the handle. I sawed into the corners ½”, then chiseled along the same path, and then I alternated and did that again on the sides. I did this until I got down to about 1/16” inch of the final size of the top handle. I then smoothed the handle with carving tools. Next, I marked the bottom of the top by marking triangles on the sides towards the bottom of the block of wood. I centered the point of these triangles to the bottom center of the block. I then put the block in my vice with corner side up. I cut, using a hacksaw, at an angle along the triangle lines down to the point, taking off the corners. I did this for all four corners. I then cut on the flat sides along the lines at an angle toward the center bottom point. Next, I cleaned up the bottom with carving tools. I drew the letters on the sides of the block and carved them with carving tools. When these were made out wood in period, they would have used the same tools I did.
            Markings of teetotums though history, and my choice of markings.
The tradition in England is to use Teetotums marked on the four sides with Latin letters. The letters A (Lat. aufer, take) indicating that the player takes one from the pool, D (Lat. depone, put down) when a fine has to be paid, N (Lat. nihil, nothing), and T (Lat. totum, all), when the whole pool is to be taken.

(Roman) Latin
A - ane
D - donoto alium
N – nihil
T - totum
(English) Latin
A – aufer (take)       
D- dpone (Put down)
N- Nihol (nothing)
T- totum (all)
C- cymeyd (take)
R- rhoi (Put)
N- nim (nothing)
G- gyd  (all)

Other accounts give such letters as P, N, D (dimidium, half), and H or T or other combinations of letters. Other combinations of letters that could be found were NG, ZS, TA, TG, NH, ND, SL and M, which included the Latin terms Zona Salve ("save all"), Tibi Adfer ("take all"), Nihil Habeas("nothing left"), Solve L ("save 50") and Nihil Dabis ("nothing happens"),
The four sides of a Dreidel are marked with the Hebrew letters 'Nun' which stands for "Nes" meaning "miracle"; 'Gimmel' which stands for "Gadol" meaning "great"; 'Heh' which stands for "haya" meaning "happened"; and 'Shin' which stands for "sham" which means "there", a reference to Isreal.[10][17]  
·         If נ (nun) is facing up, the player does nothing.
·         If ג (gimel) is facing up, the player gets everything in the pot.
·         If ה (he) is facing up, the player gets half of the pieces in the pot. (If there are an odd number of pieces in the pot, the player takes the half the pot rounded up to the nearest whole number)
·         If ש (shin) or פ (pe) is facing up, the player adds a game piece to the pot (often accompanied with the chant "Shin, Shin, put one in"). In some game versions a Shin results in adding three game pieces to the pot (one for each stem of the Shin).

In Israel, the fourth side of most dreidels is inscribed with the letter פ (Pei) instead, rendering the acronym, נס גדול היה פהNes Gadol Hayah Poh—"A great miracle happened here" referring to the miracle occurring in the Land of Israel. Some stores in Haredi neighborhoods sell the ש dreidels which are imported from Israel. Dreidel has not any manifested evidence that it pre dates 18c.and that it is just a Jewish vision of the teetodum.[common Jewish knowledge]

How to play T-Totum

C- cymeyd (take)
R- rhoi (Put)
N- nim (nothing)
G- gyd  (all)
(English) Latin
A – aufer (take)       
D- dpone (Put down)
N- Nihol (nothing)
T- totum (all)

Each player who wishes to play places an ante in to the pot.
In turn each player takes a turn spinning the T-totum. The side that lands face side up determines what that player does.
If the top lands with:
C : The player take 1 coin.
R: The player put 1 coin into the pot.
             N: Nothing is done.
G: The player takes the whole pot. Then everyone antes again.
Once the top has been spun and the action taken accordingly, the top is passed to the next player for her turn.

Sources: (Bibliography)


 A fascinating little spinning top engraved with old-fashioned capital letters was identified by John Clarke at the Museum of London as made of ivory and a 17th Century 'teetotum,' a piece for playing 'put and take' games with

2. A girl holding up a four-sided teetotum on Brueghel, Pieter "Children's Games" 1560. 46-1/2 x 63-3/8" (118x161cm) Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.

3.  © Crown Copyright 2014 WG20762
4. British Museum
5. The Elliott Avedon Games Museum --

6.Sports and Pastimes of the people of England, Strutt, Joseph (1903) [1801]. Cox, J Charles, ed. The Sports and Pastimes of the People of England. London: Methuen. p. 305.
7. Games Museum, Waterloo,
8. Parlett, David The Oxford History of Board Games (Cary, N.Carolina; Oxford University Press; 1999; ISBN: 0192129988 )

9. History of Glenbervie By George Henderson Kinnear Year 1895

10. Gomme, Alice Traditional Games of England, Scotland and Ireland (London, Eng.; Thames and Hudson; 1894; 2 vol.; ISBN 0-500-27316-2; $18.95)


Date 17thC (early) Production place Made in: Germany

12. History of Glenbervie By George Henderson Kinnear, 1895 edition, p. 88
13. Portman, Paul Pieter Brueghel's Children's Games (Berne, Switz.; Hallwall Press; 1964)

14. Game of the Month: Teetotums and Dreidels, by Dagonell the Juggler (

possibly post medieval example .
Possible wood solection Juniper
Juniper (Juniperus communis) is one of only three native conifers in Britain. A member of the cypress family, it has short, spiky leaves and distinctive blue-black berries. Once a common plant, it was traditionally used in medicines and to flavour food and drink, perhaps most famously gin.
Trees considered native to Wales, include a range of broadleaved species found in woodland situations (eg oak, ash, birch, willow, alder, etc) or hedgerows (eg hawthorn, hazel, blackthorn, field maple, etc).
Master Avery Austringer
Master Guillaume dela Sudeterre

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