It might sound like a Harry Potter novel, but the Trial of the Pyx is the ancient procedure of determining the quality of newly minted coins in the United Kingdom. The practice has been around since the thirteenth century and continues, largely unchanged, to this day.
Historically, the Trial of the Pyx took place at the Palace of Westminster, or the Pyx Chapel within Westminster Abbey. In medieval times, the Master of the Mint was asked to select one coin for every seven pounds of silver that was minted. After this, a full trial was held to ascertain the quality of the minted coins, and whether or not they conform to the high standards that were expected.
Now when I say “Trial” I really mean just that. The Trial of the Pyx puts both the coins themselves and the Master of the Royal Mint on trial, in front of a judge, to ascertain whether the coins are of the purity claimed and the Master is doing his job to the standard required. The trial is held at Goldsmith’s Hall and is overseen by the Queen’s Remembrancer, which is actually the oldest judicial office in the country, dating back to the twelfth century, even older than the Trial of the Pyx.
The trial itself is a highly formal and ceremonial affair, with everything you would expect from a practice that dates back to 1282, but this should not give the impression that it only exists for ceremonial purposes. The Trial of the Pyx is one of the most important ways in which the standard of coins is verified and is central to the value of the coins themselves and trader confidence.
To ensure the coins reliability, testing takes up to two months, with the latest technology used to pinpoint the coin’s quality to within the tiniest of margins. For example, one of the newest bullion coins claims to be 99.999% pure, which requires such accurate measuring devices that it would not have been possible to guarantee in ages past.
Global Methods of Minting Coins
The Trial of the Pyx is by no means unique in its goals of verifying coins, although few could match its ceremonial aesthetic. In the U.S. the Assay Commission ran from 1792 until its dissolution in 1980. Supervising the mint was essential for American economy and therefore its success as an independent nation. For various reasons, that include the financial crash of 1929 and the materials becoming more valuable than their monetary face value, silver and gold coins were phased out of American currency. By 1980, the Assay Commission had been completely replaced by the mint, who verify bullion coins and other collectables. The Assay Commission is the closest relative to the Trial of the Pyx and was actually heavily based on the British ceremony.
In Australia, the Royal Australian Mint moved to its current location and incarnation in 1965, but actually dates back to the 19th century across several cities. With the gold rush of that century, a process of verification became increasingly important to the finances of the country, and indeed its future. Australian precious coins are highly sought-after for this reason to this day.
The Royal Canadian Mint was established soon after its Australian counterpart in 1906 with a view to turn rough gold into fine gold. It was first located in Ottawa by the Royal British Mint due to the fact that Canada was still a dominion of the British Empire. Among the finest mints in the world, The Royal Canadian Mint holds the world record for the largest gold coin in history. Weighing in at a staggering 100kg, it was verified as 99.999% pure and is worth over $1m.
The Importance Of The Mint
The importance of a high-quality minting service cannot be overestimated. These processes are central ensuring that investors can buy the various coins available with confidence. Unlike many other forms of precious metals, coins are typically processed and verified by governments. If the mint is respected it will enhance the value of the coin itself. This confidence has helped fuel national riches for centuries and world trade and investment would not appear as it does in the present era without it.
So the Trial of the Pyx may appear a throwback to another age, and even somewhat pompous to outsiders, but it is the template on which the world trade in precious coins and currency itself is founded on.