The Tower of London has been an integral part of British history that served many purposes. One of those purposes was as the site of the Royal Mint for over 500 years, from around 1279 to 1812.
The Tower of London opened the permanent exhibition “Coins and Kings: The Royal Mint at the Tower”. The exhibition features five important coins from the Royal Mint Museum’s collection. Each coin has an intricate artwork, which is a snapshot of a sovereign’s historical and political impact on the Mint. Those coins are the Edward I groat, 1279; the Elizabeth I sixpence, 1560-1; the Charles II Petition Crown, 1663; the William III real and fake halfcrowns, 1690s; and the George III Spanish eight reales, 1797.
In addition to familiarizing themselves with the Mint’s five historical coins, “Coins and Kings” will also educate visitors about working there. Most Mint workers were local farmers who periodically worked there because in those days, coins were not a necessity. Mint working was a family trade passed from generation to generation among males. Mint families lived their lives within the Tower walls, attending church service and even being interred there. Men from Mint families on continental Europe travelled to the Tower for work there.
Workers usually grafted the coins during summertime, when the weather helped increase productivity. Warmer weather was more bearable to endure than colder weather, which caused numbness and therefore affected labor. Summertime also meant longer daylight (and therefore work) hours.
In the 16th century, Mint officials began to live in Mint Street housing. However in the following century, officials declined to live there. Notably Sir Isaac Newton, a Mint warden, lived in the country.
“Coins and Kings” also tells unforgettable Mint tales including the English’s ransom demand from the French when French King John II was kidnapped, Newton’s crusade against counterfeiters, theft by the wife of the deputy Mint Master in the 1390s, and a Mint worker who had fallen asleep for about two straight weeks.
For more information, visit the Historic Royal Palaces online and click on the Tower of London section. The Tower is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
c. Peter Balanck 2016