It’s hard to be brief about the treasures held safely for the nation behind the anonymous door that opens to The Royal Mint Museum, but I’m going to try, so here are some snippets:
The Museum holds a cabinet said to be Sir Isaac Newton’swhen he was Master of the Mint from 1699-1727; pistols from the Tower of London that provided the security of those times and literally thousands of coins from all over the world. Plasters of coins and medals from the late 19th Century, wax impressions of the Great Seals of the Realm and other official Seals from the start of the 20th century, are all preserved here.
One of the great treasures, the Waterloo Medal Roll, lists the names of all those who fought at the Battle of Waterloo. Medal-making is an area of our work that is perhaps not very well-known. It began here in 1817 when we made the Waterloo Medals, and continues to this day with production of medals for the Armed Forces and many other organisations.
History on Site and in Sight
However, not all the treasures are locked away in the Museum. Around us on site are historic items brought to Llantrisant from our previous homes at the Tower of London and Tower Hill. Here are the ones that impress me most:
A Royal Mint Seal made by engraver John Croker in about 1709 is part of a small foyer exhibition and, although not ancient, the plaster of the Great Seal of the Realm, created in 2000 by James Butler RA, hangs in the Board Room as its artwork is so well-regarded.
Our talented Designers and Engravers say they take daily inspiration from an antique desk that sits in their work-room. Legend has it that was used by Benedetto Pistrucci, the Italian artist responsible for the famous 1817 ‘St George and the Dragon’ design on Sovereign coins.
Two ‘Janvier’ reducing machines have been placed in a foyer exhibition and on a landing in the Precious Metal Unit. These amazing machines transferred the coin design from a large plaster model directly on to a coin-size metal die, reducing the design in the process. The company is famous for having made such perfect and long-lasting machines that they eventually went out of business due to no further demand – no-one ever needed to buy a new one!
A crucible for melting metals, although only about 50 years old, catches my eye in the foyer exhibition as it appears to be much more ancient. Who knows how much silver has been melted in it over the years? Appropriately displayed behind it, an oil painting by the Hon. John Collier ‘The Queen’s Shilling’ depicts the Tower Hill silver melting house in the 19th century.
Several large coin presses from Tower Hill are placed around the grounds, reflecting our main activity of making coins for the United Kingdom as well as approximately 60 other countries. We all pass these every day on our way in or out, maybe on our way to a meeting in another building or going to the canteen. My friends in the Museum delighted me when they gave me photos from their archives of the exact same presses actually in use at Tower Hill.
Another reminder of Tower Hill is the one remaining member of staff who made the move here from London, Mr Graham Dyer OBE FSA.
Graham joined The Royal Mint over 50 years ago, very quickly becoming the Head of the Museum. He still works here as a part-time Senior Research Curator and is a published author of several books and articles about coins and their history. His vast knowledge of coins in general and our history in particular is a constant source of wonder to everyone and his passion for coins remains undimmed.
History in the Making
In 2012 we were honoured to make the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic medals. Last Christmas, each member of staff was presented with framed plaster casts of the medals with a signed inscription from our CEO thanking us for our contribution to such a special year. What are possible future Museum pieces are now proudly displayed in our homes.
I hope you’ve enjoyed me sharing these insights of daily life here, but there is, of course, a lot more to write about this exciting and fascinating place. As one of our readers commented, I could go on and on! To avoid that, let me know what you would most like to hear about and I’ll do my best to bring you all the information and some interesting images. For inspiration, take a look at the Discover section on our website or the History section of The Royal Mint Museum’s website