Close

The Royal Mint Museum uses cookies to ensure we give you the best experience on our website.
If you continue to use our website we assume that you are happy to receive these cookies. Find out more


A fine medallic portrait by Benedetto Pistrucci of his patron William Wellesley Pole, Master of the Mint from 1814 to 1823
A fine medallic portrait by Benedetto Pistrucci of his patron William Wellesley Pole, Master of the Mint from 1814 to 1823









William Wyon’s plaster model for the obverse of Great Exhibition medals of 1851





















































An original sketch by Edward Poynter for the reverse of the Ashanti medal, 1874

Growing importance of official medals

The undertaking of private commissions for medals persisted into the first half of the nineteenth century, both Pistrucci and William Wyon being allowed access to the ‘Great Die Press’ in order to strike medals for their clients. But by then there was also a growing number of medals struck on official account. The Coronations of 1821, 1831 and 1838, for instance, required the Mint to strike hundreds of medals in gold, silver and bronzed copper for distribution on the day of the ceremony and also for sale afterwards. And, more significantly still, 1815 had seen the beginning of the modern series of campaign medals with the production of silver medals designed by Thomas Wyon junior for the victors of Waterloo. Long service medals for the army and navy soon followed, and as the tentacles of empire spread so the attendant military activity provided a constant stream of work for the presses of the Mint.

The end of private commissions

Private work ceased in 1851, the victim of an extensive administrative reform of the Mint which required its officers thereafter to devote all their energies to official duties and to forego opportunities for private profit. The change coincided with the death of William Wyon, and among the last of the commissions carried out under the old system was the handsome series of medals which he prepared for the Great Exhibition of that year. It is his son Leonard, however, who deserves sympathy, his diary showing clearly how removal of access to the facilities of the Mint transformed his medal-making into a troublesome and inconvenient cottage industry, necessitating on occasion the assistance of his wife and his domestic servants [5]

[5] BL Additional MS. 59617.



William Wyon’s plaster model for the obverse of Great Exhibition medals of 1851

Domination of gallantry and service medals

For the Mint the production of gallantry and service medals came increasingly to dominate, substantial numbers being struck in consequence of the Crimean War and other military conflicts. From 1874 it took over from sub-contractors the making of mounts and bars, enabling it if required to perform the full range of activities associated with medal-making. And it was work which the Mint did well, taking especial pride in the Ashanti medal with its splendid reverse by Edward Poynter, thought by some to be the most beautiful of all campaign medal designs. [6]

[6] For a good description of the preparation of Poynter’s design see Alison Inglis, ‘The Medals of Sir Edward Poynter’, The Medal 7, pp. 21-24.

As for the other medals, however, these were now sadly few, except in years like 1887 and 1897 when the Mint joined enthusiastically in the celebrations for the Golden and Diamond Jubilees of Queen Victoria. Any hope that the arrival of the talented De Saulles might foreshadow a more active approach was disappointed by his tragically early death in 1903. If anything the Mint retired further into the background, shedding as war loomed even such regular customers as the University of London.