The Royal Mint

The Royal Mint

Screw Press

Discover the history behind the coinage of England

History of the Royal Mint

At the end of the 13th century the Royal Mint moved to the Tower of London and expanded, although there had been mints operating in London since Roman times.

  • 1278-1279 - The Royal Mint was located at the Tower of London
  • 1509-1547 - Under Henry VIII local production of coins was brought to an end. The Royal Mint became the only authority for the production of coinage
  • 1662 - The process of manually striking coins was replaced with the screw press and the horse-driven rolling mill
  • By the turn of the 19th century - The Royal Mint's facilities occupied almost the entire outer ward of the Tower
  • 1810 -  The last coins were struck at the Tower and the Royal Mint relocated to Little Tower Hill
  • 1968 - The Royal Mint moved to Llantrisant, South Wales

William Foxley – Sleeper in the Mint

A painting of Henry VIII. On loan from the Walker ArtGalleryA curious incident is recounted in the records of the Royal Mint from 1546.

William Foxley, a maker of melting pots, was discovered asleep at his post and remained asleep for fourteen days. All attempts to wake him failed. Even pricking him with needles and inflicting small burns did not cause him to stir.

Word of the spectacle became so widespread that even Henry VIII went to examine him personally, but he too could offer no explanation. When Foxley finally awoke, it seemed to him as if he had slept only one night.

He appeared to have suffered no ill effects from the incident and is recorded in the Chapel Register as having died forty years later.

English coinage

Henry VIII inherited a prosperous kingdom with a flourishing economy from his father. However, successive wars on the Continent and the building of numerous extravagant palaces left him and England deep in debt.

This led King Henry to institute the first ever debasement of England’s coinage, in which base metals such as copper replaced some of the gold or silver content of a coin while it retained its original value. The precious metal left out went to the King to help him to reduce his massive debts.

By the end of his reign, some coins contained so much copper that the silver would wear away revealing the copper beneath. This happened frequently on the nose of Henry’s portrait on the coins, giving him the nickname ‘Old Copper Nose’.

* Images © courtesy of The Royal Mint

This exhibition is supported by:
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