Sorry it has taken me so long to write in about die numbers. This was an interesting problem 40 years ago, and it took Jim Haxby and me some time to find the answer. The purpose for the use of die numbers was to allow bad work in the coining press room to be traced back to the responsible workmen.
This was not a guess on our part. We found an 1860's English publication that explained the use of die numbers, so really Jim Haxby and I simply summarized the juicy bits. Just a few weeks after our Numismatic News article, David Sealy wrote on the same subject, using the same key reference, in one of his marvelous columns on coin varieties in, I believe, Coins Monthly.
The use of die numbers required that registers be kept of the use of all numbered dies. Unfortunately those registers were destroyed after World War II, when the Mint allowed a busybody from the Public Records Office who knew nothing about numismatics to thin out the Mint Library by selecting for destruction Mint records he deemed not to be worth preserving. As a result of that piece of wanton destruction, little remains of the die sinking and die finishing records of the 19th century. I suppose one could take the view that making life too easy for scholars engaged in numismatic research takes away much of their fun. I do not subscribe to that view and have often wished that I had access to those missing records.
Interested readers can consult our publication on the subject which includes a reference to the contemporary source material:
Peter P. Gaspar and James A. Haxby, "The Use of Numbered Dies in the Royal Mint 1863-1880", Numismatic News, Vol. 20, No. 35, p. 11 (August, 1972).
G. F. Ansell, in his 1871 "third edition" of The Royal Mint states on p. 80: "For the past few years the reverse die has been made to carry, in addition to its recognized device, a small number, with a view to determine at which coining press, and on what particular day, that die was used, that bad work might be traced to an individual." (The italics represent my emphasis.)
We should have found the reference in Ansell years earlier, since the Ansell book was one of the few generally accessible sources of information about the detailed workings of the Royal Mint. The reference that actually triggered our little paper (and also, coincidentally, a British paper just a few weeks later) was an article entitled "Registration of Coins" in a rather obscure English publication Intellectual Observer (1866) pp. 445-8. That article states at greater length what Ansell wrote a few years later.
I have asked Numismatic News for a photocopy of our 1972 paper. When it arrives, perhaps I will be reminded how Haxby and I found the Intellectual Observer piece.
Many thanks to Peter for the follow-up! It's a shame that those records were destroyed, but we're lucky that the publication documented the process for later researchers, and doubly lucky that the publication was rediscovered and utilized. -Editor.
Wayne Homren, Editor
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