Little do many people know that in medieval times, for more than 500 years, the country’s coinage was made on Mint Street, within the walls of The Tower of London in the heart of the capital city. The reason for this being that in the 1270’s, coinage was in a poor state. The condition of the coins were lacking; many coins were worn, broken or clipped. To resolve this, King Edward I made a decision to move the mint inside the Tower of London in order to impose stricter regulations and security. He had all coinage remade, and he punished anyone who he deemed responsible for the poor condition of his coinage!
In 1278 many members of the Jewish community were imprisoned for an act named ‘coin clipping’ whereby people would clip the coins in to smaller pieces, subsequently defacing the coins. He held 600 ‘coin clippers’ in the prison of The Tower of London, 270 were executed, and the remaining prisoners got off rather lightly, and only faced fines and public duties.
But what was it like for the workers at the Mint?
This was a very hard job, work was sporadic and coins did not needed to be minted all the time which lead to poverty amongst many of the workforce as they lacked a regular income. Workers came from outside the walls of The Tower, from areas such as Shoreditch or Hackney. It was also a very dangerous job, at the start of re-coining the entire country, a process called ‘assaying’ was introduced. This was the process which separated precious metals from non-precious metals; the cost of this being that many mint workers lost their lives due to poisoning. The workers were also subject to seasonal work, due to the lack of lighting inside the buildings within the mint, they would find themselves working mainly in summer, so they could take advantage of the longer hours of light. With it being a job which requires the use and skill of fast hand work, the cold winter air would often mean stiffer, slower hand movement which would be dangerous when using hammers and other tools and machinery.
As well as chemical poisoning and long, seasonal working hours, working at the mint was also labour intensive and with the introduction of heavy machinery in the 1660’s during King Charles II’s reign coins could now be produced using a screw press, developed by Peter Blondeau which was installed in to The Tower 360 years ago and made the hammered coin process die out rapidly.
This contraption was operated by the use of two men turning the arms of the press, then a third man placing blanks between the die and removing the finished coins after the die produces the coin. As you can imagine, if this was not done with expert timing, the worker would find himself going home that day with one less finger!
(Tools used to create hammered coins)
Charles II was the last English king to issue hammered coins. This revolution in coin production was a huge leap towards the coins we use today, and the tipping point in this technology was the screw press’s installation at the Tower of London Mint in 1656.
If you’re interested in the history of old English coinage or would like to begin or expand your own collection, head to our website to find more information about our specially selected heritage coins or speak with one of our dedicated team of account managers at email@example.com or call free on 0800 634 0300.
By Abi Evans
Source: London Mint Office