May 1, 2018

The Royal Mint Story

The Royal Mint Museum

For over 1000 years The Royal Mint has been in the business of making money

Iron Age gold stater, Unknown, circa 750 BC to 43 AD, From the collection of: The Royal Mint Museum

The manufacture of coins, or minting, began in Britain around the end of the second century BC.

Early coins like this were cast in moulds, but later they were struck by hand in a process that would continue to be used for the next 1500 years.

Romano-British coin of Constatine I, Unknown, circa 336 to 337, From the collection of: The Royal Mint Museum

The production of Iron Age coins ended with the Roman conquest and from that time Roman coins were used in Britain. At the end of the third century a mint, an industrial site used for manufacturing coins, was established in London. It is the earliest recorded in the capital, but it functioned for no more than 40 years.

Romano-British coin of Constatine I, Unknown, circa 336 to 337, From the collection of: The Royal Mint Museum

The letters PLN on the reverse of this coin of Constantine the Great show that it was made at the London Mint.

It was not until after the Romans had left Britain that a London mint was again in operation. Its beginnings, around 650, seem to have been quite unstable but from about the time of Alfred the Great (871-899) its history became continuous.
We know that this silver penny of Alfred the Great was struck in London as it bears the word LONDINIA in the form of a monogram on the reverse.

Long cross penny of Aethelred II, Unknown, 987 to 1016, From the collection of: The Royal Mint Museum

At the time of Alfred the Great there were about 30 mints in Britain and by the reign of Aethelred II (978-1016) the number had grown to more than 70. These were mostly in the south and most market towns would have had their own mint.

Short cross penny of Henry III, Canterbury Mint, 1216 to 1248, From the collection of: The Royal Mint Museum

By the Norman Conquest the number of mints had begun to decline and from the early part of the 13th century minting was mainly confined to London and Canterbury.

Short cross penny of Henry III, Canterbury Mint, 1216 to 1248, From the collection of: The Royal Mint Museum

The letters CANT which represent Canterbury can be seen on the reverse of this penny of Henry III.

Short cross penny of Henry III, The Royal Mint, 1216 to 1248, From the collection of: The Royal Mint Museum

And the letters LONDE CIVITAS for London appear on this example struck at the capital.

Short cross penny of Henry III, The Royal Mint, 1216 to 1248, From the collection of: The Royal Mint Museum

The precise location of the London mint at that time is uncertain but it is placed by one account in Old Change, conveniently close to the goldsmiths’ quarter in Cheapside.

Penny of Edward I, Royal Mint, 1279, From the collection of: The Royal Mint Museum

By about 1279 minting had moved to more secure quarters within the Tower of London. Government records show the sum of £729 17s 8½d paid for work on the mint in the Tower and references ‘the little tower where the treasure of the mint is kept’.

Plan of the Tower Mint, William Allingham, 1701, From the collection of: The Royal Mint Museum

For the next 500 years the Mint remained in the Tower of London. By 1701 the buildings were described as ‘largely of wood; the chief of them were two stories; most were crazy with age, held up by timber shores and pinned together with clamps of iron’. An overseas visitor in 1710 expressed surprise that handsome coins could emanate from such wretched buildings.

Plan of the Tower Mint, William Allingham, 1701, From the collection of: The Royal Mint Museum

This plan shows how much space was now needed for this flourishing institution.

Plan of the Tower Mint, William Allingham, 1701, From the collection of: The Royal Mint Museum

Mint buildings included workshops, melting houses and stables, as well as lodgings for Mint officials

Striking coins with a screw press, Unknown, 1750, From the collection of: The Royal Mint Museum

Minting processes were finally mechanised in the 17th century. The use of mills and presses improved the appearance of the coins and made them more difficult to clip and counterfeit but it also highlighted the cramped conditions in the Tower. Occasional disputes with the garrison caused further tension, and as the 18th century drew to a close there was talk of moving the Mint.

Plans for the new Royal Mint building at Tower Hill, Unknown, 1804, From the collection of: The Royal Mint Museum

Following the outbreak of war with France, the demands of the garrison, coupled with the difficulty of accommodating new steam-powered machinery, led at last to a decision for the Mint to leave the confines of the Tower. The site chosen for the new Royal Mint was on nearby Tower Hill, in an area recently occupied by tobacco warehouses and much earlier by the great Cistercian Abbey of St Mary of Graces.

Elevation of the back front of His Majesty's Mint little Tower Hill, James Johnson, circa. 1805, From the collection of: The Royal Mint Museum

Plans were drawn up by Royal Mint surveyor James Johnson for the new Royal Mint buildings at Little Tower Hill.

The New Mint Tower Hill, S. Rawle & J. Asperne, November 1810, From the collection of: The Royal Mint Museum

Preliminary work began in 1805, the buildings were finished by the end of 1809, and the new steam-powered machinery was given a trial run the following year. By August 1812 the keys of the old mint were finally delivered to the Constable of the Tower.

The last military guard to be mounted at the Royal Mint in Tower Hill, Royal Mint, 1904, From the collection of: The Royal Mint Museum

The main building of the new mint, which was completed by Robert Smirke, was flanked by two guard houses with factory buildings hidden behind. A narrow alley ran along the inside of the boundary wall and was patrolled by soldiers from the Royal Mint’s military guard, earning it the name the Military Way.

Press Room, The Royal Mint, Unknown, circa.1910, From the collection of: The Royal Mint Museum

In the 1880s the factory buildings were reconstructed and extended, with new coining presses being installed and melting and rolling capacity increased. Steam gave way to electricity and the work of construction and renovation became a continuous process as the Royal Mint attempted to cope with an enormous increase in the demand for coin at home and overseas.

The need to rebuild the Royal Mint had been recognised in the 1950s but it was the task of striking hundreds of millions of coins in readiness for decimalisation in 1971, while at the same time not neglecting overseas customers, which brought matters to a head.

Rebuilding of the Royal Mint, Royal Mint, 1967-04-25, From the collection of: The Royal Mint Museum

In 1967 it was announced that a new Royal Mint would be built at Llantrisant, ten miles north of Cardiff, in line with government policy of transferring industry from the capital to areas in need of development.

Rebuilding of the Royal Mint, Royal Mint, 1967-04-25, From the collection of: The Royal Mint Museum

In 1967 it was announced that a new Royal Mint would be built at Llantrisant, ten miles north of Cardiff, in line with government policy of transferring industry from the capital to areas in need of development.

Rebuilding of the Royal Mint, Royal Mint, 1967-04-25, From the collection of: The Royal Mint Museum

In 1967 it was announced that a new Royal Mint would be built at Llantrisant, ten miles north of Cardiff, in line with government policy of transferring industry from the capital to areas in need of development.

Queen Elizabeth II arrives to open the Royal Mint at Llantrisant, The Royal Mint, 1968-12-17, From the collection of: The Royal Mint Museum

Work began on the site almost at once and the first phase was opened by the Queen on 17 December 1968.

The last sovereign being struck at Tower Hill, Royal Mint, 1975-11-10, From the collection of: The Royal Mint Museum

Once the initial requirement for decimal coins had been satisfied, production was transferred from Tower Hill to Llantrisant. A second phase of development was commissioned in 1975 and with the new mint capable of the full range of minting activity the last coin, a gold sovereign, was struck in London in November of that year. The Tower Hill buildings were finally closed in 1980.

The Royal Mint, Royal Mint, circa. 1990, From the collection of: The Royal Mint Museum

The last 50 years have been a period of great change at the Royal Mint in Llantrisant.

Royal Mint Anniversary Medal, The Royal Mint, 1986, From the collection of: The Royal Mint Museum

Since the 1980s there has been an accelerating change in the focus of production. A large proportion of the output of the Royal Mint now consists of commemorative coins and medals, struck to mark significant events and anniversaries.

The Royal Mint Experience, The Royal Mint, 2016, From the collection of: The Royal Mint Museum

The Mint has diversified into new areas such as bullion and gifting, with the site becoming a visitor attraction in 2016 after the opening of the Royal Mint Experience.

12-sided £1 coins, The Royal Mint, 2017, From the collection of: The Royal Mint Museum

After over 1100 years of continuous history the primary duty of the Mint remains the supply of coins for use in the United Kingdom.

Royal Mint Museum
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