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Melting and casting

Melting and casting

Hand-held coinage dies of the  mid-14th century

Hand-held coinage dies of the
mid-14th century

The Middle Ages

Up until the 1660s, English coins were struck between a pair of hand-held dies. The pile, or lower die, had a spiked end to enable it to be driven firmly into a block of wood; a blank was placed on top of the pile and above it was held the trussel or upper die. The trussel then received blows from a hammer, causing the blank to be impressed with the obverse and reverse designs.

Dies were produced on average at the rate of two trussels to one pile, for the trussel by sustaining the direct blows of the hammer was subjected to greater wear and tear. It was therefore the custom for the trussel to bear the reverse design, since this was simpler and more easy to replace than the royal portrait which by now normally appeared on the obverse. Yet even the portrait may not have been that difficult to reproduce, being constructed by small chisel-like punches showing crescents, pellets, wedges and bars.

Written accounts of the minting process from this time are few and far between but a document of 1606 lists out a 16-stage process:

  • melting and casting the ingots,
  • annealing, or heat treating, the ingots to soften them,
  • hammering the ingots,
  • another annealing,
  • cutting the ingots into blanks,
  • annealing the blanks,
  • hammering the blanks thinner,
  • another annealing,
  • another hammering of the blanks,
  • another annealing,
  • another hammering of the blanks,
  • rolling and
  • hammering the edges to make the blanks rounder,
  • another annealing,
  • blanching to clean the blanks
  • and then finally coining.





A medieval minting workshop

A medieval minting workshop