The image shows the diagram Boulton supplied for a coining press Patent in 1790. Boulton and Watt’s venture into Steam Engines was such a success that they looked to use the Engines for other trades. There had been little new copper coinage in circulation in England since 1754, and forgeries had become a real concern. Birmingham was a major source of these forgeries, with several makers confident enough to hang up street signs stating: “All sorts of copper coins made here.” [letter. Matthew Boulton to Sir George Shuckburgh-Evelyn M.P. 9 March 1972. MS 3782/12/37/50]. In 1787 the Royal mint sampled halfpennies in circulation, concluding that only 8% were genuine.
Boulton had been striking monetary tokens since 1772, and in 1786 created 48 tons of coinage for the East India Company for use in Bencoolen. The blank copper coins were made at Soho, but the coins were pressed at a makeshift mint in London. Yet these coins were still pressed by hand. This led to the construction of a mint at Soho that used steam to power it. Boulton became hopeful of a contract from the Royal Mint to produce much needed copper coins, writing to his son of his meeting in London 1788 that “…it shall be the best Copper Coin that ever was Made.” [Letter. Matthew Boulton to Matthew Robinson Boulton 8 February 1788. MS 3782/13/36/19].
Yet it was not until 1797 that the contract was granted, by which time the completed Soho mint had already struck coins for business across the world. The focus was on making counterfeiting impossible through increased quality, as Boulton described in a notebook:
“Imitation is one thing. Counterfeiting is another. The finest and most difficult coin that is possible to make may be imitated though not counterfeited” [Matthew Boulton Notebook 1799. MS 3782/12/108/83]
This attention to detail also made the technology itself transferable, and the business helped set up mints in other locations after Matthew Boulton and James Watt had died, such as at Calcutta and Bombay. [MS 3147/5/707-717 are the plans of these mints]