Diameter: 41 mm
Museum number: M 5120
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Struck bronze medal of Matthew Boulton
British Isles, 1798
This medal, struck in 1803, depicts Matthew Boulton, manufacturer and founder of the Soho mint in Birmingham.
Working with his business partner James Watt, Boulton utilised steam power to create a coining machine that revolutionised the production of money.
During the second half of the eighteenth century a limited supply of small change in Britain was unable to satisfy an increasing amount of commerce. Coin production was labour-intensive and slow and could not meet demand. This lack of coinage caused large numbers of shop and inn-keepers to issue their own tokens. These private issues and the widespread forgery of regal coinage resulted in an unmanageable state of affairs.
Boulton built the world’s first steam-powered mint in 1789 and campaigned to persuade the British Government to rectify the situation by commissioning large issues of small denomination coinage. However, he was not granted permission to do so until 1797.
This medal was commissioned by Boulton as a direct response to Jean-Pierre Droz at the Paris mint, who claimed to have been the inventor of a method for making multiple dies. Boulton feared that his successes at Birmingham and St Petersburg, where he had supplied coin-making machinery in 1798, would be overlooked and wrote:
'I have been induced to engrave a medal of my own dear self; upon the rev. And edge of which I have recorded the history and effects of my mint otherwise it will be claimed by the French so soon as they can steal it from St. Petersburg or Soho...’ (Letter from Boulton to Ambrose Weston, 8th September 1803)
R. Clay, S. Tungate, (eds) Matthew Boulton and the art of Making Money, Brewin Books, Studley, 2009
A.E. Meredith, and E.N. Nash, Matthew Boulton of Birmingham, City of Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham, 1972
J.G. Pollard, Matthew Boulton and Conrad Heinrich Kuchler, Royal Numismatic Chronicle Vol. X, London, 1970