Goldsmiths’ Hall is a building comprised of high ceilings, Doric columns, marble staircases, polished brass and dark, heavy woods – even the door handles have a feeling of importance and authority. It is in these surroundings that the Trial of the Pyx has taken place since 1871, testing the accuracy and quality of UK coins struck by The Royal Mint. The Trial of the Pyx is an ancient practice that extends back more than 700 years – to the reign of Edward I – and the weight of that tradition hangs in the air during what is now an annual ceremony.
The Royal Mint uses the most state-of-the-art machinery available, which allows us to produce coins of unrivalled quality with unparalleled accuracy. Despite this, our coins continue to be assessed at the Trial of the Pyx as it is an independent means of demonstrating and ensuring the quality of our products. Indeed, it is a real trial, overseen by the Queen’s Remembrancer of the Royal Courts of Justice. Today, that person is Barbara Fontaine, the first woman to hold the judicial title.
If you were an observer at the Trial of the Pyx, you would see the Queen’s Remembrancer appropriately seated at the head of a large, wooden table. Before her are the various jurors of the ceremony, including Sirs, Dames, doctors, professors and other individuals with the sorts of titles you would expect in such a setting. Lined up to the left are white-gloved staff from The Royal Mint, most of whom have eagerly volunteered to be here and are ready to distribute coins for inspection, as well as assist in the cataloguing process. A row of chairs to the right hold a number of observers, and beyond the table is the public gallery packed with people who are keen to see this spectacle.
Staff from The Royal Mint rush back and forth to the jurors at a pace that breaks a sweat whilst counting machines whir and clink. Jurors hold coins up to the light, tap them against the table, and raise them up for the public gallery to see. The din of excitement raises and spectators in the public gallery are standing and talking, holding out their phones to take pictures, and leaning into the jurors’ area just enough for security officials to step forward and respectfully wave them back. Occasionally, jurors will approach the public gallery with particularly awe-inspiring pieces – such as the Una and the Lion 2019 UK Five-Kilo Gold Proof Coin – to allow a closer look.
Soon, the action moves to adjacent rooms where even more coins are counted and weighed. Some of these coins will be set aside to be taken to the Assay Office, where their metallic composition will be checked, and most will be weighed, measured and returned to their boxes before being transported back to The Royal Mint. The vast majority of the coins will then be melted down and the metal will be used for new coins. A very limited few, however, will be offered to the public and those who choose to own a coin that has been through the Trial of the Pyx will have a physical connection with hundreds of years of history, and the thousands of lives it has touched.