Goldsmiths' Company - Trial of the Pyx
Friday 3rd May 2019
The Trial of the Pyx is an examination by a jury of Freemen of the Goldsmiths' Company in a court of law to ascertain that coins produced by the Royal Mint are of the correct weight, diameter and composition required by law. Whilst it is believed that an examination of the justness of the coinage of this country was practised as early as Roman times, the first record of a public Trial was in the year 1248 before the Barons of the Exchequer by a jury of 'Twelve discreet and lawful Citizens of London and twelve skilful Goldsmiths of the same place'. The earliest known writ ordering a trial is dated 1282.
Following the opening of a Trial, the Assay Office London conducts a thorough examination of the coinage selected by the jury. The Trial concludes with the results being reported at the Verdict, followed by the traditional 'Goldsmiths' Feast'.
It was my great privilege to be invited to this year's conclusion of the Trial of the Pyx at Goldsmiths' Hall to hear the Verdict which was given by The Queen's Remembrancer, Master Barbara Fontaine, an occasion also attended by The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, The Governor of The Bank of England, Mark Carney, and The High Commissioner for New Zealand, Sir Jerry Mateparae, amongst many other prominent figures from the Treasury, the Royal Mint and the City. Barbara Fontaine's speech was fascinating in its recount of history and humorous as she picked out a rich collection of anecdotes about mishaps and incidents concerning coinage in the United Kingdom and abroad. The speech concluded with her Verdict on the trial in which she declared that the standard of the sample was 'more or less within the tolerances allowed by law'.
With the serious business of the day done, the guests were then entertained to Luncheon by the Prime Warden of the Goldsmiths' Company, Michael Prideaux. For such an auspicious occasion, the Livery Hall was bedecked with some of the Company's finest treasures including a magnificent mirrored plateau on the top table first used at the opening dinner of the new Hall in 1835, when the Duke of Wellington and Sir Robert Peel were guests. The Principal Guest and Speaker for our own event was, of course, The Chancellor of the Exchequer who reminded us that he was also Master of the Mint. His speech took us through the importance of the trust we all place in money, not just the coins and notes in circulation but the currency itself. The roles of the Treasury and the Bank of England were critical in managing the currency and the Trial of the Pyx served to remind us of the discipline required to do that job well.
The event was a salutory as it was enjoyable.