Monday, 23 May 2011


On Friday lunchtime I was invited by the Goldsmiths' Company to be a witness at the Trial of the Pyx. The Trial of the Pyx (A word of Greek derivation referring to the box that held the coins for testing) is an ancient practice whereby the Exchequer, using the expertise of the Goldsmiths' Company Freemen, check the quality of Royal Mint production.  These days with the coinage being exclusively of base metal the correct bullion content is not a matter at issue, although commemorative coins and medals are, of course, still struck in precious metals.

The Trial is conducted by the Queen's Remembrancer, the last surviving member of the Court of Exchequer, who wears a most distinctive headdress of a full-bottomed wig with a tricorn hat sewn onto its crown.  The Clerk of the Goldsmiths' Company, Dick Melly, read out a precis of the current trail before and assemblage of guests drawn from the City, the Royal Mint - who in a manner of speaking were not guests as their work was on trial - and others. 

The Trial was for the first time since 1997 conducted before the Chancellor of the Exchequer who is the Master of the Royal Mint.  In recent years the Chancellor's statutory responsibilities to receive the verdict of the Trial has been delegated to a succession of junior ministers.  George Osborne's appearance was thus most welcome and he looked the part in a splendid set of robes in black and gold that had originally been made for Gladstone when he was Chancellor of Exchequer - Gladstone in addition to being prime minister four times was also Chancellor of the Exchequer twice for a total of ten years.

Queen's Remembrancer Master Steven Whitaker received Dick Melly's verdict that the coins presented had been found to be within acceptable variation and then proceeded to give a masterly historical overview of the fortunes of the Court of Exchequer over the centuries.  It was a story of once great powers successively pruned with himself as the last survivor of the earliest recorded court of England. An outcome that he accepted with dignity.  

George Osborne MP received the verdict and congratulated the Royal Mint for yet again passing the Trial.  The outgoing Prime Warden of the Goldsmiths' Company, Michael Galsworthy, reflected the opinion of all present when he warmly welcomed the presence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer at this ancient ceremony.

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