United Kingdom Royal Mint Guide.

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The Royal Mint is the government owned mint permitted to strike British coins. The Royal Mint originated over 1,100 years ago, producing coins for England and eventually United Kingdom. Since 2010 it has operated as Royal Mint Ltd, a company owned by HM Treasury, under an exclusive contract to supply all coinage for the UK. 

Royal Mint Ltd is 100% owned by HM Treasury, which delegates shareholder responsibilities to the Shareholder Executive.

What does the Royal Mint do?

As well as minting coins for the UK, The Royal Mint also mints and exports coins to many other countries and produces military medals, commemorative medals, and other such items for governments, schools and businesses, being known as the world’s leading exporting mint. Responsibility for the security of the site falls to the Ministry of Defense Police, who provide an armed contingent.

In 1968 The Royal Mint began to move its operations from Tower Hill in the City of London to Llantrisant, Mid Glamorgan, Wales, and has operated on a single site in Llantrisant since 1980. At Llantrisant it holds an extensive collection of coins dating from the 16th century onwards, housed in eighty cabinets made by Elizabeth II’s cabinet maker, Hugh Swann. The site occupies 38 acres (15 ha) and employs over 900 people.

The annual Trial of the Pyx assays coins produced for the UK government for size, weight and chemical composition

The Royal Mint Story.

Origin

The history of coins in Britain can be traced back to the second century BC when they were introduced by Celtic tribes from across the English Channel. The first record of coins being minted in Britain is attributed to Kentish tribes such as the Cantii who around 80-60 B.C. imitated those nearby Marseille through casting instead of hammering. After the Romans begun their invaded Britain in AD 43, they setup mints across the land, including in London which produced Roman coins for some 40 years before closing. The mint in London reopened again briefly in 383AD until closing swiftly as Roman rule in Britain ended. For the next 200 years no coins appear to have minted in Britain until the emergence of English kingdom in 650AD when as many as 30 mints are recorded across Britain with one being established in London. Control of Britain’s mints alternated as different tribes battled over territory. In 886AD Alfred the Great recaptured London from the Danelaw and begun issuing silver pennies bearing his portrait, this is regarded as the start of the continuous history of the Royal Mint.

886 to 1805.

In 1279, the country’s numerous mints were unified under a single system whereby control was centralized to a new mint within the Tower of London, mints outside of London were reduced with only a few local and episcopal continuing to operate. Pipe rolls detailing the financial records of the London mint show an expenditure of £729 17s 8½d and records of timber bought for workshops.

Individual roles at the mint were well established by 1464, with the master-worker being charged with hiring engravers and the management of moneyers. While the mint warden was also responsible for witnessing the delivery of dies. A specialist mint board was set up in 1472 to enact a 23 February indenture which vested the mint’s responsibilities into three main roles; a warden, a master and a comptroller.

By the 16th century after suffering from the effects of the Black Death, Europe was in the middle of an economic expansion, England however was suffering with financial difficulty. In the 1540s king Henry VIII began a campaign of excessive overspending of government money on his lavish lifestyle and to pay for wars with France and Scotland. Henry enacted the Great Debasement which reduced the precious metal content of coins and dissolved the monasteries, ending all coin production outside of London being moved to the London mint which served all of England, Wales and Ireland.

In 1603, the union of Scotland and England under King James VI led to a partial union of both country’s currencies, the pound Scots and the pound sterling. Due to Scotland’s heavy debasement of their silver coins, a Scots mark was worth just 13.5d compared to an English mark which was worth 6s 8d. To bridge the difference between the values, unofficial supplementary token coins, often made from lead were issued by unauthorized minters across the country. By 1612 there were 3,000 such unlicensed mints producing these tokens, none of whom paying anything towards the crown. The Royal Mint, not wanting to divert manpower away from minting more profitable Gold and silver, hired outside agent Lord Harington who under licence started issuing copper farthings in 1613. Private licenses to mint these coins were revoked in 1644 which led trader to resume minting their own supplementary tokens. In 1672 the Royal Mint finally took over the production of copper coinage.

In 1662, after previous attempts to introduce milled coinage into Britain had failed. Charles II recalled French moneyer Peter Blondeau to establish a permanent machine-made coinage. Despite the introduction of the newer, milled coins, like the old hammered coins they suffered heavily from counterfeiting and clipping. Full control of London mint was taken over by the Treasury in 1688, up until then the mint had functioned as an independent body which produced coins on behalf of the government. Under the patronage of Charles Montagu, 1st Earl of Halifax, Issac Newton became the mint’s warden in 1696. His role, intended to be a sinecure, was taken seriously by Newton who went about trying combat the country’s growing problems with counterfeiting. By this time, forgeries accounted for 10% of the country’s coinage, clipping was commonplace and the value of silver in coins had surpassed their face value. King William III initiated the Great Recoinage of 1696 whereby all coins were removed from circulation and enacted the Coin Act 1696 making it high treason to own or possess counterfeiting equipment. Satellite mints to aid in the re-coinage were established in Bristol, Chester, Exeter, Norwich, and York with returned coins being valued by weight, not face value. To prevent the new coins from being clipped, Newton added text around their rim, a practice still followed today.

The Acts of Union 1707 united England and Scotland into one country leading London to take over production of Scotland’s currency and thus replacing Scotland’s Pound Scots with the English Pound Sterling. Edinburgh mint subsequently closed on August 4, 1710. As Britain’s empire continued to expand, so to was the need to supply its coinage. This along with the need for new mint machinery and cramped conditions within the Tower of London led to plans for the mint to move to nearby East Smithfield.

1805 to 1967.

Located opposite from the Tower of London on Tower Hill, the new purpose-built mint began construction in 1805 and was completed by 1809, however it was not until 1812 that the move became official when keys from the old mint were ceremoniously delivered to the Constable of the Tower. Facing the front of the site stood the Johnson Smirke Building whose namesake comes from its designer James Johnson and builder Robert Smirke. This building was flanked on both sides by gatehouses behind which another building housed the mint’s new machinery. A number of other smaller buildings were also erected which housed mint officers and staff members. The entire site was protected by a boundary wall which was patrolled by Royal Mint’s military guard.

By 1856, the mint was beginning to prove inefficient, suffering from irregularity in minted coins’ fineness and weight. Instructed by Prime Minister Henry John Temple, the Master of the Mint Thomas Graham was informed that unless the mint could raise its standards and become more economical it would be broken up and placed under management by contractors. Graham sought advice from German chemist August Wilhelm von Hofmann who in turn recommended his student George Frederick Ansell as being able to resolve the mint’s issues. In a letter to the treasury dated October 29, 1856 Ansell was put forward as candidate and subsequently was awarded the role of temporary clerk on the 12th November 1856 with a £120 a year salary.

Upon taking office, Ansell discovered that the weighing of metals at the mint was extremely loose, at the mint it had been the custom to weigh silver to within 0.5 ounces and gold to a pennyweight (0.05 ounces), however these standards meant losses were being made from overvalued metals. In one such case Ansell delivered 7920.00 ounces of gold to the mint where it was weighed by an official at 7918.15 ounces, a difference of 1.85 ounces. Requesting a second weighing on more accurate scale, the bullion was certified to weigh 7919.98 ounces, far closer to the previous measurement which was off by 960 grains. To increase the accuracy of weights, more precise weighing equipment was ordered and specifications were revised to 0.10 ounce for silver and gold to 0.01oz. Between 1856 and 1866 the old scales were gradually removed and replaced with ones made by Messrs. De Grave, Short, and Fanner; winners of the 1856 International Exhibition Prize award.

Another observation Ansell made was the loss of gold during the manufacturing process. He found that 15-20 ounces could be recovered through the sweep, that is the leftover burnt rubbish from the minting process which was often left in open boxes for many months before being removed. Wanting to account for every particle, he hypothesized that because the Conservation of mass meant it was physically impossible for gold to just disappear, he put down the lost weight to a combination of oil, dust and different types of foreign matter amongst the gold.

In 1859, the Royal Mint rejected a batch of gold that was found to be too brittle for the minting of gold sovereigns. Analysis revealed the presence of small amounts of antimony, arsenic and lead. With Ansell’s background in chemistry, he persuaded the Royal Mint to allow him to experiment with the alloy and was ultimately able to produce 167,539 gold sovereigns. On a second occasion in 1868, it was again discovered that gold coins, this time totaling £500,000 worth, were being produced with inferior gold. Although the standard practice at the mint was for rejected coins (known as brockages) to be melted down, many entered general circulation and the mint was forced to return thousands of ounces of gold to the Bank of England. Although Ansell offered to re-melt the substandard coins, his offer was rejected causing a row between him and senior mint chiefs which ultimately led to him being removed from his position at the mint.

In 1851 gold was discovered in Ophir, New South Wales, Australia by prospector Edward Hargraves. The local Legislative Council petitioned the UK government to establish a branch of the royal mint in Sydney to process the finds. The petitioned gain royal assent in 1853 and plans were made by the Deputy Mint Master of the Royal Mint in London to open the Royal Mints first overseas branch within the colony. The Royal Mint’s Superintendent of Coining travelled to Australia to oversee the mint’s establishment on Macquarie Street within the southern wing of Sydney Hospital. Once the mint opened in 1854 it operated for 72 years before closing in 1926 due to its technology and capabilities being succeeded by two new Royal Mint branchesMelbourne Mint (est. 1872) and Perth Mint (est. 1899). After federalization in 1901, Great Britain continued to own the mints to as late as 1 July 1970, when they became statutory authorities of the Government of Western Australia.

Some years after Ansell was ousted a greater demand for coinage and new machinery which aimed at increasing its capacity forced the mint to be partially rebuilt in the 1880s and then again during World War II when it was bombed.

Over the course of the war the Royal Mint was hit on several different occasions and at one point was put out of commission for three weeks. As technology changed with the introduction of electricity and demand continuing to grow, the process of rebuilding continued so that by the 1960s little of the original mint remained, apart from Smirke’s 1809 building and its gatehouses at the front.

On 1 March 1966 the government announced its intention for the pound to be decimalized which would require a large-scale withdrawal and minting of millions of new coins, this, as well as commitments to overseas customers, meant the mint was to be faced with a heavy workload. Lack of space at the mint and with Decimal Day looming it became apparent that the mint needed to again relocate to a larger site. With a degree of urgency plans were made in April 1967 for a new site to be built outside of London, although over twenty sites were considered the small Welsh town of Llantrisant located ten miles (16 km) north-west of Cardiff was chosen Up until now improvements at the Tower Hill mint had cost £800,000.

1967 to present.

Work on the new mint began in August 1967 with the construction of a blank treatment plant and plant for striking. This first phase of the mint was officially opened on 17 December 1968 by the royal attendance of Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip and their son Prince Charles. Originally there were fears that the Royal family would face protests because of the Investiture of Prince Charles as the Prince of Wales however such protests failed to materialize. The second phase of construction began in 1973 and included the addition of a means to mint coins from virgin metals completing the full minting process. Upon completion the final cost for the land, buildings and plant came to £8 million. Coin minting and production gradually shifted to the new site over the next seven years until the last coin, a gold sovereign, was struck in London in November 1975. In an attempt to consolidate all previous coin-related acts, the Coinage Act of 1971 was produced which among other things effectively abolishing the individual role of Master of the Mint. Under this act, the Chancellor of the Exchequer took over the role with a Deputy Master being appointed by the Treasury to exercise all the powers and duties of the Master within the mint.

Financial Difficulties

After moving to Wales, the mint struggled to become profitable as the Western world fell into a deep recession during the early 1970s. To combat a rising national debt, the mint was established as a trading fund on 1 April 1975 which required it to become self-financing. This measure proved successful and the mint started to become profitable through heavy exports. To allow for more financial freedom and better management the mint became an Executive Agency in April 1990.

During the 2008 global financial crisis, a rescue package costing £500 billion was announced to help stabilise Britain’s banking system. This led to fear that the government would attempt to finance the cost by selling off state-owned organisations. In a 2009 pre-budget report the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling stated that the treasury would “explore the potential benefits of alternative future models for the Royal Mint”. A month later in his 2009 United Kingdom budget he recommended that the mint be made a company with a view of it being sold. The decision was met with outrage by unions and opposition parties in parliament who called it the “selling off the family silver” and that it would result in jobs losses. In contrast, the chief executive of the mint Andrew Stafford welcomed the decision stating that it would lead to further growth and secure the future of the business. On the 31st of December 2009, rather than being fully privatized, the mint ceased to be an executive agency and its assets vested in a limited company, Royal Mint Ltd. The owner of the new company became The Royal Mint trading fund, which itself continued to be owned by HM Treasury. As its sole shareholder the mint pays an annual dividend of £4 million to treasury with the remaining profits being reinvested into the mint. In 2015 Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne announced a £20 billion privatisation drive to raise funds with the Royal Mint being up for sale alongside other institutions including the Met Office and Companies House.

Recent Events

In April 2014 the Royal Mint announced plans for the development of a visitor centre in where member of the public could tour the facility and learn about the minting process. To fund the development a grant of £2.3 million was provided by the Welsh Government towards the mint resulting in a project worth £7.7 million. Just over two years later in May 2016 the Royal Mint Experience opened at a final cost of £9 million to favorable applause. Of the activities available, visitors can watch coins being minted and strike their own souvenir £1 coin. In the same month the mint took in 48 tonnes of silver recovered from the shipwreck of the SS Gairsoppa which was used to produce limited edition coins.

In 2015, after nearly 50 years, the mint began producing its own line of bullion bars and coins under its revived Royal Mint Refinery brand. Then in 2016, the mint announced plans for a digital gold currency that uses blockchain to trade and invest in gold. Operated by CME Group, the technology is to be created by technology companies AlphaPoint and BitGo. The system currency which is due to launch in 2017 will be on the gold standard, whereby one RMG token equates to 1 gram of physical gold held within in a Royal Mint vault. Up to $1 billion worth of RMG is set to be issued by the mint.

Operations

The Royal Mint exists principally to mint coins for circulation in the UK but also produces non-circulating commemorative coins and manufactures coins for over 60 other countries. Medals and bullion also produced at the mint which include military medals and civilian decorations for the British Armed Forces and orders of chivalry.

Coin production.

Between the 2015-16 financial year 2.4 billion coins and planchets were minted for the international market and 2,007 million the United Kingdom.

Coins minted (£ bn)201520142013
United Kingdom2.0072.3841.996
International2.42.22.0

Royal Mint Bullion: gold bars and gold coins.

The Royal Mint currently produce two types of gold and silver bullion, namely coins and more recently bullion bars. In the United Kingdom bullion is subject to precious metal taxation with 20% VAT on silver and gold being exempt.

Royal Mint gold bars.

Bullion bars were first produced by the Royal Mint refinery in 1852 under the operation of N.M. Rothschild & Sons who handled most of the gold and silver entering London. After moving to Wales in 1968 the mint stopped making bars until 2015 when production restarted using the original Royal Mint Refinery hallmark.

Bullion bars
FinenessWeights
.999 Gold1 kg500g100g1oz10g5g1g
.999 Silver1 kg500g100gn/a

Royal Mint Bullion Investment gold coins

Minting of bullion coins began in 1957 to meet a demand for authentic sovereign coins which suffered from heavy counterfeiting. Coins were released almost every year alongside proof versions up to 1982 when production was discontinued. In 1987 the mint started to produce a new type of bullion coin, the 1oz Britannia coin which was gold and had a face value of £100. A silver version with a face value of £2 was also released in 1997. Production of the previously discontinued sovereign and half sovereigns resumed in 2000. In 2014 a lunar coin series begun being minted annually in celebration of Lunar New Year and in 2016 a series featuring The Queen’s Beasts began.

Bullion coins
TypeFace ValueDiameterWeightFineness
BritanniaOne Ounce Gold£10032.69mm31.21g.999
One Ounce Silver£238.61mm31.21g.999
Sovereign Elizabeth 2Sovereign£122.05mm7.988g.916
Queen’s BeastsOne Ounce Gold£10032.69mm31.21g.999
Two Ounce Silver£538.61mm62.42g.999
Lunar SeriesOne Ounce Gold£10032.69mm31.21g.999
One Ounce Silver£238.61mm31.21g.999

Medals

In 1922 a special Medal Unit was set up inside the mint which oversaw the manufacturing of all medals and decorations except the Victoria Cross which is manufactured by jewelry company Hancocks From the 1970s to 2009, it produced all Order of the British Empire Insignia, this is now contracted out to companies with a royal warrant of appointment, such as Toye, Kenning & Spencer Ltd. During the 2012 Summer Olympics the mint produced 4,700 gold, silver and bronze medals.

Trial of the Pyx

The Trial of the Pyx is the procedure in the United Kingdom for ensuring that newly-minted coins conform to required standards. The trials have been held since the twelfth century, normally once per calendar year, and continue to the present day. The form of the ceremony has been essentially the same since 1282. They are trials in the full judicial sense, presided over by a judge with an expert jury of assayers. Trials are now held at the Hall of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, having previously taken place at the Palace of Westminster Given modern production methods, it is unlikely that coins would not conform, although this has been a problem in the past as it would have been tempting for the Master of the Mint to steal precious metals.

The term “Pyx” refers to the boxwood chest (in Greek, πυξίς, pyxis) in which coins were placed for presentation to the jury. There is also a Pyx Chapel (or Pyx Chamber) in Westminster Abbey, which was once used for secure storage of the Pyx and related articles.

Coins to be tested are drawn from the regular production of The Royal Mint. The Deputy Master of the Mint must, throughout the year, randomly select several thousand sample coins and place them aside for the Trial. These must be in a certain fixed proportion to the number of coins produced. For example, for every 5,000 bimetallic coins issued, one must be set aside, but for silver Maundy money the proportion is one in 150.

The trial today consists of an inquiry independent of the royal mint.

The jury is composed of Freemen of the Company of Goldsmiths, who assay the coins provided to decide whether they have been minted within the criteria determined by the relevant Coinage Acts.

Awards

  • 2014 Coin of the Year: Best Contemporary Event Coin ‒ 2012 London Olympic Games
  • 2013 Wales Innovation Award: iSIS Security Technology
  • 2010 Coin of the Year: Best Gold Coin ‒ £100 Olympic Games Faster Series: Neptune
  • 1973 Queen’s Awards for Enterprise
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