The exhibition, Matthew Boulton and the Art of Making Money, marked the bicentenary
of Matthew Boulton (1728-1809), and opened in the Coin Gallery at the Barber Institute
of Fine Arts, University of Birmingham on 8th May 2009.
Boulton was one of the most important industrialists of the eighteenth century, and
is considered the founder of modern coinage. He produced the famous cartwheel penny
using his groundbreaking steam-powered Soho Mint, and sent coins and minting machinery
to countries all over the world.
Focusing on the art of making money in all its aspects, as mechanical art, fine art
and the art of making a profit, the exhibition included more than one hundred and
forty coins, medals and tokens produced by Boulton’s team during his lifetime. Millions
of images were made at Soho Mint at the end of the eighteenth century and it can
be argued that Birmingham became the art capital of the world. The exhibition told
Examples from the huge British regal issues of 1797, 1799 and 1806-7 were shown,
as well as coins for other countries such as India, Sumatra, Ceylon, Bermuda and
Sierra Leone. The exhibition also showcased the variety of tokens produced for customers
from Britain and France, and the beautiful medals made to celebrate events all over
the world, including those owned by well known eighteenth century collectors George
III and Sarah Sophia Banks. Also shown was the ‘Droz collar’ die, and dies for two
Nelson medals: the famous 1805 Trafalgar medal and the 1798 medal commissioned by
Alexander Davisson to celebrate Nelson’s victory at the Battle of the Nile.
The exhibits came from the collections at the British Museum and Birmingham Museums
and Art Gallery, with the majority coming from the Birmingham Assay Office, most
of which had not been previously on public display. The exhibition offered a unique
opportunity to see the wonderful variety of artistic designs produced by Matthew
Boulton at the Soho Mint, which are still admired two hundred years after his death.
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