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Copper medal by Croker commemorating the Peace of Utrecht, 1713

John Croker’s punch for the obverse of his Royal Family medal of 1732

Medals and the Royal Mint

For centuries the Royal Mint has been home to the production of medals, both official and private, and its engraving department has included many who could claim a place in the pantheon of great medallists – Thomas Simon, John Croker, Benedetto Pistrucci and William Wyon.

Private beginnings

To begin with, its medal work was largely undertaken by the engravers as private commissions. The designing, striking and selling of medals, for which the Mint might provide a greater or lesser degree of practical assistance, enabled the engravers to supplement their official salaries. But it was also of service to the Mint itself, as Croker, Samuel Bull and Gabriel Le Clerc were not slow to point out in 1706 when they petitioned for continuation of the right to make ‘all sorts of medals’. Such activity, they claimed, ‘ will very much contribute to the perfecting themselves in the Art and Mystery of graving, chiefly at this time when there is no other employment for them in the Mint, least for want of exercise they should lose that skill they have which is the chief security of the coin.’ [1]

[1] PRO. Mint 1/7, p. 53.

Support of Isaac Newton

It was an argument which the senior Mint officers, Isaac Newton among them, were happy to support, repeating for the benefit of the Treasury that ‘good graving is the best security of the coin and is best acquired by graving of medals’. There was, too, the not unrelated hope that skilled engravers would be attracted to the service of the Mint by the prospect of remunerative private work and a due succession thereby ensured. [2]

[2] PRO. Mint 1/7, p. 54.

A Royal Warrant of 2 November 1706 accordingly confirmed that Croker and his colleagues might indeed make medals as their predecessors had done, though in the case of medals in memory of ‘Great Actions’ the approval of the Warden, Master and Comptroller of the Mint was required. [3]

[3] PRO. Mint 1/8, pp. 60-61. See also Peter Barber, ‘Commemoration and Control: the design and issue of official commemorative medals in England, 1704-13’, The Medal 6, pp. 2-5.

The privilege was continued by subsequent warrants of 1716 and 1728, accompanied on the second of these occasions by the clear implication that medals must not be allowed to take precedence over the coinage. [4]

[4] PRO. Mint 1/8, p. 113 and 1/9 at back.

Such a reminder might perhaps have been directed with greater justice, later in the century, to Lewis Pingo, whose private commitments look to have interfered with the despatch of official business.