Presenting the new £1 coin.

Photographer: Luke MacGregor/Bloomberg

Presenting the new £1 coin.

Photographer: Luke MacGregor/Bloomberg

The Medieval Ritual Behind Britain’s New £1 Coin

The 12-sided £1 coin ($1.27) includes security features including a hologram and a dual-metal composition to make it harder to fake. But in a ritual dating to at least the year 1282, the coins were presented for the Trial of the Pyx in London on Tuesday. Below the pomp and ceremony in the opulent hall of the Goldsmiths’ Company lies rigorous conformity tests that will take until April to complete. Photographs by Luke MacGregor/Bloomberg

 

Surrounded by History
Surrounded by History
The table waits for jurors to take their place to select samples and count coin money during the opening of the Trial of the Pyx at Goldsmiths' Hall in London. The trial moved to this location in 1870.
Carried in a Pyx
Carried in a Pyx

Thousands of coins, carried in boxes known by the Latin name pyx, are brought from The Royal Mint in Llantrisant, South Wales, to the heart of the capital under heavy guard. Coins are randomly selected throughout the year for presentation. "I won't be able to relax until April 28—and I've already started worrying about next year,'' said compliance and systems manager Gwyn Roberts.

Embarrassment of Riches
Embarrassment of Riches

An employee of the Royal Mint, which makes currency for countries around the world, pours coins into a bag after they have been weighed and counted.

Long History
Long History

First recorded publicly in 1282, the trial is presided over by the Queen's Remembrancer, the senior judge at the Royal Courts of Justice an office now held by Barbara Fontaine—the first woman to do so.

Logged and Measured
Logged and Measured

A Liveryman of the Goldsmiths' Company cuts open an envelope of coins to weigh and count during the opening ceremony. Chain custody is carefully logged and, in typical British understatement, attendees are gently reminded not to lose any coins under the table.

Mint Staff
Mint Staff

The staff of the Royal Mint say they see attending the annual ritual as an honor, with a lottery held each year to decide who will be allowed to serve.  They travel from Wales by coach the day before the trial.

Coins of Gold
Coins of Gold

Coins of precious metal, including gold and silver, are among the commemorative coins facing the trial. The Royal Mint sells these around the world, with its Britannia and Sovereigns among the best-known and sought-after by collectors.

£1,000
£1,000

Michael Wainwright, the Prime Warden of the Goldsmiths' Company, holds a ceremonial coin with a face value of £1,000.  The Royal Mint also makes military medals and manufactured 4,700 medals used in the London 2012 Olympic Games.

Not Just Britain
Not Just Britain

The mint also makes coins for other countries, including those of New Zealand that form part of the test. It strikes about 15 percent of the world's circulation coins. As of March 2014, there were 28.9 billion coins with a face value of £4 billion in circulation in the U.K. alone.

Test Your Mettle
Test Your Mettle

Assay Office staff inspect the coins. While modern methods such as X-ray fluorescence tests are sometimes used in assaying, the Royal Mint says some century-old procedures, including assaying by fire, is more accurate, and thus employed in the trial.

Technology
Technology

Not everything is done by hand. The coins are sampled and weighted by machine. About 35,000 coins make their way from the mint to the hall for randomized selection and testing.

New £1
New £1

Britain's new 12-sided £1 coins, seen here in a bag at the opening of the Trial of the Pyx, captured the interest of the attending members of the public. The mint is producing 1.5 billion of the coins, which will enter circulation on March 2017. Enhanced security measures are being implemented to thwart counterfeiters.