‘What is a guinea? ‘Tis a splendid thing.’ So reads the edge inscription of this homage to one of Britain’s most famous coins. The guinea has not been struck for more than 200 years, yet it retains its place in our hearts. As we celebrate the 350th anniversary of the first guinea, we honour this most splendid of coins with a very special tribute on a UK £2 coin. The guinea is a coin steeped in romance. Even its name speaks of faraway lands that most could hardly imagine when it was named for the Guinea Coast: the land that gave much of its gold, identified by the elephant mark of the Africa Company that can often be seen next to the obverse portrait on early guineas. 200 years after its last striking we also celebrate its first: 2013 sees the coin’s 350th anniversary. This 2013 commemorative coin brings the guinea to life anew, with a reverse design by sculptor Anthony Smith that evokes the famed 1787 spade-guinea of George III, named for the humble garden tool that its crowned shield resembles. The spade-guinea was minted for just 13 years and was sought after – reportedly by the lady customers of country bankers. It will be sought after once more. The guinea is a firm favourite with collectors, who will be excited to add this piece of its history to their collections. Particularly coveted will be this £2 coin, struck in sterling silver and rimmed with fine gold as a most impressive tribute to one of the world’s most famous coins.
One of the oldest institutions in the world, the Royal Mint began producing coins for England, and eventually Great Britain, more than 1,100 years ago. The mint also produces and exports coins for other countries, as well as military medals, and other products for the British government. The Royal Mint has been witness to the legendary kings and queens, political upheavals, social and governmental progress, and scientific and technological breakthroughs.
The minting of coins began in England around the end of the second century B.C. Around A.D. 650, coins were made by craftsmen called “moneyers” in London. In 886, during the reign of Alfred the Great, the London Mint was designated to be a single institution, though there were many other mints in operation around this time. In 1279 the London Mint was moved to the Tower of London where it remained for the next 500 years. Famed physicist Sir Isaac Newton was the Warden of the Mint in 1696 and as such was responsible for investigating cases of counterfeiting. Three years later he was made Master of the Mint, until his death in 1727, and was responsible for moving England from the Silver standard to the Gold standard in 1717.
The Royal Mint had outgrown its home in the Tower of London so during the 18th century the rickety wooden shacks the mint occupied were rebuilt to accommodate mechanized and rolling mills and coining presses and provide more space. Soon, however, the mint outgrew this new location and in 1809, the mint moved from the Tower of London to an adjacent site in East Smithfield called Tower Hill. By 1899, the Royal Mint was striking 100 million coins a year.
In 1967 it was announced that mint would move from its location at Tower Hill to Llantrisant, Wales, following Parliament’s decision to decimalize currency and in 1968 the first coins were officially struck by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II at the new location in Wales. In 1986, the Royal Mint celebrated 11 centuries of continuous minting. In 2009, the Royal Mint was vested into a government-owned company to provide greater operating and commercial freedom.
One unique aspect of the Royal Mint is a procedure known as the Trial of the Pyx, dates back to 1282 and ensures newly-minted coins meet required government standards. The trials have been held once a each year since their inception and have changed very little over time. These trials are presided over by a judge with a jury of expert assayers and were held at the Palace of Westminster before they were moved to the modern-day site at the Hall of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths. The ceremony was so named after the boxwood chest in which coins were placed for presentation to the jury.