Photos: Richard Lea-Hair Goldsmiths’ Hall

Over 10,600 Royal Mint coins went on ‘trial’ in London on the 29th January 2019, in one of Britain’s oldest judicial processes – the Trial of the Pyx – which takes place at the Goldsmiths’ Hall in the City of London, the home of the Goldsmiths livery company, who have been responsible for the proceedings since 1580.

Among some of the coins to be tested this year will be the only official UK £5 coin commemorating the royal wedding of His Royal Highness Prince Henry of Wales (Harry) and Ms Meghan Markle; a set of 50p coins to mark the 100th Anniversary of The Representation of the People Act; a set of £2 coins to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the First World War; and a £5 Silver Proof Coin to mark the 5th birthday of HRH Prince George.

Royal Wedding Prince Henry (Harry) and Meghan Markle commemorative coin in rose gold.
First World War 100-year Armistice anniversary Commemorative Coin

A jury made up of Wardens of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths decide whether the coins produced by The Royal Mint are of the correct weight, size and composition, ensuring the public aren’t getting short-changed. The whole trial is presided over by Barbara Fontaine, the Queen’s Remembrancer – the oldest judicial post in England and Wales.

The Trial of the Pyx, which is Latin for chest, was established in the 1248 by Henry III. Today the trials are required by the Coinage Act 1971. In the past the trial was meant to keep a check on any wrongdoing on behalf of those entrusted with minting the coinage. Today the trial is about quality control and ensuring that The Royal Mint has independent recognition for its excellence in the design and manufacture of coins.

Lunar Year of the Dog 2018 Commemorative Coin
Richard Fox examines a commemorative coin at Trial of the Pyx 2019

The final verdict is expected in May, to allow time for a selection of trial coins to be tested by Goldsmiths’ Assay Laboratory and the National Measurement Office. If the jury should return a verdict that the coinage has failed, the penalty in the past has been severe. The Master of the Mint – a role held by the Chancellor of the Exchequer – went to prison for six weeks in 1318 after poor results.

Simon Hutchinson, Deputy Clerk at the Goldsmiths’ company, said: “The number of coins being tested annually has been in sharp decline in recent years. But for as long as we carry cash in our pockets, the Trial of the Pyx will continue – as it has for the last eight centuries – to maintain the high standards of The Royal Mint.”

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