as reported in The Gentleman’s Magazine, June 1850
In his work ‘Soho Mint and the Industrialisation of Money’ Dr Richard Doty painted
an unforgettable word picture of the final days of the Mint, as it struck its last
order for coins or tokens - penny pieces for Messrs Annand Smith of Melbourne:
‘It is difficult to conceive of the conditions under which those final pieces must
have been struck; a lonely press running in one corner of the mint, while workmen
were busily dismantling machinery in another....
...The auction concluded, the crowd departed, the machinery was crated and carried
off, and silence descended on this last pale reflection of Matthew Boulton’s vision.’
But Dr Doty’s view is of our own time, with a, perhaps, nostalgic view of events.
We are, however, also able to take the sense of the times, with an account of the
closure published in The Gentleman’s Magazine in their June 1850 edition, some few
weeks after the sale itself, which started on 29th April 1850.
THE SOHO MINT - The Gentleman’s Magazine June 1850
One of the most important features of the great smithy of England in the last age
was the manufactory at Soho, conducted under the far-celebrated names of James Watt
and Matthew Boulton. Time works its changes in all mundane affairs, and not least
in those of trade and commerce. A considerable portion of the works of this great
manufactory have been now for some time silenced, and a few years ago that portion
connected with the plated-ware trade was dispersed by public sale. The plant in connection
with its once active mint, remained until the present year, and was sold by auction
at the latter end of April.
The rolling mills used for the first preparation of the metal blanks were already
considerably decayed from the progress of oxydation. The cutting-out press, the self-feeding
arming-press, and all the other apparatus, had been thrown out of employment when
Government resumed to itself the execution of the copper coinage. Among the other
machinery was the very first steam-engine made by James Watt.
A very large assortment of dies for coins and medals were dispersed at this sale.
The finest in execution were the work of Kuchler and Dupré; but several cut by local
artists possessed considerable merit. The catalogues announced that four complete
sets of proofs of the medals and coins, forming the entire Soho collection - in all
119 pieces - finely executed in Bronze, had been selected, and world be offered for
sale, in order to present opportunities to persons desirous of possessing the whole;
but when they came to be put up, the auctioneer announced that, from causes which
he was not in a position to explain, the sets had been rendered more or less incomplete
since the preparation of the catalogues. He suggested, however, that the deficiencies
might be made up by the parties purchasing the dies of the missing specimes. The
four sets, with their deficiencies, respectively obtained 8l. 10s., 6l 10s., 5l.
and 3l. 10s.
The dies for a halfpenny (executed by Droz) went for 3l. Those for another halfpenny,
by Kuchler (1799) obtained 6l. 10s.; and others for the coin known as the Britanniarum
halfpenny (date 1805) by Kuchler 5l.
The Medal dies which obtained the highest prices were the following:- ‘Assassination
of the King of Sweden,’ by Kuchler, 3l.; final interview of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette,
by Kuchler, 3l. 7s. 6d. A bust of Earl Howe (obverse) and an engagement between and
English and a French ship-of-war (reverse), commemorative of the Admiral’s great
victory of ‘The First of June,’ also by Kuchler, 4l.; and a specimen prize medal,
by the same artist, 3l.
A very considerable portion of these coins and medals, together with the dies for
the Soho Trial Piece; for the very rare pattern dollar of 1804, by Kuchler; the pattern
halfpenny of 1799, with the King’s bust crowned (extremely rare); the Britanniarum
penny and halfpenny; and the pattern penny of 1797 were purchased by Mr Sherriff,
engraver, of Birmingham, it is understood on commission for Sir George Chetwynd,
Bart. Of Grendon Hall, whose collection of the rarest specimens of coins struck at
the Soho Mint is unrivalled.
A complete set of the presses, pneumatic pumps, and other machinery for coining,
were purchased by Ralph Heaton and Son, who intend to give their attention to a branch
of manufacture long monopolised by the Soho Company. The engineering department of
Soho still retains its celebrity, and is in active operation.
The abbreviation used to denote the Pound Sterling has long been the letter ‘L’ in
its various forms, descending from the Latin term ‘libra’ being a pound weight. Universally
these days, the ornamental form ‘£’ is used before the number, but until the middle
of the 19th century, it was more common to use lower case ‘l’ following the number.
This is what was used in the original publication.
THE GENTLEMAN’S MAGAZINE
The Gentleman’s Magazine was founded in London by Edward Cave as a monthly periodical.
It was first published in January 1731 and continued continuously until 1907. It
was the first to use the term ‘Magazine’ (from the French term for ‘storehouse’)
applied to a periodical.
Cave's innovation was to create a monthly digest of news and commentary on any topic
the educated public might be interested in, from commodity prices to Latin poetry.
It carried original content from a stable of regular contributors, as well as extensive
quotations and extracts from other periodicals and books.
Samuel Johnson’s first regular employment as a writer was with The Gentleman’s Magazine.
During a time when parliamentary reporting was banned, Johnson regularly contributed
parliamentary reports as "Debates of the Senate of Magna Lilliputia." Though they
reflected the positions of the participants, the words of the debates were mostly
Johnson's own. The name "Columbia" was a poetic name for America coined by Johnson
which first appears in a 1738 publication of the debates of the British Parliament
in the magazine.
Hover your cursor over this image to see the original article greatly enlarged
Sir George Chetwynd ordered his own halfpenny token from Birmingham engraver Halliday.
Hover your cursor over this image to see the original greatly enlarged