The Great Re-coinage & Isaac Newton

Working on Mint Street during the hammered coin era Helen and I visited the Tower of London, where we discovered interesting information about our country’s coinage history, and little do many people know, but the mint was actually based within the walls of the Tower for many, many years.

It was at the Tower of London, we found out more about the Great Re-coinage.

By the 1696 most coins in circulation were worn flat, ‘clipped’ (which was actually illegal to do at the time), or forged. However, even though the dawn of era of machine made coins was imminent, it was still legal and highly common for people to use old hammered coins rather than the new issue coins. The reason for this was that people would hoard the new silver coins abroad, particularly in France and Holland as silver bullion was worth a lot more than in London, meaning they would use their old hammered coins to trade with back in England. At this point in time, an astonishing 10% of all currency used in Britain was fake!

These issues accumulated over the years, and in order to solve the problem, King William III’s government ordered a ‘Great Re-coinage’ for all old silver coins in circulation. This was an expensive and time consuming change, it took the mint three years and £2 million to complete.

As well as this economical cost, it also took a lot of manpower. William Lowndes of the Treasury asked the warden of the mint, Isaac Newton, for help during the Great Re-coinage.

Isaac Newton was appointed warden at the mint in 1669 at the start of the Great Re-coinage and he took his role extremely seriously as he knew that Britain’s coinage was in a dire situation. With his love of maths, he calculated the most efficient methods to produce coins in mass quantity and at the best quality attainable.  This included working out how long a team of men could work the screw press without tiring.

His observations helped the mint re-coin nearly £2.5 million worth of silver in just three years. In 1699 he was given the job of Master of The Mint in which he worked in until his death in 1727.

By Abi Evans
Source: London Mint Office