Royal Mint at Tower of London
Volume 50, Number 7, July 2013
Walking on Mint Street WHEN most of us think of the Royal Mint we can be forgiven for conjuring up images of an industrial plant in Wales churning out shiny coins by the bin load, of BU sets given to proud new parents, of Proof sets eagerly purchased each year or commemoratives celebrating this, that and everything else. Today’s Royal Mint doesn’t just produce the coin of the realm (or realms—they Mint coins for other countries too) but is a commercial business feeding a market that has gone far beyond simple numismatics and, as such, is often not even considered by those who don’t collect new issues. Few of us stop to really think about the history of the Mint, what it has brought us over the years and how it evolved into the coin production company it is in the 21st century. A new permanent exhibition at the Tower of London aims to change that. The exhibition, the brainchild and passion of Dr Megan Gooch erstwhile of the British Museum (BM) and now of Historic Royal Palaces (HRP) and known to many of us through her work with the British Association of Numismatic Societies and her excellent talks (most recently at the Harrogate Show in March), aims to show visitors to the Tower of London that the fortress was far more than a prison or a castle and that, in fact, it was the hub of English coin production for over 500 years, something even dedicated coin collectors sometimes forget. John Andrew’s article on page 35 gives a small insight into the exhibition which I won’t spoil for you here but I would like to add to it by giving my personal view point. The small space (in a building on Mint Street, the street around the perimeter of the Tower that once rang to the sound of moneyers striking coins) that the Tower has given over to Coins and Kings: The Royal Mint at the Tower does not allow this to be the biggest numismatic exhibition in the world, you won’t find vast numbers of coins on display and, as it is aimed at the general public, nor will you necessarily discover much numismatically that you didn’t already know. This is not the Money Gallery at the BM, nor the Royal Mint Museum (although both helped with this new exhibition by loaning some stunning pieces), however, in my opinion it is well worth a visit. You will learn some things, or at least more about what you think you already know (Isaac Newton’s battle with counterfeiters for example, or why the Mint finally moved from the Tower) but more than that you will get the chance to see some items few outside museums have had a chance to see before. The Petition Crown and wonderful accompanying video is an undoubted highlight, as is the marvellous pair of Charles II die punches and the trial plates. These are not pieces you will have had much chance to get close to up until now and I would suggest that you really should if you can. Sadly, it isn’t cheap to get into the Tower and if you do go then make sure you take in everything not just this exhibition (the Crown Jewels cannot be missed, the Armoury is stunning) but whatever you do don’t go to the Tower without checking out the little house and its treasures. I know I sound a lot like an advert for HRP here and I don’t mean to (I’m not on a retainer here honestly) but having seen some simply incredible numismatic pieces that in all the years I have been in this job I never thought I would get a chance to see I want to share that with our readers. As I said this isn’t the biggest coin exhibition in the world, it won’t necessarily take your breath away and as a coin collector you may well bemoan the inevitable “tourist” feel to some of it but if you pass up the chance to see what is on display you will regret it—and if nothing else you will at least rediscover that the Royal Mint is far more than baby sets and bullion, it is an institution with a long and distinguished heritage that has given us some of the most beautiful coins in the world—many of them made right there in Mint Street over the centuries. Make a day of it, see the other things the Tower has to offer and you’ll come away happy—I’ll be very surprised if you don’t!
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