Matthew Boulton



Together with James Watt, Matthew Boulton developed steam power in the 1770s, and by 1788 he applied this to minting by developing the first automatic steam-powered coining apparatus in the world.

In order to make a coin, the usual practise was to impart a heavy blow from coining dies to a metal blank. The Royal Mint used screw presses, each operated by four hefty men, to imprint an image, whilst a young boy placed the blanks manually between the dies. This was a laborious process, and it was more economic to mint gold coins than copper ones; thus small change was in very short supply. This shortage threatened to retard economic activity, as there was not sufficient coin to pay workers. Boulton calculated that the Royal Mint could make around 3ó million coin per year, but he reckoned that he could improve this rate considerably, and also make better quality coins.

In a letter dated February 1788, Boulton wrote: ‘I was sent for to Town by Mr Pitt and the Privy Council about a new copper coinage which I have agreed for, but at a very low price; yet nevertheless it shall be the best Copper Coin that ever was made’.

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