Editor's note: This is the first part of a story by Coin World London Correspondent John Andrew about his visit to the Royal Mint Experience, the new visitor's center. The original story appears in the June 20 issue of Coin World.
It is quite appropriate in the year the Royal Mint Museum celebrates the 200th anniversary of its foundation that the United Kingdom’s mint should open the Royal Mint Experience, a purpose-built visitors’ center on its 35-acre site at Llantrisant in Wales.
Given the size of the visitors’ car park, the Royal Mint is expecting this to become a major tourist attraction, not just for numismatists, but for anyone interested in history or who simply wants an insight into one of the country’s oldest institutions.
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After completing a sneak preview of the experience the day before it opened to the public on May 18, the number of parking spaces is not over-optimistic.
The first things one sees are the high wire fences topped with a continuous loop of barbed wire surrounding the site. Visitors could be forgiven for thinking they had taken a wrong turn and were approaching a prison. Given the nature of the Royal Mint, it is not surprising that security is high. Up until recently the Treasury Store at the site held up to £90 million of coins waiting to go to banks.
However, since production of the new £1 coins began, the store has been dramatically increased so that it can additionally hold up to 1.5 billion of these coins, which will go into circulation in March 2017. Add the mint’s bullion trading service and one can appreciate the high security.
A pleasing single story newly-built edifice came into a view. A sheep, or at least a sculpture of a cartoon-like quadruped with a woolly coat, was there at the entrance to welcome everyone to the visitors’ center.
It was a welcome antidote to the foreboding barbed wire. Just to the right of the main entrance was the Royal Mint’s “penny Gromit sculpture.” This certainly further set the tone that this was going to be a fun day out for all the family as opposed to a “dusty museum” experience.
This is not the first time that the Royal Mint has been open to the public, but the Royal Mint Experience gives visitors unprecedented access.
New space better than past access
That stands in contrast to the private visits that have been allowed in the past.
One such visit, on Feb. 18, 1661, was recorded by the famous diarist Samuel Pepys, who visited to see Charles II’s first coinage, which was hammered.
Pepys remarked, “[it] is strange to see, how good they are in the in the stamp [ie die], and bad in the money for lack of skill to make them.”
Pepys was advised that Pierre Blondeau the Frenchman, whose machinery had made Oliver Cromwell’s milled coinage, would soon be back. Pepys saw a demonstration of Blondeau’s “method of making this new money” on May 19, 1663.