The E-Sylum:  Volume 10, Number 32, August 12, 2007, Article 19


Earlier in my visit Jim Spilman wrote: "While you are there in London
with the Bloody British be certain to stop by the Arms Museum within
the Tower of London.  It is just 'around the corner' in one of the
buildings adjacent to the Crown Jewels exhibit.   Last time I was
there they had on display the ORIGINAL Steam Gun invented by Jacob
Perkins (ca. 1820).  It could penetrate a 19" brick brick wall with
iron slugs. "Reference:  Jacob Perkins, His Inventions,  His Times,
& His Contemporaries.  Page 111ff.  Greville & Dorothy Bathe.  The
Historical Society of PA. 1943 (200 copies)"

Not having yet been inside the Tower of London, I made this my goal
for Sunday.  I had some salad and an apple for lunch at my hotel and
headed again for the tube.  This time I walked up to the Notting Hill
Gate station and took the Circle Line, which stops directly at the
Tower station.  Wearing shorts and a T-shirt in giddy anticipation
of a repeat of Saturday's weather, I was sadly encountered with cool
and cloudy weather.   Too lazy or stubborn to go back and change, I
pressed on.  The sun shone thru enough times that I made do, but
warmer clothes would have been welcome.

I passed through the main tower gate about 1pm, just in time to
catch up with a tour group led by a member of the Yeoman Warders,
the famous "Beefeaters".  He seemed to really enjoy his work, teasing
the crowd, yet doling out very interesting bits of history and lore
about the Tower.  At the center of the complex is The White Tower.
Built by William the Conqueror along the banks of the Thames in 1078,
the structure which served as the royal palace for over 500 years.
In the 12th century, King Richard the Lionheart enclosed the White
Tower with a curtain wall and had a moat dug around it.  Various
other building and towers were built within the walls.  "The Tower
of London" is a term referring to the entire complex.

After our tour most of the hundreds of tourists got in line to view
the Crown Jewels.  As one who hates lines, I decided to go look for
the coin exhibits.  "No one will be there". I thought.   It turned
out to be a good decision.  I waited until about 4 pm and by then there
was no line at all to see the Jewels.  I skipped in giddily like a kid
on a private visit to Disneyland.

Disneyland is an apt analogy - prepared for huge crowds, the exhibit
walks visitors through multiple waiting galleries before delivering
the crowd to the main event.  Projection screens show films of the
coronation of Elizabeth II, and discuss some of the more famous
diamonds and gems that adorn the crowns.

In the final exhibit room visitors are herded into two lines, one in
front of a line of exhibit cases, and one behind.  The floors are
moving walkways like those seen in airports.  What better way to move
the cattle along and prevent lingering?

No such precautions were needed at the numismatic exhibit, which turned
out to be pitifully small.  There was no signage anywhere, and two of
the guards I spoke to had no idea it was there.  A third guard directed
me to the top floor of the White Tower.   I entered the Tower in awe of
its thousand-year history.  The White Tower is today basically a museum
of armaments, filled with suits of armor, muskets, cannons and other
weapons.  It was an interesting exhibit, but I have to say I enjoyed
the armaments at the Fitzwilliam Museum more.  At the Fitzwilliam the
armor is right out in the open, close enough to touch.  The Tower
museum lacks that wow factor - there are far more items on display,
but they are farther back from visitors or behind glass.

Once inside I also had to ask for assistance finding the Jacob Perkins
gun.  Because of the steam power mechanism, I was expecting something
very large, but as it turns out the gun itself is fairly small, as it
is meant to be attached to steam source by a tube.

Within a case displaying a number of experimental weapons was the
Perkins steam gun, circa 1840.  It is not the original Jacob Perkins
gun as Jim remembered (unless that was also there and I missed it).
This one was an improved version built by Jacob's son Angier.

The final room at the top of the White Tower held the new "Hands on
History" exhibit, where visitors heft axes and feel the tension of
an archer's bow.  Along the center of the room is a long exhibit
by the Mint with large-scale reproductions of different coins, each
about a foot across.  As anyone who has seen the early hammered
coins knows, the artwork was typically crude.  I over heard one
visitor, while looking at the enlarged coin likeness of William I
comment sarcastically, "What a beautiful likeness!"

There were some real coins in the exhibit, but only twelve -
displayed were obverse/reverse examples of:

Silver penny of William I
Gold noble of Edward III
Gold sovereign of Edward VI
Silver crown of Charles I
Silver crown of George II

In all, the numismatic exhibit was pretty disappointing.  I guess I
expected too much from a venue that once housed an actual mint.  The
old mint facilities were not in the White Tower, but in an outbuilding
elsewhere in the compound.  There is a "Mint Street", but this area
is private and closed to visitors.

I left the Tower of London complex about 5pm and walked toward Tower
Hill, to the place where the Royal Mint relocated upon leaving the
Tower.  The Royal Mint building was there, across the road leading to
the Tower Bridge.  It too, was closed to the public.  The Mint had
long ago packed up again and removed to Llantrisant, Wales.  Time
marches on, and so did I.  This time I walked several blocks to the
Liverpool Street Station to catch a tube train back to my hotel.
That's all for this week's numismatic adventures.
Cheers from London!


  Wayne Homren, Editor

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