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Portrait of Isaac Newton, after  Godfrey Kneller

Portrait of Isaac Newton, after
Godfrey Kneller








Walnut cabinet which Mint tradition associates with Newton and which is now in the Royal Mint Museum
Walnut cabinet which Mint tradition associates with Newton and which is now in the Royal Mint Museum

Isaac Newton

Warden and then Master of the Royal Mint 1696-1727

Isaac Newton was appointed Warden of the Royal Mint in the spring of 1696 on the recommendation of Charles Montague, Chancellor of the Exchequer. Public office was new to him, but nevertheless it was an opportunity which he had sought, and Montague’s letter of 19 March 1696 notifying him of the king’s promise of the vacant post of Warden would not have been unwelcome.

The Royal Mint was then in the Tower of London and it was accordingly to the Tower that Newton came in April 1696 to take up his new duties. It was a time of great activity, for the Royal Mint was grappling with the recoinage of old silver coins dating back to the reign of Elizabeth I and beyond. Auxiliary mints were being set up in various parts of the country, and Newton was quickly caught up in the pressure of the moment. The enormous operation was completed within three years, leaving Newton more time to devote to his main duty of investigating and bringing to justice those who clipped and counterfeited the coin of the realm.

Appointment as Master

In 1699 the post of Master of the Royal Mint fell vacant by the death of Thomas Neale. Though technically less senior than that of Warden, it was a more lucrative post because the Master acted as a contractor to the Crown and profited from the rates at which he put the work out to sub-contractors. The Mastership was offered to Newton and he took up its duties with effect from Christmas Day 1699. Surviving the political upheavals of those troubled times, he remained as Master until his death in March 1727.

Active involvement

It was plainly a time when, if Newton chose, there were important questions requiring his supervision and judgement, practical control and administrative skill. And from the start there is no doubt of an active involvement in the affairs of the Royal Mint.

  • He is known to have himself conducted interviews with criminals and
    informers

  • He was present when treasure captured from the French and Spanish fleet at Vigo Bay was brought into the Royal Mint

  • The Scottish Mint in Edinburgh acknowledged with gratitude the friendly assistance they received from him after the Union in 1707

  • His famous report of 21 September 1717 paved the way for a reduction in the value of the guinea to the familiar 21 shillings

  • He supervised experiments on the purity of copper and some believe that he may even have carried out his own assays of gold and silver

  • Above all, the evidence of his activity is there to see in the hundreds of surviving draft reports and letters, written in his own hand and often many times over




Medallic portrait of Newton by  John Croker, Chief Engraver of the  Mint during the greater part of  Newton’s Mastership

Medallic portrait of Newton by
John Croker, Chief Engraver of the
Mint during the greater part of
Newton’s Mastership

Five-guinea piece of 1703 made from gold seized from a Spanish treasure fleet destroyed in Vigo Bay in  October 1702

Five-guinea piece of 1703 made from gold seized from a Spanish treasure fleet destroyed in Vigo Bay in
October 1702