Matthew Boulton's Soho
Works in Birmingham, where condensing steam engines were first
built and the first automatic coining presses were made.
at the Royal Mint in London
In the mid-1700s,
the Royal Mint was failing in its task to supply the national
requirements for bronze coinage and there was a shortage. Privately
issued tokens were being widely used instead and workers were
now being paid in them, even though their buying power was often
half their face value.
had to be done to ease the shortage, and Matthew Boulton was commissioned
to make some new copper coinage for the Royal Mint.
a reputation for making coinage of a consistent quality, and when
problems arose with the manufacture of copper coinage in India,
he was contracted to supply it, to be shipped out on the East
India Company's ships Admiral Gardner
and Britannia in 1809. Later, he was also to supply mint machinery
to the Company's mints in Madras and Calcutta.
was typical of the new men of the Industrial Revolution. He combined
the shrewdness of the entrepreneur with the foresight of the visionary.
In later life he became a Fellow of the Royal Society, and was
known as one of the more benevolent industrialists, well known
for his philanthropy (he established a theatre in Birmingham in
1807). He died on 17th August 1809, eight months after the ship
bearing his coins in the Admiral Gardner came to grief on the
as a jeweller and brassware manufacturer, making buttons and other
small brass goods in his Birmingham premises, the Soho Manufactory,
which was established in Smethwick in 1761.
In 1768 Boulton
met James Watt, and because of his need for something to power
his factory, he became interested in Watt's invention, the steam
engine. Boulton first gained a share in the patent on Watt's steam
engine as part payment for a debt from a fellow industrialist
who went bankrupt. In 1775 Boulton and Watt became partners in
the steam engine business, obtaining a 25-year extension of the
patent. One of the first applications of the new invention was
to power the pumps to drain the Cornish tin mines.
Birmingham and the automatic coin press
In 1786 Boulton
applied steam power to his coining presses in the Soho works.
Up until that time, coins had been produced by hand processes,
which basically meant that blanks were placed into a press by
workers who then had to screw down the machinery by hand to produce
coinage. This was a laborious and time consuming process, made
worse by the fact that the blanks were roughly cut out in the
first place and often had to be hammered flat first to fit in
[This drawing originally
appeared in The Saturday Magazine 23rd April 1836, and
was later reproduced in the catalogue of the British Museum's
exhibition 'Money', held in 1985.]