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Trial of the Pyx History

By The Royal Mint    |   Wednesday, 22 February 2012

The Trial of the Pyx is a judicial ceremony dating back to the twelfth century.

From 1870, the Trial of the Pyx has taken place each year at the Hall of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, London.

The name Pyx refers to the chests in which the coins are transported, and derives from the Pyx chamber in Westminster Abbey where historically the chests were kept. Little has changed in the procedure since the reign of Henry III; throughout the year, coins are randomly selected from every batch of each denomination struck, sealed in bags containing 50 coins each, and locked away in the Pyx boxes for testing at the Trial.

The Jury will usually consist of leaders in the financial world and at least six assayers from the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths which have two months to test that the coins are within the statutory limits for metallic composition, weight and size. The benchmark against which the coins are tested is called a Trial Plate. Trial plates are held by the UK National Measurement Office.

The Trial will then reconvene and the Queen's Remembrancer will ask the Jury for its verdict.

In Medieval Times

In medieval times great emphasis was put on the weight and fineness of the King's coinage. Control was vital – after all, the task of producing gold and silver coins provided endless opportunities to defraud the Crown.

At the time of the Domesday survey, the coins received at the Royal Treasury in payment of taxes were tested by weight alone. Trial plates of known fineness were introduced formally in 1477 although they were most certainly used in connection with the re-coinage of 1247 against which coins were tested and this remains the method of testing today.

Apart from the troublesome business of assaying, gold could also be reliably tested by touch-stone and this was the day-to-day practice at the Royal Mint throughout the Middle Ages. Remarkable accuracy could be achieved by an experienced man, for in addition to the stone itself, the Royal Mint kept a set of touches called needles consisting of 647 pieces of gold of varying alloys. The gold to be tested was streaked across the stone and the resulting mark compared with that made by needles of known fineness.

Trial of the Pyx Fact File

  • The Trial is held annually at London's Goldsmiths Hall in accordance with the Coinage Act of 1870, and is presided over by the Queen's Remembrancer of the Royal Courts of Justice, the oldest judicial office in the UK, dating back to the twelfth century.
  • The oldest surviving Trial Plate, now preserved in the Royal Mint museum, is of silver, dating from 1279.
  • Trial Plates today are made from pure metals of platinum, gold, silver, copper, nickel and zinc.
  • The Trial Plates used to be kept in the safe custody of the Exchequer at Westminster, but are now entrusted to the UK National Measurement Office along with the original coin Standard Weights against which the weight of the trial coins are compared.
  • Besides the annual Trial of the Pyx, rigorous quality tests are continually carried out during coin production to ensure that all coins produced at the Royal Mint conform to their correct specifications.
  • In November 1991, the Royal Mint became the first Mint in the world to be accredited to the international quality systems standard ISO 9001.

Trial of the Pyx 2011

On 6 May 2011, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, was in attendance at Goldsmiths Hall to hear the verdict on the Trial of the Pyx. As Master of the Royal Mint, he had already shown a keen interest in coin production, having visited the Royal Mint site in March this year to open a new coin plating plant. This was the first time in 15 years that a Master of the Royal Mint had attended the Trial verdict in person. The Royal Mint's Chief Executive, Adam Lawrence was also present and both were pleased to hear that the coins submitted for testing at the Trial had conformed to their lawful specifications.

The process started on 8 February this year when a team from the Royal Mint travelled to Goldsmiths Hall for the annual Trial of the Pyx, a trial to certify that coins produced at the Royal Mint conform to the specifications laid down in law.

They took with them Pyx packets each containing 50 samples of a UK denomination struck during the year. More than 59,000 UK coins taken from production throughout 2010 were taken and they would undergo rigorous testing for weight and accuracy.

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