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Soho Mint - A World First!

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Several thousand miles to the west and a couple of decades later, a second area was going through the birth pains of a second Industrial Revolution. This was the nascent United States of America, and there, the trouble centered not on coinage but on currency.


The Americans had had problems with their money since the first Englishmen set foot on the James Peninsula and Plymouth Rock. The seventeenth-century European definition of “money” was coinage – specifically, coinage made from gold and silver. English North America offered many products, but precious metals were not among them. While it was true that Massachusetts managed to create a fairly extensive silver series during the second third of the seventeenth century, it was also true that the only way the colony was able to do so was to melt down other people’s coinage, acquired through illicit trade. The Crown soon put a stop to such escapades, leaving Massachusetts and the other colonies desperately short of “normal” money. They experimented with distinctly abnormal monetary expedients, ranging from wampum to tobacco to beaver pelts, but by the turn of the eighteenth century, they had blundered towards the solution that would power their economies for the remainder of the colonial period and the first century or so of independence. The solution was paper money, a nonmetallic substitute for coinage.


Massachusetts led the way, in 1690. The other colonies quickly followed suit. The original issues were meant to pay for troops and military supplies, but local authorities soon saw currency’s potentials for fueling colonial development, enhancing colonial infrastructures: in time, notes would be issued to build a lighthouse in Georgia, a poorhouse in Pennsylvania, and for debtor relief everywhere. When the War of Independence broke out, rebel authorities adhered to eighty-five years’ worth of fiscal tradition: they based their military activities on paper money. Their people were accustomed to the medium – and besides, there was no viable alternative.


The Revolutionary War exposed the weaknesses of such money. The insurgent authorities issued promissory notes, payable (theoretically) in Spanish-American Pieces of Eight. The bills might have performed adequately, had the war been brief and the rebels victorious. But events proved otherwise, and faith in the Americans’ paper began spiraling downward, with no end in sight. For it to retain any of its stated value, its audience had to be convinced that at least it was genuine, could not be created by anyone outside the charmed circle of the official print shop.


As things stood, this was a tall order indeed. The eighteenth century knew of only two ways of producing paper money. It could be printed from engraved plates. Or it could be created from moveable type. Neither method was perfect. Engraved plates meant copper plates, because no one had learned how to engrave on steel. Copper plates wore down fairly rapidly and must then be retouched or re-engraved – putting at risk the absolute identity of design that lies at the heart of any counterfeit deterrence. The typeset method made possible far greater numbers of identical notes, but those notes would be perilously easy to counterfeit, due to their (unavoidable) crudity of line and design. American currency was vulnerable to forgery, regardless of how it was created. Counterfeiting and alteration had been problems throughout colonial days: they worsened during the Revolution, as local criminals and His Majesty’s Government took advantage of the emergency.

The Industrialisation of Money


by Dr Richard Doty


This paper by Dr Doty was given as a presentation at the Numismatic Association of Australia's 2007 Congress, and is published in Volume 19 of their Journal. Through the kind generosity of the NAA, and to mark the Boulton Bicentenary, the full text appears here.

I am most pleased and honored to be with you for a second time, at this second All-Australian Numismatic Conference. I wish to talk to you about a body of research that has occupied me, to a greater or lesser degree, for nearly thirty years. It embraces a fairly circumscribed period – roughly, the years between 1760 and 1825 – and two countries, Great Britain and the United States. Specifically, it centers on what happened to money in each country when a new set of technological, demographic, and economic practices came into play.


The new set of practices is more commonly known as the Industrial Revolution, and it inspired a new set of demands – roughly the same demands in each country. These demands had at their heart the provision of more, and safer, money, so that the promise of the new age could be fully achieved. And in a curious display of interrelatedness and synchronicity, the monetary crises engendered by the Industrial Revolution were found to be solvable by the new products and methods of production made possible by the new era. In other words, the same movement created both an emergency and the way to solve it, all in a single go.


While historians debate the precise time of the beginning of the British Industrial Revolution, most would place its inception at sometime between 1760 and 1790. It would be characterized by gradual, then accelerating trends in three branches of human endeavor. These trends began in relative isolation, but they soon came to interact with each other to a progressive degree. The first phenomenon was a growing utilization of previously unpopular or largely overlooked substances, such as iron and coal. The second was the organization of labor in a more rational, hence more productive, fashion. And the third was the creation, or at least the relative perfection, of a new motive force for the production of goods. This was the power of steam.

The study of the connections between people, technology, and objects is a relatively new phenomenon. In the case of the Industrial Revolution, one could likely say that this “long view” could not be achieved until a decent interval had transpired between the events under consideration and the modern timeframe of the modern historian. Eyewitnesses could not afford to take a detached view of what was going on: rather than the possibilities inherent in the movement, they, and a train of historians that came after them, tended to center on the problems it created – the dark, satanic mills, the exploitation of female and child labor, the backbreaking hours in the factory or mine, the miserable wages: all of this has provided the ingredients for a sort of industrial folklore. But there was another problem created by the Industrial Revolution that was largely overlooked by eyewitnesses, leaving a fleeting impression on their minds, none at all on the minds of the historians who followed. This was the difficulty inherent in paying wages of any kind, however low, to the new industrial proletariat.


The Industrial Revolution meant the uprooting of labor, taking it from a traditional place, where traditional methods of payment had always obtained, and translating it to a distinctly untraditional place, where no one knew anyone else, where time-honored methods of exchange would no longer function. We have tended to see the new age primarily in terms of steam power. But the second of the three trends noted above, the organization of labor in a rational way, was at least as important to the success of the Industrial Revolution. Indeed, it predated the application of steam power, was more important than steam power. You could have a factory without steam. But steam existed only in order to power factories.


With or without the steam engine, the repetitive, tightly organized activity inherent in the factory system was a distinctly unnatural mode of human behavior. The first mill owners and mill workers soon learned that what everyone had always regarded as the “natural” methods of payment and exchange simply would not work in the new environment. If owners wanted to attract and retain mill workers, they would have to pay them regular wages, in cash. And since current salaries were modest indeed, what would be required would be large quantities of low-denomination coins.

In Great Britain, this posed a major, if temporary, problem. The public coiner, the Royal Mint, was charged with providing a stipulated amount of coinage each year rather than a stipulated number of coins. It did not take the eighteenth-century equivalent of rocket science to figure out that it was far easier to strike, say, a thousand golden guineas than 504,000 copper halfpence (24 x 21 x 1,000). The less-than-overworked denizens of Tower Hill cheered the discovery: during most of the sixty-year reign of George III, they only struck copper during the first half of the 1770s and silver only during part of one year, 1787. But even had the Royal Mint been more co-operative, more inclined to rise to the challenge presented by the new wage earners, it would have been hard-put to assist. It still relied on antiquated machinery inherited from an earlier epoch. An observant if personally interested industrialist named Matthew Boulton estimated that a human-powered press of the balancier type could strike twenty-seven medium-size coins per minute. Ever if he were correct (and I don’t think he was, not in this instance), the Royal Mint had no interest in proving him right, or wrong. Not when it came to copper coinage. Inevitably, a monetary shortage in the opening days of the Industrial Revolution would turn into a full-blown crisis as the movement progressed.


The private sector responded, if the public sector would not. Beginning in 1787, firms on the fringes of the new industrialization began striking and circulating copper tokens, the great majority valued at a penny or a halfpenny. They were quickly joined by private coppers from closer to the center of things – the Midlands, the North, and of course London. The more popular of the private tokens (or commercial coins, as they were often known) were targeted by forgers, most commonly operating in the back alleys of Birmingham, then as now the center of the British metal trade.


But the forgers were more likely to create fakes of circulating coins than tokens. Counterfeit copper had long been a problem for the British working class. Writing in the mid-1860s, Samuel Smiles tells us that by 1753, “not less than half the copper coin in circulation was counterfeit” – and this was more than three decades prior to the beginning of increased wage payments and the real monetary crisis. By the beginning of the 1790s, a correspondent of the Gentleman’s Magazine could bluntly state that “not the fiftieth part of our copper currency is legitimate” Copper fakes were joined by silver fakes: according to John Craig, plain white-metal disks were commonly substituted for legitimate shillings and sixpences (most of which had been struck a half-century earlier and hence were likely to be nearly as smooth as the counterfeits). To this motley were added Spanish-American dollars and their subdivisions, sometimes countermarked and sometimes not, sometimes genuine and sometimes not. To an educated observer on the scene in the year 1790, it would have been clear that the coming to fruition of a new, industrial, wage-based economy was very much in danger, and that a solution to the monetary stranglehold must be found, and found quickly. If not, the promise of a new and better age would remain unmet.

The insurgents eventually won their war (with a little help from their friends), in spite of their currency. By the end of the 1780s, a new, stronger, conservative national government had been erected on the ruins of the wartime Continental Congress. With an eye to what had just taken place, the new regime decided that it would eschew the currency medium as much as possible (and would force the states to do the same), substituting good coinage for it. This was unrealistic. Someone once observed that you can’t preach Karl Marx to the weather. Similarly, you can’t preach a hard-money doctrine where no hard money exists, or can be made to exist. Whether the new, Federalist authorities wished it or not, their countrymen would still depend on paper money – for there simply weren’t enough coins to go around. A new, national Mint, set up in 1792, did little to solve the shortage: by 1830, it has been estimated that the Mint had still not managed to make one American coin of each denomination available to each citizen – and this, after forty-seven years of effort!


Two additional factors now came into play, creating even greater pressures on the nation’s monetary system. First, the population grew rapidly, almost doubling between 1790 and 1810. Inevitably, the American economy, or at least that portion of it dependent on coinage or currency, also grew. Second, by around 1800, the first stirrings of the Industrial Revolution were being felt on the American side of the Atlantic Ocean. By British standards, what was happening was modest indeed: a few mills here and there, a few thousand workers in those mills. But the new factories and factory hands were being injected into a monetary system that was already very weak.


Two closely-related problems came into being; together, they would have a profound effect on the story of American, and world, numismatics.


We’ve seen the first before – the need to pay wages in order to attract workers to the factories. The second problem, while certainly not unique to the United States, was probably more crucial there than elsewhere. That is, were the new industrialization to flourish, were it to achieve and transcend the “takeoff” stage of development, enormous new sources of money for investment and purchase would have to be created, regardless of how new workers were paid.


Currently, there was only one object widely available for such purposes, the paper note.


But: It would have to be privately- produced and -issued: under the new federal Constitution, the national government had denied such activities to itself and to the states. It would have to be produced in large amounts. And it would have to be unforgeable.


The latter almost certainly meant that it would have to be created from engraved metal plates. But the productive life of those plates must somehow be extended. As in Great Britain, if a way could not be found around the challenges created by the Industrial Revolution, matters could not go forward, but must stall, and finally retrogress. And just as in Great Britain, a gifted band of curious souls would find ways out of the current difficulties, using the new products, processes, and possibilities brought forth by the Industrial Revolution to do so.

Let us examine the succession of solutions, first in Great Britain and then in the United States. At the center of the British response stood a Birmingham industrialist and (self) promoter named Matthew Boulton. Boulton was the guiding spirit behind Soho Manufactory. It had originally been devoted to the production of what the eighteenth century called “toys” – intricate, small objects, ranging from buckles to watch chains to buttons, all made from metal. In the late 1760s, Boulton entered into partnership with a morose Scottish inventor named James Watt. Watt had invented an improved steam engine with a separate condenser, improving motive force while cutting the consumption of coal. Watt would continue to fiddle, tinker, and improve his machinery. Boulton would find ways to sell it to a waiting world, either through new and improved products or through purveyance of the power itself – the sale of steam engines.


It was probably inevitable that Matthew Boulton would think of harnessing one of his partner’s engines to a coining press. He’d been making buttons since the 1760s, and the manufacturing processes connected with these objects were not vastly different from the minting of coinage. Steam power would be a natural addition to the manufacturing process, and there is some evidence that Boulton saw it as such by the mid-1770s. Moreover, he had a fierce pride in his town: Birmingham had a fully-deserved reputation as the center of the British counterfeiting industry, a reputation that deeply hurt this man, whose fortunes were so tightly bound up with those of the town of his birth. What if he could turn things around, make Birmingham the center of monetary excellence rather than monetary fraud? And what if he could create safe money, especially safe copper money, for the new legions of industrial workers?


Here, he had two objectives. He wanted to increase the output of legitimate money, to be sure. But he appears to have been more interested in finding ways of making coinage impossible to replicate outside that establishment legally responsible for its creation. The employment of steam power was central to the achievement of both dreams.


In a striking display of the connections between events within and beyond Numismatics, and of the possibilities of borrowing from one field for the benefit of another, Matthew Boulton succeeded in conceiving, moving towards, and finally reaching both goals, increased production and unforgeability, by means of the new technology and products spawned by the Industrial Revolution. In essence, he turned that movement upon itself, forcing it to solve the monetary crisis it had helped to create.


Boulton was endlessly optimistic – either that, or endlessly naïve. He was agitating for a regal contract to strike Great Britain’s copper money as early as 1787, at which time he did not have a mint, was unclear as to what qualities an unforgeable coin struck by steam could, or should, embrace. It would take ten long years before he got his contract. In the meantime, he learned by doing. He secured a patent for a new moneying press in mid-1790. It featured an overhead wheel, connected to a steam engine. The wheel had eight cams or pawls on its lower surface, and they in turn engaged and disengaged the arms of screw presses, which in turn struck the coins. The mechanism was cumbersome, made an infernal racket, broke down frequently – but it worked: its first outing occurred in the late summer of 1789, and each press was capable of striking forty or more pieces per minute.

As in America, so here: while Boulton’s name may have appeared on the patent, the invention was, as so much else in the industrialization of money, a truly collaborative effort. He does indeed deserve credit for the initial concept of applying steam power to a coining press, but James Lawson, Peter Ewart, William Murdock, even James Watt, contributed to the success of the enterprise. John Southern was especially important, and he would eventually deserve almost as much credit for the new moneying as did Boulton himself. But when Boulton and his associates harnessed the power of steam to a coining press, strange things happened. They inevitably changed the form of the coin itself.


The changes arose from the greater downward force made possible by steam’s application. If you wanted to quickly strike a large number of coins, and you had a large amount of force available for the purpose, your coining dies would have to be cut in shallow relief. You would also be obliged to add a third die to the other two – a collar, to restrain the outward flow of metal. Since you would have to eject your coins from that collar rapidly and easily, the latter would have to be plain or vertically grained – any other possibilities were off-limits. So the edges of your coins might be plain, vertically reeded, or lettered or ornamented incusely – but any other possibilities could not be countenanced. All of this inevitably flowed from the application of steam power to the coining process.


But these were precisely the characteristics Matthew Boulton had always considered desirable and attractive in coinage. Shallow relief would be very difficult to convincingly replicate on the outside. It would be gentler on dies that must now strike more coins, with greater force, than ever before. The precise, vertical edges on the new coins would discourage clipping and forging. Steam power would make his new money cheaper to elaborate, which meant that he could put more metal into each piece – another discouragement to forgers. Steam power would also allow for thicker coins – again, more metal, more protection against forgery. Finally, Boulton believed that each coin must be identical with every other coin: so from the mass-production of coins, his mind retrogressed to the mass-production of coin dies. Steam power would play no part here, but the shallow relief he found so appealing would play a crucial role: it would be far easier to mass produce shallow, identical dies than the deeply-cut tools of the pre-industrial age.


At this point, other people and commodities entered the equation. Just as Boulton was finding ways to mass-produce coinage (and coming to require massive amounts of high-quality steel for the purpose), others in Great Britain were making dramatic strides forward in the elaboration of that very commodity. Foremost among them was Benjamin Huntsman, whose “crucible steel” was far superior to anything previously available, soft and malleable in an annealed state, extremely hard when heated and quickly cooled – the very thing required for the mass-production of identical coin dies.

American Revolutionary Currency
The need to pay the wages
The Solution I - Matthew Boulton
Engineering the Soho Mint
Marketing the Soho Mint
The Solution II - Jacob Perkins

The scene now shifts to the other side of the Atlantic, where a gifted band of American inventors and experimenters would do for currency what their predecessors in Great Britain had done for coinage: they would turn the Industrial Revolution upon itself, employing its new products and discoveries to solve a problem it had helped to create.


The leader here was a jack-of-all-trades – inventor, engraver, silversmith, self-promoter – named Jacob Perkins, resident of Newburyport, Massachusetts. Perkins first appears on the radar in the middle and later 1780s: he makes elegant silver plate, is tapped to create some of the dies for a state copper coinage, eventually creates a series of funerary medals for George Washington. All well and good. But Perkins interests us because he himself acquired an interest in improving the state of America’s economic lifeblood, its paper money.


He had done so by the early 1790s. By the end of that decade, he had patented something he called a “check plate protector”, the first of his two contributions to the industrialization of paper money. More commonly known as a stereotype plate, the Perkins device consisted of a metal frame, into which were tightly incorporated no fewer than sixty-four individual dies, engraved with tiny letters or numbers. Spaces were reserved for the names of banks, towns, and denominations, engraved on dies of the same type. Tightly clamped together, this multipiece tool could be used to print money, injecting such a wealth of detail into its fabrication that, it was hoped, aspiring forgers would take one look and decamp in despair.

But the mass-production of coin dies presupposed that you have a customer, and a large one at that, for your wares. As I said, Boulton had his mint up and running by the late summer of 1789, only to find that his customer, the British Government, had other things on its mind, had in fact left the shop when its proprietor wasn’t looking. Soho would eventually get a contract to coin regal copper, and then another, and another still. But in the meantime, its master must coin as he could. So he did: Boulton joined others in producing copper penny and halfpenny tokens (his products are almost always distinguished by their artistry and full copper content), coinage for India, Bermuda, the Gold Coast, and Sierra Leone – anything to keep the mint busy, his workmen employed, new concepts tested for the regal coinage which lay just over the horizon. He finally got his big break in 1797, but by then, he was thinking beyond coinage, mulling over the idea of a logical extension to his labors. He’d struck coins and tokens of a new type, and he’d sent them across the world. Why not create and ship entire mints, so that the world could make his new coinage for itself?


It was done. Boulton was treating with the Russian government just as his first British coining contract was being signed. When all was said and done, he, his son, and their Soho enterprise would have provided mints and the engines to power them to Russia, Denmark, India, Portugal, Brasil, Mexico, and, most satisfying of all, to Tower Hill. To an observer of the period, this aspect of the industrialization of money would seem to have been solved, with a vengeance.

But was he a success? Put another way, did the inventions he devised solve the problems they were intended to solve? Not really, at least not for many years. It could be argued that they solved matters in one direction, while complicating them in another. That is, the new, beautiful steel engravings, made possible by Jacob Perkins’ vision, did indeed render plausible counterfeits somewhat more difficult to achieve. And more money with the lovely designs could be created than ever before, which was good for business and employment. But when we reflect on the fact that some of the artwork on the counterfeit plates was provided by the same engravers who created the images on the legitimate ones (these artisans were paid by the piece, rather than a regular salary); when we remember that huge numbers of nineteenth-century Americans were functionally illiterate and even if not were likely to have a limited exposure to bank notes and other printed materials; and finally, when we remember that there were hundreds of note-issuing banks in the United States between 1820 and the American Civil War, churning out an average of six denominations per bank, whose designs changed every decade or more frequently – then we must conclude that, whether or not it was his fault, the Newburyport inventor and visionary actually made matters more difficult for the average American.


Matthew Boulton had created a new, world coin on a single design, and his model had basically found permanent acceptance, even if there were lively discussions about the details. Jacob Perkins created the potential for a new, world currency, and it is a matter of record that the inventions and improvements that he devised would one day stand as how all the world made its paper money.


Who’s to say which man was the greater failure or success? The essential point is that without Matthew Boulton and Jacob Perkins, the challenges they faced and the dreams they pursued, our world would be very different, somehow lesser in its scope, less “modern” than it is. And that is all that need be said.



Anno Suae L.X.V.I

Perkins’ first stereotype plates were made from copper and soft iron, the only materials then available. But the inventor soon found that such plates were ill-suited to massive runs of currency: their intricate details were soon lost in the constant abrasion of the inking, wiping down, and re-inking processes involved in printing from engraved plates. Accordingly, Perkins began searching for some material that would be soft enough to engrave, but that could be made hard enough for sustained use with no loss of detail. Inevitably, he turned to steel. But it would have to be a special kind of steel. And it would involve the creation of a very special technology.


What Perkins first sought was the tiny percentage of inexpensive, soft steel that was flawless and homogeneous enough to be fit for the type of micro-engraving he had in mind. He found metal adequate for his purpose – and the fact that he could do so was directly related to other workings of the Industrial Revolution, both in America and in Great Britain. New processes resulted in new products, and these in turn would lead to other steps and other goods.


With the special steel in hand, Perkins would be able to achieve the extreme delicacy of line that he desired. But the soft steel would have to be hardened after it had been engraved: if not, it would serve his purposes no better than had the copper and soft iron of his previous attempts. He found a way of hardening his steel after it had been engraved, a process involving surface cementation. He also found a way of softening the metal by annealing it in a special way. By 1804, he was able harden and soften steel plates at will, and this led him to his, and America’s, most crucial contribution to the industrialization of money.


This was the technique of siderography, the mass-production of complete designs for printing; its key was the ability to harden and soften steel at will. Jacob Perkins discovered that a complex design could be engraved by hand on a soft piece of steel, that could then be hardened by his new technology and finally employed to transfer the original design onto other soft pieces of steel.


It is unclear how he managed the transfer in the beginning, but he soon came to rely on a steel roller to do the work, a method still in use until very recently. He’d perfected the technique of siderography by 1804, was producing notes for more than a dozen Massachusetts banks in his factory in Newburyport by 1805. He continued to perfect his craft, adding elaborate reverse printing to some of his products. In March 1809, Massachusetts passed a law mandating Perkins’ processes for all currency printed in the state. His future was rosy; but what he had made possible was rosier still – indeed, was almost beyond calculation.


It has been estimated that a good run with an early copper plate was five thousand prints, after which it must be retouched or retired. But Perkins’ steel plates were capable of at least thirty thousand prints, and their designs could be replicated onto other steel plates as often as desired. America’s shortage of safe money had been solved with a vengeance. Or so it might have appeared to an intelligent observer of the year 1810.

Similarities between the earlier episode of Matthew Boulton and the Perkins story come easily to mind. In both cases, several benign effects of the Industrial Revolution had to come together before a malign one could be eradicated. Matthew Boulton needed special steel for his work, and so did Jacob Perkins. Here, both men took advantage of others’ earlier inventions and efforts to secure what they needed. Steam, experimented with by others but perfected by his partner Watt, stood at the heart of Boulton’s reforms. The innovations of Perkins were not dependent on steam, but they did rely heavily on improved lathes, rolling machinery, and a host of other contrivances by other inventors. At bottom the work of each man formed the apex of a triangle, dependent on the labors of others to fill in the sides and the base – to provide the support and springboard to move everything forward.


Both Matthew Boulton and Jacob Perkins had fairly precise blueprints for what ought to happen next. Boulton would strike safe British copper money with the power of steam, and a grateful monarchy would give him and his heirs the right to do so in perpetuity. Meanwhile, the exportation of steam-powered coining factories would benefit people the world over, burnishing the reputation of Birmingham, Soho, and Matthew Boulton and his heirs. Jacob Perkins would provide banks across the American Republic with distinctive, identical, and safe paper money, the very sinews of commerce for generations to come.


Things didn’t quite work out as planned…


Matthew Boulton died in the late summer of 1809. His son, Matthew Robinson Boulton, had been managing Soho’s affairs for several years. His duties included overseeing the final stages in the construction of a mint in Saint Petersburg, chivvying along a second facility for Denmark and starting a third for Brasil, and working with the officials at the Royal Mint, whose premises on Tower Hill were being rebuilt and reequipped to Soho’s specifications. The latter facility was ready for limited coining activity by 1810 and the first objects it struck were – copper coins! Granting that they were not for British consumption, but for the East India Company; the younger Boulton was still furious: the government for which he and his father had toiled so selflessly for so long had broken its portion of a sacred trust. What would happen next?


What would happen next was a dose of reality, injected into foreign climes. The Russians took a Soho workman hostage (who happened to be Zacchaeus Walker, Jr., Matthew Boulton’s nephew) and wouldn’t let him come home for more than a year after his work had been completed. The mint for Brasil was shipwrecked off the coast of Pará, recovered, and then hidden away for two decades, the local authorities having successfully applied to Lloyds of London for the insurance money, which would have to be returned were the mint resurrected. A mint for Mexico turned into a fiasco when it was belatedly discovered that the site chosen for its erection lacked reliable fuel and water (which are matters of some importance, if you contemplate operating a steam engine). And so it went. Even the most successful projects, involving mints for Calcutta and Bombay, took a tremendous toll on the Soho technocrats sent out to do the work: nearly a dozen died, lives that could never be replaced, skills that disappeared along with the men who had possessed them.

And across the lands where Matthew Boulton’s dreams had reached, strange things were happening. A minter in Mexico found that he could mass-produce dies in a new way. Someone in India found a better method for creating and disseminating the portrait of the new Queen on the new money. And so it went: those to whom the secrets of the new coining had been entrusted were adding new touches to it, making it their own. And the industrialization of money acquired a new, local authenticity, one that might have surprised its original creator, but one that he would likely have come to understand, if not embrace.


Jacob Perkins’ story had unexpected twists as well. He ran his own security firm in Newburyport for a number of years. Business was good, so he expanded his plant. Then in 1815, he was lured away to Murray, Draper, Fairman & Company, prestigious printers located in Philadelphia. Perkins was attracted to Philadelphia in part by the promise that all currency to be emitted by the new, Philadelphia-based Bank of the United States would be created from his plates, employing his design concepts and his technology. This promise went unmet, and it slowly became evident that he and his new associates held differing views about how to make paper money both plentiful and safe.


Jacob Perkins continued to stress a single, unvarying design, one which might be less than beautiful, might be even downright homely, but whose sheer consistency would always keep forgers at bay.


Murray, Draper, Fairman & Company saw things from a completely different point of view. The partners wanted to create beautiful, intricate designs, relying more on their artistry than their consistency to foil the forger. In fact, they would create an entire library of artistic master dies, each easily and quickly transferable onto working plates by Perkins’ technology. In other words, they wanted a part of what he could offer, but not what he saw as the most important part. In 1819, Perkins and Murray, Draper, Fairman & Company parted ways. The leave-taking was amicable, but it was definitive. Perkins sailed for England, where he arrived in mid-1819, afire with plans to reform British currency in an American way. He was rebuffed, not least because of outraged national sentiment: who did this Yank think he was, anyway? Ardor dampened but not dead, Perkins settled his family in London and lived there comfortably for the next thirty years, kept afloat by royalties from his various inventions and enterprises on both sides of the Atlantic. He died in the summer of 1849, perhaps the most fortunate of the early pioneers in the industrialization of money.

Copper Plates and Steel
The Best Laid Plans
Wider Still, and Wider
Success, or Failure?
Worn-out British Currency
None None Success or Failure? Worn Out Currency