The Royal Mint marks 375th birthday of mint master Sir Isaac Newton

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September 14, 2017 – Sir Isaac Newton was the most significant figure of the ‘scientific revolution’ of the seventeenth century. His legacy shaped our understanding of mathematics and physics and helped define the modern world, but many will be unaware that he was master of The Royal Mint for nearly three decades. 

Portrait of Newton at 46 in 1689 by Godfrey Kneller.

When he was appointed Warden of the Mint in 1696, at the age of 53, Newton was already a world-renowned scientist. His greatest achievements include the invention of calculus, the ‘mathematics of change’ that enables us to understand the behaviour of objects as tiny as electrons or as large as galaxies. His ‘Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy’, published in 1687, is the single most influential book on physics ever written. 

As the leading light of a new generation of scientists Newton focused on the search for general laws and mathematically exact data. He brought his pursuit of precision to his role at The Royal Mint and much of his work had a far-reaching effect on our coinage and the British economy. 

His meticulous report of 1717, commonly known as ‘the valuation of the guinea’, was pivotal in establishing gold coin as the pre-eminent currency of the United Kingdom. It suggested establishing the gold guinea’s value at 21 shillings which paved the way for the introduction of the gold standard a century later. 

Great Britain / 50 Pence / Sterling Silver .925 / 8g / 27.3mm / Design: Jody Clark (obverse) and Aaron West (reverse) / Mintage: 7,000.

The Design and the Designer – Aaron West

Aaron West is a member of The Royal Mint’s team of graphic designers. He achieved a degree in graphic design, and a PGCE in Higher Education, from The University of South Wales, Newport before working in retail advertising, graphic design and teaching. This is Aaron’s second commemorative UK coin design, following the Great Fire of London 2016 UK £2 coin commemorating the blaze that destroyed the city 350 years ago. His design is based upon elements of Proposition 11, in Book One of Newton’s ‘Principia Mathematica’.

“I wanted to approach the choice of design differently, rather than simply creating a portrait of Newton. Instead I researched the scientific elements of Newton’s theories, particularly the ones related to Newton’s laws and bodies in space. The biggest challenge was representing the theory within the scope of the coin. 

Once that was achieved I worked with The Royal Mint coin designers to find the background details that would complement the theory. In order to achieve flat patterns and reflected shapes within the design, watch faces became a big part of the inspiration. Circular lines worked best, which are slightly angled to reflect the light in layers”. 

The Sir Isaac Newton 2017 50p commemorative coin range

Sir Isaac Newton 2017 UK 50p Brilliant Uncirculated Coin
Sir Isaac Newton 2017 UK 50p Gold Proof Coin
Sir Isaac Newton 2017 UK 50p Silver Proof Piedfort Coin
Sir Isaac Newton 2017 UK 50p Hand-Toned Silver Proof Coin  

Further information can be obtained from the website of The Royal Mint.

If you want to read Newton’s works in full, go the Newton Project.

If you prefer entertaining literature, you should order the mystery novel of Philip Kerr: Dark Matter: The Private Life of Sir Isaac Newton. Be sure that the Royal Mint is playing a vital part in solving the mystery of who’s done it.

And many facts about both his life and the impact he made can be found at the Cambridge Isaac Newton Institute for Mathematical Sciences.