The Royal Mint Museum is a living and active collection. It is regularly enhanced by specimens of the coins and medals being struck by the Royal Mint, and there is also provision for the acquisition by purchase of items considered relevant to the aims of the collection. Coins, medals and other numismatic artefacts are accordingly bought at auction or from dealers if they throw light on the development of the modern British coinage, on the history of the Royal Mint or on minting technology.
A uniface portrait medal of George Francis Hill, designed by the well-known medallist Thomas Spicer-Simson, has been purchased for the Museum. Keeper of the Department of Coins and Medals at the British Museum for 20 years, then Director of the Museum for five more, Hill was the most prominent member of the numismatic community of his day. He was therefore a natural choice in 1922 to be a founding member of the Royal Mint Advisory Committee – and it is for this reason that the medal has been acquired for the collection.
Continuing the Museum’s interest in St George, a medal has been purchased celebrating the raids in the spring of 1918 on the German submarine bases at Zeebrugge and Ostend. The designer leaves no doubt as to the identity of the dragon, the word GERMANIA being emblazoned over its body. A little artistic licence has been taken with the dates, for although the Zeebrugge raid was indeed on St George’s Day – 23 April – the action at Ostend took place on the night of 9-10 May.
The Museum has purchased a silver specimen of the extremely rare medal struck in 1770 to mark the death of Viscount Chetwynd, Master of the Mint from 1745 to 1769. On the obverse appears a portrait of George III, adapted from a pattern five guineas, while the reverse consists of a simple inscription. A notable feature of the inscription are the inverted letter Ns and it is surely a little ironic that a medal struck to commemorate a Master of the Mint should contain an error of this sort. A die for the reverse survives in the Museum and the positioning of the letters and of several surface defects confirm that this is indeed the tool that was used to strike the medal.
When opportunity offers, items are purchased that relate to people associated with the Royal Mint. Chief among these is Isaac Newton, the most famous Mint officer of all time, and the Museum is making a determined effort to put together as comprehensive a collection as possible of numismatic items bearing his portrait. To this end recent purchases have included two important groups of late-18th century tokens and a silver medal for the Exeter Athenaeum, opened in 1835, all of which bear Newton’s name and portrait.
As a reflection of the Museum’s long-standing interest in depictions of St George, two German third-thalers of 1672 have been purchased showing the warrior saint on a somewhat spirited horse using his lance to kill the dragon. The pieces serve as a reminder that, for all the closeness of the association, the coinage of Britain cannot lay exclusive claim to St George.
The Museum’s holdings of numismatic portrayals of Britannia have been strengthened by the purchase of a copper specimen of John Croker’s Peace of Utrecht medal of 1713 – which shows the seated figure of Queen Anne in the guise of Britannia against a background that represents trade and agriculture. Acquisition of this medal has also usefully improved the representation in the Museum of the medallic output of Croker, who was Chief Engraver from 1704 to 1741.