At the Royal Mint Museum, one of the questions we are asked a lot is “has anyone ever tried to rob the Mint?”. The answer is “yes, but a very long time ago”.

In our library is an account of a robbery that took place in the late 1700s when the Mint was located inside the Tower of London.

 

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On the morning of December 20 1799, a man named James Turnbull was at work in the Mint’s Coin Press Room, the area of the factory where blank discs of metal are struck with the design that turns them into coins. In this case the coins being struck were valuable gold coins known as guineas.

 

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When the other workers went for their breakfast, James Turnbull stayed behind with another man, Mr Dalton. Once the coast was clear he took out a pistol and threatened another employee, Mr Finch, while Dalton stood watch at the door to make sure no one discovered their crime. Finch had the keys to a chest where the coins were kept securely and Turnbull forced him to hand them over. Once he had the keys he stole more than 2000 guineas and made his escape with Dalton.

The two men managed to get out of the Tower and away with the coins and then parted company.

 

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Sometime later on 5 January, Turnbull was caught in Dover trying to buy passage to France on a ship. Suspicions were raised at the port and the local constable, having been given a description of Turnbull and the Mint robbery, arrested him.

At the trial, Turnbull was found guilty of his crimes and sentenced to death.

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