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Administrative skill

Newton’s long term contribution to the Royal Mint nevertheless seems in retrospect to be small for the greatest mind of the age. Such a view does not conflict with Montague’s assertion that the success of the Great Recoinage was due in great measure to Newton’s able administration, but it runs counter to the claim of the historian Macaulay that Newton speedily produced a complete revolution within the Royal Mint. On the contrary, he left the Royal Mint in 1727 very much as he found it 30 years before. Good administrator as he may have been, he was not an innovator and in his own words was far more comfortable in the search for precedent than in ‘embarrassing initiative’. The medieval organisation of the Royal Mint was therefore left intact.




Bronze statuette of Newton by the nineteenth-century sculptor William Beattie, presented to the Mint in 1954 by the daughter of a former Deputy Master

Bronze statuette of Newton by the nineteenth-century sculptor William Beattie, presented to the Mint in 1954 by the daughter of a former Deputy Master

Central portion of a disputed gold trial plate of 1707 which, having inadvertently been made finer than the legal standard, caused alarm and confusion at the Trial of the Pyx in 1710

Central portion of a disputed gold trial plate of 1707 which, having inadvertently been made finer than the legal standard, caused alarm and confusion at the Trial of the Pyx in 1710





Draft submission to the Lords Commission of the Treasury, 1715,  one of many such documents in the  Mint papers at The National Archives

Draft submission to the Lords Commission of the Treasury, 1715,
one of many such documents in the
Mint papers at The National Archives

Concern for accuracy

Yet if there is no major reform of the Royal Mint with which his name can be associated, there was nevertheless a real and positive contribution. It is a contribution which shows itself especially in a concern for accuracy, for Newton wanted coins to be made of the correct weight and fineness, varying as little as possible one from another. Such accuracy was unprecedented and, with justice, Newton claimed that he had brought the coinage to a ‘much greater degree of exactness than ever was known before’. In these circumstances it is no wonder that he reacted angrily in 1710 to the mistaken judgement of the jury at the Trial of the Pyx that his gold coins were below standard.

Industry and integrity

A second aspect of his contribution was his undoubted industry. Although he had able deputies, he chose not to delegate everything, providing a welcome change from his predecessors. And finally, and more important still, there is his integrity. He was an honest and respected man who cared for his reputation and who, as in his scientific disputes with Flamsteed and Leibniz, passionately resented reflections on his moral integrity. He is said to have refused a bribe of over £6000 in connection with contracts for the coinage of copper, and there can be no doubt that he set a high standard at a time when corruption was rife.

In consequence Newton raised the status of the Royal Mint by his presence and by his behaviour. He secured a place for the Royal Mint in the highest counsels of the realm and his evident interest in mint affairs, sustained over 30 years, makes him a distinguished part of the history of the Royal Mint.