The modern Mint has easily matched, and in many cases surpassed the factory in London, while also retaining its traditional methods and techniques.
Over the last 50 years the coinage of the United Kingdom has been through a period of unprecedented change. Before decimalisation the desire for consistency and stability ensured that a person from 1816 would have had very little difficulty in recognising coins of the 1960s. Since decimalisation and the move to Wales, however, the 5p, 10p and 50p have all been made smaller and lighter, new coins like the 20p, £1 and bi-metallic £2 have been introduced and the 1/2 p has been demonetised. Rising metal prices have resulted in the adoption of plated materials, the 1p and 2p changing to copper-plated steel in 1992 and the 5p and 10p to nickel-plated steel more recently. The Mint continues to adapt and innovate, the new £1 coin, introduced in 2017, being struck with special security features to protect it from counterfeiting.
A trend towards producing more and more commemorative coins and proof coins for collectors was already evident in the closing years at Tower Hill and has been a major development since the transfer of Mint operations from London to Wales. The remarkable demand for proof sets of the last £sd coins led to the introduction of annual proof sets from 1971 onwards. This has been supplemented by an increasing number of commemorative coins to mark royal events and national anniversaries. Particularly successful was the Silver Jubilee crown of 1977 which, at 37 million, holds the record for the largest number of crown pieces for a single event.
All this activity has required the introduction of marketing and order fulfilment departments. Today the Royal Mint produces more commemorative coins than ever before. The coins for London 2012 created widespread interest, especially the series of 50p coins which represented different sports and which could be collected from circulation. More recently coins showing favourite characters from the books of Beatrix Potter have proved particularly popular.
Traditional activities, such as the making of medals and seals, have continued at Llantrisant. Campaign medals have been produced for all the high profile operations in which British troops have been involved in the last 50 years, including the Falklands, Iraq and Afghanistan. These have been accompanied by prestigious medals such as the George Cross and the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross, as well as the Arctic Star for those who served on the dangerous convoys to Russia during the Second World War.
As well as military and civilian decorations for the United Kingdom and overseas, the Mint produces a large variety of prize and commemorative medals for learned societies and private companies. They include a small group of Royal Prize medals awarded by the Queen herself, while the most high profile medals in recent times were for the London Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2012.
The Deputy Master of the Mint is ex officio Engraver of Her Majesty’s Seals and in this capacity the Mint at Llantrisant has supplied various official seals, including that of the Welsh Government. We have also had the honour of providing a new Great Seal of the Realm to replace the original seal provided at the start of the Queen’s reign and which had become worn and damaged by long use.
The move away from London has successfully safeguarded the position of the Mint as a leading exporter, a position which it still enjoys today. On average, the Mint struck coins for 60 countries every year throughout the 1980s, its success supported by a newly-created ability to produce a variety of plated coins and blanks. The installation of the plating plant was a large capital investment and one of the first orders received was from Malawi for copper-plated 1 and 2 tambala pieces. Since that time the demand for low cost plated coins has increased dramatically.
The international market for precious metal coins to be traded as bullion has grown enormously since the 1960s and the sovereign, which was such a feature of production at Tower Hill, London has become a continuing feature of production at Llantrisant. By 1976 a new sovereign unit at the Welsh site had produced 1.9 million pieces and in 1989 the Mint released a special issue of gold coins to celebrate the 500th anniversary of a coin that in the nineteenth century was considered the ‘chief coin of the world’. These commemorative coins, appropriately enough, were launched at an event at the Tower of London where the first sovereign was struck in 1489.
Following on from the success of the South African one-ounce Krugerrand, Nigel Lawson, Chancellor of the Exchequer, in 1987 announced the introduction of a new United Kingdom one-ounce coin, to be called the Britannia. The first Britannia coins were issued in October of that year and bear an award-winning representation of Britannia by the sculptor Philip Nathan. Britannia bullion coins of various weights are now struck in silver and platinum as well as gold.
Today a range of other precious metal coins are made by the Mint specifically for the bullion trade. It is a dynamic aspect of the Mint’s current operations, positioned as it is in the modern digital realm but with feet firmly planted in our long history.
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Explore how five decades have affected the roles of people at the Mint.
Explore events at Llantrisant over the last 50 years.
Explore events at Llantrisant over the last 50 years.