Manuscript accounts relating to the Trial of the Pyx, 2 July to 29 December 1681

Royal Mint and Goldsmiths' Company.
Trial of the Pyx
Publication details: 
SKU: 10186

1. Physical Description: 8vo, 20 pp. Ten loose leaves of watermarked laid paper. Aged, and with chipping to extremities causing occasional minor loss to text. In a neat, close Chancery hand. The leaves would appear to be sequential, with no evidence that any are lacking from the series. Docketing in a modern hand in pencil at head of recto of first leaf, which also has laid down on it a fragment of a small type-written slip: 'B/26 | <...> AL - SERIES B. | <...> 1681 - DECEMBER 1681'. Pp.1-10 (on Leaves One to Five) concern gold; pp.11-20 (on Leaves Six to Ten) concern silver.A. Gold:Leaf One: p.1, 2 July; p.2, 6-11 July.Leaf Two: p.3, 11-14 [July]; p.4, 14-15 [July].Leaf Three: p.5, 16, 18 July; p.6, 20, 21 July.Leaf Four: p.7, 23, 25, 28 July; p.8, 30 July.Leaf Five: p.9, 30 July and 2, 4, 6 August; p.10, 6, 8 August.B. Silver:Leaf Six: p.11, 2 July; p.12, 6-14 July.Leaf Seven: p.13, 16, 18, 23, 25 July; p.14, 28, 30 July and 2 August.Leaf Eight: p.15, 6, 8, 10, 11 August; p.16, 13, 15, 24 August and 16 September.Leaf Nine: p.17, 21 September, 1 October, 24 November and 6 December; p.18, 12 December.Leaf Ten: p.19, 12, 14, 15 December; p.20, 17, 20, 23, 29 December.Occasional corrections and deletions (one in Part B noting that the content has been 'Entred on the gold Side') indicate that the document is original and not a copy.2. BackgroundThe large quantities of material involved (3379 pounds of silver in one entry), the references to the Trial of the Pix (see section 5 below), and the involvement of members of the Goldsmiths' Company, show that this document was compiled on behalf of the Royal Mint (at that time situated in the Tower of London). It is presumed by the author of an accompanying modern typewritten document that it is a record of the bullion deposited in the Mint for coining (a note reads 'Charles Duncombe for melters Supply upon the Acct. of the Stock'). The author of that document emphasizes the nature of the process at that time, with 'private enterprise [encouraged] to bring bullion to the Mint for coining', and 'opportunities to melt the coins of one metal to sell for the other'. The item may be one of the 'forty to fifty handwritten schedules of the coins in the Pyx' delivered to the Court at each trial (Craig, p.397). As such it supplements the material contained (according to Records of the Royal Mint, below) in the National Archives at MINT 7/130, in a book of 'entries of minutes of Trials, verdicts of juries, and relevant documents' from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.The documents date from a particularly turbulent time in the history of the Royal Mint. The 'crisis which rocked the Mint' (Challis, p.357) had begun a few years before. In 1679, the assistant weigher and teller, William Taylor, had given an address to the Lords of the Council, denouncing the Mint's 'irregularity, mismanagement and abuses' (Craig, p.406). In July 1680 the Mint's master-worker Henry Slingsby had been suspended for irregularities, its warden Sir Anthony St Leger retiring in December of the same year. At the time of the compilation of this item the Mint was overseen by commissioners fighting to defend the principal of free coinage against a rearguard attack to reinstigate seigniorage.3. ContentThe first five leaves of the item contain entries for 'Gold monyes received' (recorded by weight in pounds, troy ounces, pennyweights and grains), and the last five entries to 'Silver monies received'. There are repeated entries throughout for a number of members of the Goldsmiths' Company (listed in Heal's The London Goldsmiths, 1935): Charles Duncombe, Francis Kenton, Peter Percivall, John Sweetaple, John Temple (described by Pepys as a 'fat blade'), as well as to three individuals who do not appear to feature in that work: John Vaulaire, Henry Griffith and Edward B. Also given on the first five pages are records of material 'Delivered to melt in gold', 'allay' and 'Scissell' [waste from the coining process]. Material is alternatively received and delivered 'to the Monyers'. The last five pages, dealing with silver, are laid out in a similar way to those relating to gold. They contain a memorandum (Leaf Nine, recto), reading: 'Memd. That allthough this be allowed now unto the Monyers; yet the same was brought in by 13th. of August last, and was not then entred. /a.' Spread out over most of two pages (verso of Leaf Nine and recto of leaf ten) is a list, containing 54 entries of silver delivered to or received by John Temple. There is a fair deal of marginal annotation, the purport of which is not always entirely clear.4. The Trial of the PixTwo entries with the same wording occur on the rectos of Leaves Five and Eight: '5to. Augusti. 1681 | Triall of the Pix'. This Trial would have been of more-than-usual significance considering the crisis gripping the Mint at the time, and it should be remembered that several of the individuals featuring in this document were probably on its jury. A number of entries have beside them the word 'pix' and a sum of money in Roman numerals, this being a record of the coins selected for placing in the pyx for testing from these consignments.Dating from the twelfth century, the Trial of the Pyx is a procedure - a proper legal trial, now presided over by the Queen's Remembrancer but at the time of this item by the Lord Chancellor, and with a jury of assayers from the Goldsmiths' Company of the City of London - to ensure the weight and fineness of the coinage issued from the Royal Mint, by testing a sample for accuracy of weight and fineness. The Coinage Act of 1870 regulated the Trial on an annual basis, it having been held previously at irregular intervals (only two during the interregnum, and thirty-five between 1660 and 1814). The importance of the ceremony is indicated by the involvement of royalty: but King James II is said to have attended the Trial regularly, Charles II did so only once.SourcesSee Sir John Craig, The Mint. A History of the London Mint from A.D. 287 to 1948 (Cambridge University Press, 1953), and especially Chapter 22. Also C. E. Challis, A New History of the Royal Mint (Cambridge University Press, 1992); and Records of the Royal Mint, 1446-20thC (MINT 1 - 29) (London: printed for List & Index Society subscribers, 1989; reproducing the typescript 'Royal Mint. List of Royal Mint Records transferred to the Public Record Office in October, 1969 in accordance with Section 3 of the Public Records Act, 1958. May 1970').£8000.00