May 6, Goldsmiths’ Hall, City of London: Today at Goldsmiths’ Hall in London, the Queen’s Remembrancer, Senior Master Barbara Fontaine, pronounced the verdict on the 7,968 coins submitted at the Trial of the Pyx in January, including the 10Kg “Queens’ Beasts” gold proof – the largest coin ever created by the Royal Mint.
Along with this one-of-a-kind masterwork, created using a combination of traditional skills and innovative technology, 2,700 pieces of the nation’s currency and a further 5,267 commemorative coins were submitted, tested and passed for quality and accuracy in one of the nation’s longest-established judicial ceremonies, dating back to the 12th Century.
Today’s verdict marks the end of a three-stage process, which started in January, when a jury of goldsmiths carefully counted and weighed a selection of new coins (legal tender and commemorative coins) taken at random from the Royal Mint’s 2021 production line. After adjourning for three months to allow the Goldsmiths’ Company Assay Office time to thoroughly test the coins, the Queen’s Remembrancer then delivers the verdict at Goldsmiths’ Hall, where both the Trial and the Verdict have taken place annually since 1871.
The Trial fulfils a legal requirement imposed by an Act of Parliament (Coinage Act 1971) to conduct an examination by jury to ascertain that the coins of the realm, produced by the Royal Mint, are of the correct weight, size, and composition.
Prime Warden of the Goldsmiths’ Company, Dame Lynne Brindley, commenting on the verdict today said: “Today’s verdict is important for the future of coins: both the everyday pieces found in the nation’s pockets and purses, and the beautiful commemorative pieces that have found renewed popularity with both collectors and investors. It shows an enduring commitment from the Royal Mint to uphold the highest standards of quality and provides an assurance that the Goldsmiths’ Company continues to protect consumers by assessing and testing the nation’s coinage with the same vigour today as it has done for almost 700 years.”
Anne Jessopp, Chief Executive of The Royal Mint said: “As Britain’s oldest company, we have an incredible 1,100-year heritage which includes the ancient Trial of the Pyx ceremony. As our business continues to evolve, the coins we submit vary in size, metal, and design but they all remain of the highest standard of British craftsmanship. We are delighted to have that standard affirmed through today’s verdict.”
The Trial of the Pyx today
- The purpose of the annual Trial is to check that UK coins produced at The Royal Mint are within the statutory limits for metallic composition, weight, and size.
- Officials from The Royal Mint bring chests (Pyx) to Goldsmiths’ Hall, hence the name ‘Trial of the Pyx’
- These coins represent one coin from every batch of each denomination minted.
- During the opening proceedings, the coins are counted and weighed, and a selection are put aside for testing by the Goldsmiths’ Company Assay Office.
- The Goldsmiths’ Company Assay Office has three months to test the coins.
- The benchmark against which the coins are tested is called a Trial Plate.
- The trial jury, which must consist of at least six members of the Goldsmiths’ Company, is a formal court of law, summoned to Goldsmiths’ Hall by the Queen’s Remembrancer, the oldest judicial post in England and Wales.
History of the Trial of the Pyx
- Origins of the Trial of the Pyx go back as far as circa 1180, when some form of trial may have been ordered by Henry II who instigated various control initiatives.
- The first record of a public trial dates from 1248. Twelve citizens of London and twelve goldsmiths of the City were selected to examine the money.
- In 1279, Edward I published an ordinance called ‘The Form of the New Money’ which described how a sample of the work produced each day at the mint in the Tower of London should be placed in a box, or ‘Pyx’.
- Up until the reign of Elizabeth I the juries of the Trial of the Pyx were composed of a mixture of goldsmiths and other citizens of the City of London. Elizabeth I gave the Goldsmiths’ Company full responsibility for the Trial in 1580, and all jurors were nominated from its members from then on.
- 1707 also saw the production of new trial plates following the Act of Union between England and Scotland, to bring the Edinburgh Mint into line with the Tower of London
- Although previous Trials had occasionally been held at Goldsmiths’ Hall, it became the permanent venue by law after the Coinage Act of 1870.
- The first Trial in Goldsmiths’ Hall, as the permanent venue, was held in 1871 and it has been held there every year since.
- The Master of the Mint – a role held by the Chancellor today – went to prison for six weeks in 1318 after poor tests.
More information on the Trial can be found here.