Everyone knows that the Royal Mint is the place in which his Majesty’s Government make money out of gold and silver and bronze. Any person who brings gold to the Mint is entitled by law to receive in exchange for it an equivalent amount in gold coin; but in practice gold is usually exchanged for notes at the Bank of England, which then brings gold to the Mint for coining as required.
No British gold has been coined at the London Mint since 1917. Sovereigns have been struck since that date at the branch Mints in Australia, Canada and South Africa. Gold coins are intrinsically worth their full face value. Silver and bronze coins are only tokens, worth less than their face value.
The Mint also makes coins for the Crown Colonies and Dependencies. Some of the African coins are pierced for the convenience of the natives, who like to hang them on a string. Others are square in shape. Some Colonial coins are made of cupro-nickel, or of other alloys differing from the composition of British coins.
There are five branches of the Royal Mint in the Dominions, established at Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Ottawa and Pretoria respectively. The sovereigns struck by them are only to be distinguished from the gold coins of the English Mint by a small Mint mark, These branches also strike the special silver and bronze coin required locally.
The Mint manufactures the medals, naval, military and civil, required by his Majesty’s Government for the awards conferred by his Majesty the King. The Deputy Master and Comptroller of the Royal Mint is Engraver of his Majesty’s Seals. The last Great Seal of Queen Victoria and the Seals of King Edward VII and his present Majesty were made by the Royal Mint, Another department of the Mint is concerned with the manufacture of embossing dies for the stamps of the Inland Revenue, the dies for embossing cheques, transfers and various legal documents, and plates for the printing of adhesive stamps.
The right of coining has always been the prerogative of the Sovereign; who, however, during many centuries delegated the right to eminent persons. Mints were established in various important towns. The Royal Mint was established in the Tower from an early period until 1810, when it was removed to its present building on Little Tower Hill. The King’s Master of the Mint, until 1850, granted contracts for the actual manufacture of coin to persons called Moneyers. The present constitution of the Royal Mint is ordained in the Coinage Act of 1870.
Upon the site on which now stands the Royal Mint once stood the Cistercian Abbey of Grace, East Minster, which was founded by Edward III and which was suppressed by Henry VIII. The site was afterwards occupied by the storehouses and bakeries of the Navy Victualling Office.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer is the Master of the Mint, whose duties as such are performed by the Deputy Master and Comptroller, the actual head of the Royal Mint. The staff numbers about 400 persons, including the accounting and administrative branches, engineers, chemists, assayers, engravers, mechanics and workmen.
Since sovereigns were first coined, in 1817, the Mint has issued some 600 million pounds worth of gold coin, apart from the amounts issued by the branch Mints. During the present century about 4,000 million coins have been struck at the Royal Mint for use throughout the Empire.
The exhibit of the Royal Mint in the Annexe to the Pavilion of his Majesty’s Government in the British Empire Exhibition illustrates the methods and processes employed in the production of coins and medals. It is shown how the metal is treated before it becomes a disc or blank ready to receive the final blow in the coining press; and how a steel die is produced to give that blow.
The final process of coining is demonstrated upon a coining press of the latest type in operation. Actual coins are not, however, turned out at the Exhibition. Instead, small medals are struck in the view of the public. These bear a design commemorating the Exhibition, and replicas are on sale at a very moderate charge. The Mint film exhibited in the Pavilion of H.M. Government shows the actual processes at the Royal Mint.
Adjacent to the modern coining press will be represented the early method of coining by hand, Imitation King Alfred pennies will be struck, and these also may be purchased.
The manufacture of dies is illustrated, from the preliminary stage in the large model in relief prepared by the artist, to the intaglio copy in steel of the required size from which the coins or medals themselves are struck. The processes followed in the manufacture of more elaborate and highly finished articles, such as seals, medals and plaquettes, are shown.
A series of exhibits illustrates the history and evolution of certain well-known coins and designs, such as the sovereign, florin and penny, Saint George and the Dragon and the figure of Britannia, from their earliest appearance in British numismatic history to the present day. Another series shows the history and pedigree of well-known British designs.
An exhibit illustrates the various crises which have arisen from time to time in the matter of currency, and the various expedients employed either in the debasement of coinage, or in finding substitutes for coins when the supplies in circulation have been insufficient to meet requirements.
There are exhibits illustrating the coinage of the Dominions, Protectorates and Colonies of the Empire, including coins struck at the branch Mints, a series of British Naval and Military Medals; impressions of the Great Seals of England from the earliest time; examples of the existing Colonial Seals; and illustrations of the development of British Note issues.
In addition to the keepsakes, which may be seen in the course of actual manufacture, visitors who wish to take home a more elaborate souvenir may choose from the group of plaquettes illustrative of London as the capital city of the Empire. Replicas are obtainable of the plaquette commemorative of the Exhibition, the design for which is the result of a limited competition open to selected artists throughout the Empire.
© Exhibition Study Group 2010