Having never been a numismatist (that’s a coin collector to you and me), I wasn’t sure what to expect from my visit to The Royal Mint Experience in Llantrisant. As it turned out, there’s a good reason why this fascinating exploration of the coins in our pockets has been picking up so many plaudits since opening in 2016.
Following a thorough security check (after all, this is one of the UK’s biggest piggy banks) the experience began with a short video. Presented by TV historian Dan Snow, it provided a pocket-sized introduction to the Mint’s work and history, peppered with a few eye-opening facts and figures. Did you know that the Mint produces almost five billion coins per year, both for use in the UK and in places like Jamaica, Tanzania and Thailand? Well, you do now.
From there, it was on to the factory floor to get a first-hand view of exactly how coins are made. Producing currency is a pretty complicated process requiring remarkably precise manufacturing techniques, machinery that wouldn’t look out of place in a sci-fi movie and some seriously expert craftsmanship. Watching the Mint staff going about their work shows exactly what goes into the business of making money. Knowing that every coin in the UK was made right here certainly makes you see the small change rattling in your pocket in a whole new light.
But the Mint’s staff don’t get to have all the fun. At the conclusion of the tour we were given the opportunity to mint our very own coin as a permanent memento of our visit. It was a particularly popular feature with the younger visitors in my group, as was the chance to have their photo taken amid see-through crates stacked with £1 million in shiny pound coins. Talk about being in the money.
But the experience wasn’t over after the conclusion of the tour. There was still the Mint’s exhibition to be explored. Alongside displays of the some of the world’s oldest and most valuable coins, we got to see some of the foreign coins made on site, plus medals from the London 2012 Olympics (another Royal Mint production). There’s also a host of interactive exhibits and games to keep the kids (and adults) amused. My favourite was a set of special scales that quantified the description of being worth your weight in gold. Hop on and you’re told your precise value in the shiny stuff. I’m still trying to figure out if I was disappointed or pleased with my cash value.
After a quick pit stop in the onsite café and a browse of the gift shop, I was on my way with thoughts of coins jingling in my head. It’s a special kind of experience that can make you re-evaluate something you’ve previously thought of as quite mundane (if you thought of it at all), but it’s a feat performed by the Royal Mint Experience. Since then I’ve been unable to pay for a coffee or newspaper without taking a closer look at the coins in my hand. They might make a numismatist (coin specialist) of me yet.