Michael Alexander has a great article in Coin Update on the new Royal Mint exhibit at the Tower of London. Here's an excerpt.
There is a new treat for those of you who pride yourselves as both coin fanatics and Anglophiles… after a lengthy absence of more than 200 years, give or take a year or two, the Royal Mint has returned to London! Well…don’t any of you get too excited – they’re not producing the coinage of the realm there, but they have indeed returned in style. A new exhibition has been opened just last week (24th May) and it is for many who have so far attended – myself included, the Mint’s triumphal return to their spiritual home – and right where they belong!
Where does one begin to tell the tale of one of the most famous Mints in the world? Although a Mint in London has been active since the 800’s, today’s Royal Mint claims a continual history which dates back to the 1100’s, though it wasn’t referred to the Royal Mint until many, many years later. This particular Mint in London was just one of many dotted around England. It wasn’t until the 1270’s that King Edward I moved the workings of London’s Mint within the Tower Walls. The King took this decisive action as it was deemed that England’s coins at the time were worn, clipped, debased or intentionally damaged. He ordered the country be re-coined and it was in this safe and secure location that the process of introducing new coins was carried out.
In 1696, Sir Isaac Newton, famed mathematician and physicist took up the post of Warden of the Mint, this post was responsible for investigating cases of counterfeiting. He later held the office of Master of the Royal Mint from 1699 until his death in 1727. He is credited with updating the Mint’s facilities and transforming production methods which resulted in substantially greater numbers of coins at a savings in overall costs.
Some of the coins displayed in the exhibition include an excellent example of an Edward I silver groat, minted between 1279-1307. A Gold trial plate from an Angel of Henry VIII, minted 1542. An Elizabeth I gold Half-pound, minted from 1591-94. Queen Elizabeth I was celebrated for restoring Tudor currency after her father’s reign. The queen ordered all old coins to be brought to the Mint, melted down and re-made into new, purer coins with her portrait. The queen described the measures as ‘bitter medicine’. Of particular interest is a Commonwealth unite - equaling 20 shillings minted in 1649 and a silver crown minted in 1658. Oliver Cromwell refused to be called king and the official coins produced during the Commonwealth did not feature a picture of any ruler. However, on this coin, designed by Chief Engraver Thomas Simon, Cromwell was shown as an Emperor.
For American coin enthusiasts, on display is a beautiful Countermarked American Liberty dollar dated 1799. This coin actually circulated in Great Britain due to some adverse circumstances. By 1797, war with France had left England’s gold stocks perilously low. To avert financial disaster, the Mint began to counter-stamp a small cameo portrait of King George III on several foreign coins, including American dollars and French francs, to make them legal English currency.
The exhibition focuses not only on the actual production of coins themselves but, it also gives us a great insight about the people who worked there, their lives and daily routine. Cleverly re-created with projections and sound recording, Mint workers are brought to life as we’re transported to parts of the production floor and are introduced to the craftsmen, the tools and procedures used to make the coin of the realm. Much of the displays are interactive and “hand’s on” and very youngster friendly with video displays and touch-screen participation.
The old exhibit was a dud and disappointment when I went there in 2007. This sounds like a tremendous improvement. I wish I were still in London so I could take the tube down and have a look. I'll be interested to hear impressions from readers who do have the chance to visit.
To read the complete article, see:
The Royal Mint Returns to the Tower in Style!
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