Letters and Lions

Posted on Friday, July 17, 2015 by The Royal Mint Museum

piece punches in the collection before coating

Piece punches in the collection before coating
One of the highlights of the inventory project has been uncovering the hidden gems of the collection. When we recently finished reorganising all the smaller museum store spaces the collections assistants came across approximately 9,000 piece punches, dating from the 19th and 20th centuries.

These piece punches are handmade tools which were used to add inscriptions, engravers signatures or other partial details to coin and medal dies. They consist of a long shaft with a raised letter, figure or design engraved on the end. When this letter is placed on a blank die of soft metal and struck with a hammer it leaves an impression. These tools were used to make a negative impression on a die. Once the soft metal of a finished die was hardened it could then be used to strike a raised design on coins. This method is still used to strike coins at The Royal Mint today.

The punches represent many letters and figures, in different sizes and fonts, for coins and medals from around the world. In addition the collection also includes tools with geometric patterns, scrolls, and picture designs such as crowns. Our particular favourites are some beautifully made musical notes and the regal looking lion seen below which is even more impressive when you realise it is only 2cm long.

Examples of different designs on the piece punches including a lion, crown and geometric shape
Examples of different designs on the piece punches including a lion, crown and geometric shape

Unfortunately over years of use and storage some of the tools had developed rust patches. This was obscuring their designs and if left untreated would eventually destroy the details on the tools altogether. For this reason, although the letter punches were not included in the original inventory plan, the decision was made to clean and coat them in order to protect them for the future.

Corroded tools before treatment
Corroded tools before treatment

Over the course of 3 weeks the tools were treated and coated. The surface rust was removed using bio-chemical gel and brushes made of glass bristles. Next they were cleaned with rubbing alcohol (isopropanol) to remove grease and other contaminants before being coated with an industrial hot dip coating to prevent further corrosion in storage.

Piece punches after cleaning and hot dip coating
Piece punches after cleaning and hot dip coating

Welcome to the Royal Mint Museum Blog. Here you’ll get to meet the faces behind the Museum and find out how our hard-working team cares for this exceptional and varied collection. You’ll find entries on our favourite objects, how we’re looking after the objects, and the work being done to interpret and research the collection. You may also from time to time get a sneak preview of exciting projects and future exhibitions.

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