Centuries of craftsmanship, coinage and beautiful bullion - this is the legacy of the world-renowned British Mint
The Royal Mint has a long and fascinating history. The British Mint began small, but it is now a government company with sophisticated processes and state-of-the-art facilities.
Britain’s political upheavals, wars, and economic and social duress are reflected in the Royal Mint’s 1100 years of operation. Scientific and technological advances are also evident in the broad range of coins spanning a large portion of the mint’s history.
A Brief History of the British Royal Mint
British coin minting first began during the final years of the 2nd century BCE, with the earliest coins from this time period being nothing more than crudely cast imitations of Continental coins that were struck by hand. Later, they were cast in molds, and this became the standard production technique for the next century and a half.
After the Roman conquest, the making of British coins came to an end and Roman coins were circulated in Britain as the universal currency. Toward the end of the 3rd century, Roman coins were made in the heart of London. Interestingly, the earliest recorded mint in the city of London was actually built for the purpose of striking Roman coins. Historians estimate that this mint functioned for approximately three to four decades, after which it closed and reopened several times for reasons that remain unclear.
Unlike some contemporary mints, it is impossible to determine the exact year the Royal Mint began. Historians assume that it began around 1100 years ago in the latter half of the 9th century when many coins were made under strict government regulations. All one must do is take a quick look at the coins’ uniform design to see evidence that deliberate policy and a governing force closely watched over their creation.
Approximately 200 years after the Romans withdrew from Britain, coins were no longer struck in Britain. However, when the English Kingdoms were combined, a London mint was quickly put back into operation. A regular history of the Royal Mint has been kept since 871 AD, and the Royal Mint became increasingly important through subsequent reigns and monarchs.
Around 871 AD, however, the London Mint was not the only mint in operation. Rather, it was merely one of thirty or so mints across Britain. From 978 to 1016, during the reign of Ethelred II, more than seventy mints were in operation - most of which were located in the country’s southern half.
By the time of the Norman Conquest in 1066, the number of mints had considerably declined, and minting was primarily completed in the cities of Canterbury and London. The exact location of the London Mint during that time is unknown, but most historians believe it was situated in the Cheapside Goldsmith’s Quarter, in a place referred to as “Old Change.”
Minting Framework Established
Over the next few hundred years, a strong royal government was established and the minting process was redesigned to include a much more organized structure. By the mid-13th century, a concise framework had been created for the London Monarch’s Mint which included a designated, formal hierarchy of officers to oversee coin production. During the 14th and 15th centuries, famous coins such as the Tudor Sovereign, the Crown, and the shilling, sixpence and threepence were regularly manufactured.
Famous and Valuable Coins at the Royal Mint Museum
The Royal Mint Museum, located in Llantrisant (near Cardiff), Wales, showcases approximately 80,000 coins that span a time from the early Romans to the present. Highly notable coins in this collection include an expansive series made as runners-up to the February 1971 decimalization of all British coins and the Edward VIII coins which were never circulated due to the King’s infamous 1936 abdication.
Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth Coins
Some of the best-known coins depicting royalty include the Queen Victoria Portrait coins, of which there are five variations, as well as the Queen Elizabeth coins, of which there are four standard effigies since her accession in 1952.
Philip and Mary
Among other rare and valuable coins are the Philip and Mary series, which were the first British coins to depict double portraits. Initially issued during the reign of Mary Tudor, following her highly unpopular union with the Prince of Spain, Philip, a coin featuring both Philip and Mary was ordered by the Queen despite the unpopularity of her marriage.
The coins were minted in a Spanish style using a similar design to that seen with the Isabella and Ferdinand Spanish coin approximately 500 years earlier: Philip and Mary were shown facing each other, and, in keeping with society’s conventions of the time, Philip was given the primary position to the design’s left, despite the fact that he was merely the Queen’s consort.
Modern Double Portraits
Recently, the double portrait design has been used on commemorative crown coins. These include the 1981 Wedding of the Prince of Wales to Lady Diana Spencer, the 1997 Golden Wedding of the Queen and Prince Philip, the 2007 Diamond Wedding, and Prince William’s 2011 marriage to Miss Catherine Middleton. However, one must go back over 200 years to locate examples of this design on British general use coins.
Around the World with the Royal Mint
Over the last 250 years, coins have been struck by the British Royal Mint for more than 100 countries: from Iceland to Uruguay and as far away as Jordan. Orders currently come in on a regular basis from countries all across the globe. This means travelers to South America, the Middle East, and other parts of the world may ultimately find themselves using local currency manufactured by the British Mint.
British Mint’s Most Famous Coins
Below are some of the most famous coins of the British Mint, both ancient and modern:
- 2017 Full Sovereign
- Silver Britannias
- 2005 Guy Fawkes Coin
- 1983 Two Pence Coin
- 1937 Edward VIII sovereign
- 1933 One Penny
- 1839 Victoria 5
- 1819 George III Sovereign
- 1706 Queen Anne Five Guineas
- 1703 Queen Anne Vigo Five Guinea
- 1663 Charles II Petition Crown
- 1663 Charles II Reddite Crown
- 1642 Charles I Pattern Triple Unite
- 1344 Edward III Florin
- 871-899 Monogram Penny of Alfred the Great
With its long and historic past, the background of the British Royal Mint is a fascinating subject. If you would like to learn more about British coins or investing in precious metals, Provident Metals can help. Browse our collection of British and other foreign coins to get started.