We use coins everyday and don’t ever think about how they evolved or where they came from. Chris Barker, from the Royal Mint museum, came to talk to us about the history of the Royal Mint and started the story with the Celtic coin that was struck by a Celtic chief. This was not used as currency but as a means of showing off. This changed around 1880 when Alfred the Great struck coins with the name London in the form of a monogram on them.
For many centuries this penny was the only coin in circulation. One coin meant that giving change was difficult and they were literally cut in half or quarters for this purpose. Coinage production remained the same for centuries – simple basic methods were used with the coins being made by hand in many parts of the country.
In 1279 coin production was centralized into the Mint in the Tower of London and the first gold coins were produced which were meant to convey wealth and power. During the reign of Henry the Eighth, in a misguided attempt to raise money, the coinage was debased by adding silver and copper but was subsequently rectified by Elizabeth the first.
By the Seventeenth Century machinery was introduced and screw presses and horse driven rolling mills were installed at the Royal Mint and the ancient method of striking coins by hand was finally abandoned. This meant that the portraits on coins were clearly defined and edge lettering and mulling were achieved. 1699 saw the appointment of Isaac Newton as Master of the Royal Mint where he remained until his death in 1727.
In order to equip the Royal Mint with up to date steam powered machinery, a purpose built facility was constructed at Tower Hill nearby and was in production by 1810. In the 1920’s in a development which has shaped much of its subsequent history, the Royal Mint began seeking orders from overseas countries. This followed the establishment of an independent committee to examine new designs for coins, medals and seals.
By 1964 output exceeded 1000 million coins a year. 0n the 1st March 1966 the Government announced the decision to adopt a decimal system of currency. The task of striking hundreds of millions of decimal coins in readiness for decimalization in 1971, while at the same time not neglecting overseas customers, made the construction of a new mint essential. James Callahan was Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time and the decision was made to relocate the Mint to Llantrisant and in 1968 the first coins were officially struck by the Queen.
In 1975, the last coin, a gold sovereign, was struck at Tower Hill and by 1980 the Tower Hill buildings were finally relinquished. The Royal Mint at Llantrisant is about to establish a visitors centre which should be open in May of this year and we are looking forward to a visit where we will be able to see some of the early coins that Chris showed us on the screen in his excellent power point presentation.