While the Tower of London is Britain’s oldest standing building, The Royal Mint is one of Britain’s longest established organisations. The stories of these two important parts of the nation’s history are closely interwoven. Centuries before The Royal Mint made its home in Wales, it was kept secure within the walls of the Tower of London, before moving to Tower Hill. First established by Edward I in around 1279, the dedicated area within the Tower’s grounds became known as Mint Street and this was where most of the nation’s coins during this time were made. Workers in this area were kept mostly separate from the rest of the Tower in a series of closely guarded workshops. It was a highly esteemed job and one that was essential to British society. Until mechanisation in the 1600s, all of the coins at The Royal Mint were made by hand. It was a hot, noisy, and dangerous job – one man would place a handmade piece of metal between engraved stamps (known as ‘dies’) and then another struck it with a hammer. Poor timing could cost you a finger or even an eye!
Punishment for tampering with coins was classed as treason. Convicted counterfeiters could have their right hand removed for their crime, with further digressions being punished by castration or a traitor’s death of being hung, drawn and quartered. Even if you kept out of trouble and were aware of your surroundings at work, you were still at risk due to the hazardous mixture of toxic chemicals needed to create the coins. An unfortunate group of German workers were killed by the chemical concoctions in the air, after the recommended cure of drinking milk from a human skull failed. Today, The Royal Mint resides in Wales, which is where the 2020 Tower of London Collection has been struck, including a coin celebrating our links with the Tower. In his design, heraldic artist Timothy Noad has depicted a coin upon a coin, which is quite rare in United Kingdom coinage. The coin shown is an Edward I silver penny, and it is likely that these particular coins – which bear the inscription ‘CIVITAS LONDON’ – would have been struck at the Tower as it was during Edward I’s reign that The Royal Mint is first recorded as being housed within the Tower’s walls. A Norman arched window from the White Tower unifies this design with the other three coins in the Tower of London 2020 Collection. The coin is available now in several editions. Each coin features the exclusive Tower of London mint mark and comes with information created in collaboration with Historic Royal Palaces.