The British Museum's collections, £16.99
Diameter: 46.000 mm
Edward Hawkins Collection
Room 47: Europe 1800-1900
Bronze medal of James Watt, by Joseph Wyon
London, England, AD 1858
Watt's triumph: the steam engine, key to the Industrial Revolution
James Watt (1736-1819) was the son of a Scottish shipbuilder and showed an interest in invention at an early age, making models in his father's workshop when still a child. His contribution to manufacturing and the industrial revolution came in his perfection of the working of steam engines, inventing new parts to stop the waste of steam and fuel. Watt took out a patent on his new method and entered into a long partnership with Matthew Boulton, the entrepreneur owner of the Soho Works, in 1775. The pair applied the technology to furnaces for making cast iron and for pumping mines, producing a perfected 'double action' version of the engine in the 1780s, with a piston that both pushed and pulled.
This medal by Joseph Wyon (1836-73), a member of the leading family of medallists and die-engravers working in Britain, shows Watt on one side and his famous engine on the reverse. Joseph was the son of Benjamin Wyon (1802-58), chief engraver of seals at the Royal Mint and succeeded his father in the post in the 1850s. Joseph Wyon studied at the Royal Academy and this medal was his first important work, struck in 1858 to complete his training. The design, inspired by medals produced to commemorate Watt's death, was adapted as the prize medal for the Institution of Civil Engineers. The production of this work, forty years after James Watt's death, is proof of the esteem in which his achievements in industry were held by a country by then reaping the rewards of his genius.
L. Brown, A catalogue of British histori, 3 vols (London, Seaby, 1980-95)
L. Forrer, Biographical dictionary of med, vol. 6 (London, Spink, 1916)