Today the Royal Mint Museum marks its 200th anniversary! To celebrate this milestone, for 200 days the Museum will share its collection on Facebook, taking a look at a new object each day and revealing some remarkable objects from the collection along the way. In its 200 years, the collection has grown to now encompass nearly 100,000 coins, as well as a collection of some 31,000 tools and 18,000 plasters. But just how has the collection grown and developed over that time?
In the Mint Office at Tower Hill 200 years ago today a clerk began work on writing a memorandum on behalf of the then Master of the Mint, William Wellesley Pole. In it, he began by noting how Pole observed ‘with pain’ that there was no collection of British coins in His Majesty’s Mint but that there was also not ‘a single serviceable Matrix or Puncheon preserved in the Office’. In order to remedy this ‘evil’ Pole proposed the setting up of a permanent collection tasked with preserving for posterity the work of The Royal Mint. Little could Pole have realised that the foundations he laid all those years ago would have grown to be a numismatic collection of real national and international importance today.
Not that its survival has always been smooth. A very generous donation in 1818 of some 2,500 coins and medals from the collection of Sara Sophia Banks, sister of Sir Joseph Banks, covered coins from the entire range of British history as well as an impressive numismatic library. But it was to be over 50 years after it was established before the collection was organised, catalogued and put on public display and it would be almost a century after its founding that the Royal Mint Museum would get its first Curator.
William John Hocking became Curator in 1913 and helped to display the collection in a purpose built dedicated room. Sadly, this display was not to last and the rapid growth of the Mint in the 1920s led to the room being taken off the Museum, with the collection put in storage until after the Second World War. This did not stop it growing, however, and the early 20th century saw the addition of pattern pieces by the noted artist Eric Gill, as well as the extremely rare 1933 penny – one of only a handful of pieces in existence.
The end of minting in London in the 1970s was both a blessing and a curse for the Museum. A curse in that the collection once again had to go into storage but a blessing in that the closure of the old mint at Tower Hill meant that a huge variety of material became available to the Museum. This included large pieces of machinery, furniture and documents but undoubtedly the highlight of this material that found its way into the Museum as a result of the move was the Edward VIII pattern coins which had been left at the back of the Deputy Master’s safe for many years. Extremely rare and important pieces, they chart the troubled and difficult relationship of The Royal Mint as it sought to deal with the demands of the vain glorious Edward, and now form the best collection of this material anywhere in the world, helping to shed light on an extremely important period in the history of the British monarchy.
This is where the Museum’s story very nearly came to a premature end. It was only with an eleventh hour reprieve that the decision was taken not to transfer it to the British Museum but rather to transport it down the M4 in 1980 under armed guard to The Royal Mint’s new home in Llantrisant. Maintaining the Museum’s link to the factory has been vital allowing it to grow and continue to chart the history of The Royal Mint, helping to ensure that future generation can enjoy the collection.
Pole’s vision all those years ago to ensure that The Royal Mint had its own collection has safeguarded a truly remarkable body of material. Over the next 200 days we will be sharing some of these amazing objects and their stories on the Royal Mint Museum’s Facebook and Twitter pages and, from spring, many of them will once again be on display in the Royal Mint Visitor Centre. Come and see for yourself how they tell the fascinating tale of one of Britain’s great institutions and how they reveal the story of these islands over the last 1,100 years.