Coins and Kings: The Royal Mint looks rare and lucrative at the Tower of London

By Ben Miller | 28 May 2013

Coins and Kings: The Royal Mint at the Tower, Tower of London, London

A photo of an ancient gold coin
The Queen Elizabeth halfpound coin is one of the key exhibits in the new permanent display at the Tower of London. Queen Elizabeth I was celebrated for restoring the Tudor currency after her father's reign© Historic Royal Palaces
Isaac Newton’s appointment as Warden of the Mint, in 1696, saw him pursue counterfeiters to the tune of £2.5 million in recovered silver. He was rewarded by becoming Master of the Mint three years later, holding the post until he died in 1727.

Newton’s story is one of five told in this new permanent exhibition at the Tower. Others include the harsh punishments for tampering dished out during the 13th century reign of Edward I and, three centuries later, the reign of Elizabeth I, who rigorously restored a “purer” mint following its difficulties under her father, Henry VIII, whose imagery on each coin earned him the name “Old Coppernose”.

One of Henry’s gold plates, from 1542, is a key exhibit, jostling for attention alongside the equally gleaming Edward I groat, of the late 13th and early 14th centuries, and a Charles II petition crown, designed by the Chief Engraver to Oliver Cromwell but never circulated. Its maker, Thomas Simon, was a victim of the plague.

“We wanted to tell the important stores of the Mint,” says Megan Gooch, the Curator at Historic Royal Palaces.

“The Tower is widely known as a palace, a prison and the home of the Crown Jewels.

“But it was also a hive of industry, and the Mint was one of these industries, where most of the nation’s coins were made for more than 500 years.

“It has an impact on the country’s currency. Big political events affected coins. We tell these stories through key moments in the Mint’s history, exploring the lives of the people who lived and worked there.”

A pair of iron dies from Edward III’s reign, more than 600 years ago, are among the earliest exhibits. And a drawing of the Mint’s purpose-built Tower Hill factory, as seen in 1810, represents the twilight years of perhaps the world’s most famous coining room.

  • Open 9am-5.30pm (10am-5.30pm Sunday and Monday). Tickets £10.17-£21.45 (free for under-5s, family ticket £53.90-£57.20). Book online. Follow the palaces on Twitter @hrp_palaces and use the hashtag #CoinsandKings.
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