A symbol of royal power for nearly 1,000 years, the Tower of London remains one of Britain’s most iconic attractions.

But did you know that for over 500 years The Tower of London housed The Royal Mint?

It’s safe to say that during The Royal Mint’s time in The Tower, making coins was hot, noisy and dangerous affair. So much so that tampering with coins was considered treason, and the threat of gruesome punishment alone was enough to deter most, if not all, forgers and thieves.

For me, there’s no coin stories as fascinating as the ones that originate from The Royal Mint’s time a at The Tower. Here’s a selection of my very favourite ones…

Health and Safety was not a concern

In stark comparison to the society we live in today, the health and safety of Mint workers was not a top priority during the Mint’s time in The Tower.

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The Royal Mint was housed in The Tower of London for over 500 years, from 1279 to 1810. Image courtesy of Regency History.

Mechanisation in the 1600’s was welcome relief for Mint workers, as up until this point, all coins were made by hand. As a result, it wasn’t unusual for workers to be injured, and the loss of fingers and eyes was not uncommon.

When it came to striking the coins, split second timing and staying alert could mean the difference between making a coin and losing a finger! That’s because in order to strike a coin, one worker would place a handmade piece of metal between two engraved stamps – called dies – and a second worker would then strike it with a hammer. This procedure would stamp the coin design on to the metal, but if both parties were not on the ball sometimes a finger would be removed in the process.

Even then, it actually wasn’t until screw-operated presses were introduced in the 1700’s that life for Mint workers became relatively safe.

Dirty, deadly money

Working in the Mint was dirty and dangerous work. Huge furnaces were used to melt down precious metal, and the air was full of deadly chemicals and poisonous gases. This made the coin making process a real hazard.

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The Silver Melting House at The Royal Mint. Image courtesy of Old UK Photos.

In the 1560’s a group of unfortunate German workers learned this the hard way. Several of them were suspected to have been poisoned by clouds of noxious gas, and they fell incredibly ill. Seasoned workers at the Mint advised them of the cure – to drink milk from a human skull! Despite the so called ‘cure’, several men died.

The mysterious case of Sleeping Beauty

Several decades prior to this, in the 1540’s, William Foxley was another victim of the Mint’s lax health and safety. Though how exactly, still no one to this day knows for sure! Foxley was a potter at the Mint, and one day he fell asleep over his pots and no one could wake him up.

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Engraving of The Mint Engraving by John Bluck after artwork by Thomas Rowlandson & Auguste Charles Puginm from the publication ‘The Microcosm of London’. Image courtesy of The Tower of London.

It’s unclear what exactly caused Foxley’s coma, and allegedly King Henry VIII himself swung by The Tower to check out the mysterious sleeping beauty. For the majority of the British population, the only way they knew what their monarch looked like was thanks to the obverse of the coin. So Foxley will have been disappointed to have slept through his audience with the King.

This case perplexed physicians for 14 days, after which Foxley woke up and was the picture of perfect health. Remarkably he lived for another 40 years.

Tampering with coins was considered treason

Treason was not taken lightly. In fact any tampering with coins, such as shaving silver from the edge of a coin to steal it, was classed as treason and the severe punishments that awaited thieves and forgers was nearly enough in most instances to put them off.

During medieval times, the sentence for a first-time convicted counterfeiter was to remove their right hand. Any second offences were punishable by castration. It’s unknown exactly what followed this particularly gruesome punishment for a third or even a fourth offence.

But if you think this is severe, in later years and right up until the 1700’s male forgers suffered a traitor’s death – that is to be hung, drawn and quartered. Meanwhile, female forgers were either burned at the stake or transported on one of the infamous convict ships to their designated place of exile.


If you’re interested…

The Royal Mint has just released a BRAND NEW UK £5 coin to celebrate its longstanding and fascinating history with The Tower of London.

UK 2020 The Royal Mint Silver Proof 5 Pound Coin Product Images Coin Obverse Reverse - Tales from The Tower’s maximum security Mint – where making coins was a dangerous business

The coin is available in a range of specifications, including Brilliant Uncirculated and extremely limited edition Silver Proof and Silver Proof Piedfort. Given the historical significance of this commemorative, it is expected to be highly sought-after by serious collectors now and in years to come. That said, we do not expect to be able to offer it for long.

Click here for more information and to view the range >>

One of the questions I get asked most, by my friends and others in the coin business, is: what is the best (and most affordable) way to build an enviable collection of historic coins?

There are so many fascinating coins in British history, it’s a question that is hard to answer. Where do you start!?

Which is why I’ve decided to put together an Expert Guide to building a collection of historic coins, by answering some of the questions I hear most often from collectors…

How far back can I go?

One of the questions collectors face when they first start collecting historic coins is: how far back can I go? Is a Victorian coin affordable, and did every monarch release coins?

As a general rule, coins tend to get more expensive the further back in time you go. Which is why owning a coin from our current monarch is the best place to start. You can then work your way back through other famous monarchs.

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The 2015 Longest Reigning Monarch £5

Most collectors can aim to collect coins from each monarch back to the 17th century. After the tumultuous leadership of Oliver Cromwell, Charles II reclaimed the throne and began a period of standardised coin issue. For most collectors it’s possible to collect coins back to this fascinating period in history without breaking the bank!

Which are the important monarchs?

A great coin collection should contain coins issued by famous monarchs, monarchs that changed the history of our nation and ones that revolutionised our coinage.

An obvious monarch is Queen Victoria – the monarch who built the largest Empire the world has ever seen and who oversaw some of the greatest changes our nation has ever experienced. And every collection should contain an important issue by our current monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, the longest reigning monarch in our nation’s history! And you can’t leave out George III, not only did he oversea a complete overhaul of our currency but he’s also our longest reigning King.

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The 1887-1890 Queen Victoria Double Florin

Those are just a few of the key monarchs, but once you start collecting you’ll find that each monarch has a fascinating story and a number of really interesting coin issues.

Base metal, Silver or Gold?

Gold has historically been seen as the pinnacle for collectors. But this famous metal comes with its difficulties. Gold coins were issued in much smaller numbers, and not every monarch released a standardised gold coin. Which means that to own a Gold coin from some monarchs is extremely difficult – for example George VI only issued a Sovereign for one year of his reign.

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The Edward VII 1902 Silver Crown

Base metal and Silver coins tend to be much more achievable for most collectors. Base metal coins (pennies, farthings and the like) tend to be less expensive, however because of their lower value the quality of coins can vary widely. Silver coins were issued by most monarchs, and because of their slightly higher value tend to be found in better grades.

How should I store my coins?

The wear and tear of an old coin is part of the appeal of collecting historic coins, but it’s important to protect your coins from any outside interference that could potentially discolour, wear or generally affect the condition of your coin.

I would recommend always storing your coins in capsules, and if possible in a tamperproof capsule that will guarantee the condition of your coin for generations to come. And as you build your collection, there’s nothing better than having a box with trays to keep your collection together for you to store and present.

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The UK 1723 George I South Sea Company Shilling in an protective capsule

How much will it cost me?

For most collectors building a historic coin collection, one of the most confusing elements can be price. The prices for historic coins can vary widely – you might find an old Victorian penny at a car boot for less than £10 and then see what looks like the same coin selling for hundreds on an online auction site.

I’d always recommend purchasing carefully, preferably by making sure you either have an expert opinion or by ordering from a reputable retailer. By making sure you’re getting your coins from the right place, building a collection of Silver coins back to the 17th century is actually more affordable than many collectors realise – in fact most coins should cost between £100 and £500.

Lastly… have fun!

The most important part of collecting coins is having those coins in your hand and feeling the history your coin has carried with it over generations. So have some fun and get collecting!

If you would like to learn more about building your own historic coin collection, with some expert guidance, just fill out the form below. One of our team will be in contact with you soon:

Earlier this week, three brand new £2 coins were released to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain.

So in my latest video I tell you everything you need to know about these hugely popular new coins, from their INCREDIBLY SMALL 495 worldwide edition limit, to the inspiration behind the designs. It really is a video you can’t afford to miss.


If you’re interested

DN Jersey £2 BoB BU gold and Silver sets homepage banners 4 1024x386 - Everything you need to know about the NEW £2 collection that only 495 collectors can own