William III: The Great Recoinage

William III: The Great Recoinage

Photo: Historic Royal Palaces

In the 1690s Isaac Newton oversaw the great recoinage at The Mint.

Crimes against currency

Dies late 17th century.Photo: Historic Royal PalacesIn the 1690s many coins in people’s pockets had been around for generations. Many were so heavily clipped that letters were missing and the coins appeared smaller than they should have been. The clipped metal was then sold for profit by unscrupulous criminals.

These coins presented little challenge for counterfeiters, and fakes flooded the market. They were cast in cheap metals such as lead or copper using moulds. They were then coated with silver to look like genuine coins.

By 1696 almost ten per cent of the currency was fake.

In an attempt to solve the problem, William III’s government ordered a ‘Great Recoinage’ of all the old silver coins in circulation.

Isaac Newton at the Mint

Isaac Newton was appointed Warden in 1696 at the start of the Great Recoinage and took his role seriously. He calculated the most efficient method to produce coins, and his observations helped the Mint re-coin nearly £2.5 million of silver in three years. In 1699, he was given the job of Master of the Mint, which he held until his death in 1727.

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