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In this special edition of Treasures of London, we’re taking a quick look at a new permanent exhibition which has opened at the Tower of London focusing on the 500 years it served as the Royal Mint.

Opened in partnership with the Royal Mint Museum, the new exhibition, Coins and Kings: The Royal Mint at the Tower, features a series of rare coins and other coin-related paraphernalia, including a rare silver groat from the time of King Edward I (1279-1307), a gold “trial plate” dating from 1542 in the reign of King Henry VIII, and a Charles II petition crown dating from 1663 – pictured above, it was sent to King Charles II by engraver Thomas Simon as an example of his work (Simon never got the job and died of plague three years later).

Coin1There’s also a silver ‘testoon’ from the reign of King Henry VIII (it bears a Holbein-style portrait of him) which has been debased – indeed, such was the state of coinage during his reign that the “silver” coins often contained more cheap metal, like copper, than silver so that as they wore down, the copper shone through earning the king the delightful nickname, ‘Old Coppernose’ (pictured right).

The tower was used as the country’s mint from about 1279 – when King Edward I moved the Royal Mint inside the Tower as part of his efforts to clean up England’s coinage – to 1812 – when the Royal Mint was relocated out of the Tower to a purpose-built premises on Tower Hill – and the exhibition focuses on five moments from its history.

They include a look at the efforts of Sir Isaac Newton, Warden (and later Master) of the Royal Mint, in tracking down forgers in the late 1600s (his rather zealous prosecutions of those creating forgeries, in particular one William Chaloner, is retold with aplomb in Thomas Levenson’s book Newton and the Counterfeiter), King Edward I’s harsh punishments for people who dared to tamper with his coinage, Queen Elizabeth I’s restoration of the coinage after her father, King Henry VIII’s meddling with the currency, and King Charles II’s rejection of Commonwealth money.

There’s a series of events to go with the exhibition’s opening including the change to see some of the coins up close and family activities (check out the Tower of London website – link below – for more details).

WHERE: Tower of London (nearest tube station Tower Hill); WHEN: 9am to 5.30pm, Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 5.30pm Sunday to Monday; COST: £21.45 adults; £10.75 children under 15; £18.15 concessions; £57.20 for a family; WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/toweroflondon/.  

PICTURES: Historic Royal Palaces/newsteam

This is a section of the Cromwell Trial Plate used in the Trial of the Pyx in 1649. The Trial of the Pyx, still held every year in February, dates back to the 12th century; its purpose was to ensure, in a public demonstration, that coins produced at the Royal Mint were within set parameters surrounding weight, size and metallic composition. It is named after the box in which coins were transported, known as a pyx (from the Latin pyxis for box or chest – these were historically kept in the Chamber of the Pyx at Westminster Abbey), and involves melting down samples of coins and measuring the gold and silver content against a benchmark piece of metal known as a Trial Plate. This Trial Plate, created by the Goldsmith’s Company during the first year of the Commonwealth, is among 400 treasures on show as part of Gold: Power and Allure, a landmark exhibition celebrating the story of gold and Britain being held at the Goldsmiths’ Hall in association with the World Gold Council. Runs until 28th July. Admission is free. For more, head to www.thegoldsmiths.co.uk. PICTURE: © Royal Mint.