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THE CLOSURE & SALE OF THE SOHO MINT

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.

Soho Mint - The End of the Road

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.

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Sir George Chetwynd ordered his own halfpenny token from Birmingham engraver Halliday.

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The End