English mathematician, astronomer, and physicist, Sir Isaac Newton is one of the most famous scientists of all time. He is renowned for producing the single most influential book on physics ever written, The Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, but not many people know that discovering why apples fell from trees and changing the way we understand the universe were not the only problems he dealt with…
Newton and the Counterfeiter
In 1695, The Royal Mint discovered that a large number of the UK’s circulating coins were fake. In fact, 10% of England’s coinage was known to be phony. Unable to keep up with the increasing intelligent counterfeiting methods they turned to England’s ‘brightest mind’ for help.
Sir Isaac Newton was appointed warden of The Royal Mint, with a sole purpose of enforcing laws against counterfeiting.
Most counterfeits were easy targets for Newton, but one man in particular kept eluding his grasp – William Chaloner.
Chaloner was a nail maker by trade but found a more worthwhile application for molten metals. The counterfeiter’s self-made wealth enabled him to pose in a way that matched his intellect.
Newton wanted nothing more than to finish Chaloner. He went into full detective-mode.
Newton constructed a strong case, using his network of informants and spies around London in a systematic way to form a complete representation of Chaloner’s actions. He even went undercover himself to obtain evidence from witnesses at pubs around the city. By the time the trial came, he had gathered eight witnesses.
The treason charge stuck – on March 3rd 1699, William Chaloner was sentenced to hang.
Later that year, Newton was made the Master of the Mint, a position he would hold until his death in 1727.
Master of the Mint
Newton took up his duties with effect from Christmas Day 1699. Immediately his active involvement in the affairs of The Royal Mint became undoubtable, he took the role very seriously before retiring from his duties at Cambridge in 1701.
He survived the political upheavals of those distressing times and in 1705 he was knighted by Queen Anne, making him just the second scientist ever to be knighted.
The first gold standard
During his role as Master of the Mint, Sir Isaac Newton wrote a report to the Lords Commissioners of His Majesty’s Treasury, as a result the relationship between gold and silver coins was forever changed by Royal proclamation at the end of 1717. It forbid the exchange of gold Guineas for more than 21 silver shillings. This meant that silver coins were being used to pay for imports, subsequently Britain saw a silver shortage – effectively moving the country from the silver standard to its first gold standard.
His Legacy to our coinage
As a result of Newton’s vision, coins struck by The Royal Mint remain unrivalled in their accuracy and purity. He helped to make Britain’s currency one of the most respected and admired in the world. As one of the most famous figures to ever hold the role of Master of the Mint and author of the single most influential book on physics ever written it is entirely appropriate he is celebrated on a UK coin.
If you’re interested…
A brand new UK 50p coin has just been issued by The Royal Mint to commemorate the 375th anniversary of Sir Isaac Newton’s birth and his outstanding legacy.
You can own one today.