You are here

Isaac Newton - the superintendent of the Mint of England. By the 370th anniversary of the birth of Isaac Newton

Image. Карбувальний прес часів І. Ньютона

January 4, 2013, it was celebrated 370 years since the birth of Isaac Newton - founder of classical physics. His scientific achievements in the field of mathematics, theoretical mechanics, optics, and astronomy are well known, and talk about them again would be redundant. Therefore, honoring the great scientist, we will offer a short story about his activities as superintendent of the Mint of England and his letter to Francis Aston.

These materials sharply contradict the widespread image of Newton as an armchair scientist. In a letter to Aston's 26-year-old Newton expresses the tips that today may be useful to some. At the Mint Newton was not a scientific consultant and research engineer, firm administrator, and even ... a detective.

It should be noted that the work of Newton Mint refers to the least studied aspects of his activities - archive documents related to it, were published partly only in 1950.

Contrary to popular belief, Newton was appointed to the post of superintendent of the Mint, not because he had influential friends, but because there was a critical situation.

... In the last decades of the XVII century. one of the worst diseases of the economy of England was defacing of silver coins, which then made up the bulk of cash. To a 1662 coins were produced manually, their shape and size were significant deviations from the standard, moreover, they had not familiar to us ribbed rim. Malicious users cut on the rim of the coin, and this is well profited.

In 1662 for coinage at the Mint of England embossing machines bought in France begun to use. The minted coins had correct form, and rim (group) had a pattern or inscription. Circumcision coins became impossible. But old and new coins have the same value, so everyone was trying to pay off the old, defective coins, and new ones entrepreneurial people melted down, hid in chests, transported abroad. To improve the situation, it was necessary to quickly replace all the cash assets of the country.

In 1689 war broke out with France. Prices and public debt soared, and the economy collapsed. Especially critical was the situation in the 1694-95. The mass bankruptcy began in the country.

In 1694 the Chancellor of the Exchequer (finance minister ie England) became the friend of Newton, a former student of Trinity College, Charles Montagu - at that time the president of the Royal Society. He resolutely undertook to overcome the financial crisis. First he held consultations with politicians, financiers, scientists. Among the latter were members of the Royal Society, John Locke, Christopher Wren, John Wallis, Isaac Newton. Thereafter Montague approved in Parliament decision on the implementation of forced recoinage entire silver coin in the country (that went down in history under the name Big recoinage). At the end of 1694 it was signed a royal decree that in June 1695 the old defective coins were exchanged for new money at par. After this period, the money were exchanged by weight, that is by the real value. Means to reform government took loans from bankers and merchants, as well as in the Netherlands.

The success of the reform is largely dependent on whether the Mint will have time to quickly make new coins. But there was not enough time. In early 1696 the superintendent of the Mint Everton became a member of the House of Commons - perhaps because he wanted to avoid doing that to him seemed hopeless.

March 19, 1696, Lord Halifax wrote to Newton in Cambridge letter offering to become superintendent of the Mint on March 25, Newton came to London, and on March 29 received an official appointment.

He had to face many problems. In the yard there were three hundred workers, fifty horses, ten smelters and ten presses for coinage. Discipline was low: drunkenness, fights and thefts, including the theft of stonechat, which is then sold to counterfeiters.

Newton went into all aspects of the Mint. He worked methodically; every new business begins with a plan, which is then performed steadily. He appeared at the Mint at 4 am, working 16 hours a day.

Newton studied the history of the Mint, gathered up all the provisions relating to the Mint for more than 200 years, as well as the references for thirty years, the number of manufacturing of coins (gold and silver) by weight, and at face value. He introduced a system of records from which the events of a century ago could be found as accurately and in detail, as if they happened yesterday.

But before Newton thoroughly studied all the processes of manufacture of gold and silver coins, and subsequently on all operations he introduced clear rules. He set the number of times you can use a crucible for melting gold, until it is broken if cracked. In one of his manuscripts is the record: "I have empirically found that a pound (204 grams) of gold blanks for coins loses half a crown in the processing of three and a half grains" (0.23 g). He suggested a number of technological improvements, in particular by examining the press for minting silver coins, manages to reduce the cycle of twenty seconds to one.

During the first half of the year the state of affairs with minted coins was close to critical. The famous English writer John Evelyn wrote in his diary: "May 13, 1696 ...there is not enough money. No one pays anything, no one gets ... June 1696:" ... must be a small change to satisfy simple needs, such as daily buy provisions in the markets ... there is no big bulk of minted money, there is only the current coinage. This causes a lack of money that every day are afraid of disorder. "

Meanwhile, thanks to the measures that were introduced by Newton the issue of coins went up to four times, and then another two. In the summer of 1696 the Mint began to produce 100 thousand pounds a month, until the end of the year produced 2.5 million. Branches of the Mint in the provinces started to work at full capacity. One of them was led by the Newton’s friend Edmund Halley.

In October, the acute phase of the crisis is over. Parliament declared that there will be no the devaluation. By 1698 the Mint issued money of 6.8 million pounds - twice more than in the previous thirty years.

The financial position of England has stabilized. Exports of British goods began to grow. And that England later became the richest country in the world, a significant merit of Newton.

The superintendent of the Mint Newton also engaged in exposing the counterfeiters. He received permission to create at the Mint's own prisons and police, investigating all sorts of financial crimes and violations across the country. Newton developed a system of tracing witnesses, organized a large group of informants that roamed the markets, drunk in taverns or were in prison. Newton personally conducted an investigation against several dozen counterfeiters. Under his leadership, about a hundred of them tracked down and punished. Several were executed, others sent to the plantations in America.

Along with the new coin minting this activity Newton played a huge role in stabilizing the economy of England in one of the most difficult periods in its history.

It should be noted that before the appointment of the superintendent of the Mint Newton never held executive positions. So he owes his success to his ability to analyze complex systems and to determine the basic laws of their operation, which by that brilliantly displayed in "Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy."


Based on:

Kartcev V.P. Newton. - M., Mol. Guard, 1987;

Mentsin Y.L. Mint and the Universe (English origins in Newton's "economic miracle") // Questions of History of Science and Technology. 1997 №4

From a letter Isaac Newton to Francis Aston May 18, 1669

Friend, because in Your letter You allow me to express my opinion about what might be useful for You in travel, I'll do it much freer than it would otherwise decently. I shall first present some general rules, many of which I think You already know, but if at least some of them were new to You, then they redeem more; if all would be known, I will be punished more because I wrote a letter than you to read it.

When You will be in a new community for You, then:

1) observe the customs;

2) behave worthily, and Your relationship will be more free and frank;

3) in conversations ask questions and express doubts, do not make drastic statements and do not begin disputes; business traveler should learn, not teach. In addition, it will convince Your friends that You have a lot of respect for them, and will set up to greater openness on the new to You. Nothing so quickly leads to the neglect of decency and to quarrels as definitive statement. You win little or nothing to win, if You look smarter or less ignorant than the society in which You are;

4) rarely condemn things, no matter how bad they are, or do it sparingly for fear of suddenly abandon unpleasant way of their opinions. Safer thing to praise more than it deserves, than to condemn it deserved, because praise rarely meet objections or at least not perceived as painful dissidents people condemnation; easier to obtain the favor of people imaginary approval and praise what they like. Beware of just doing it by comparisons;

5) if You're offended, then in the alien country is better to keep silent or to wrap everything into a joke, even a little bit embarrassed, than to try to get revenge, because in the first case, your reputation is not spoiled when you return to England, or will be taken in other societies, where not heard of your quarrel. In the second case, the consequences of quarrels will stay with you for life, even if only exit from it alive. If the situation is hopeless, you feel it is best to restrain the passion and language within the moderate tone without irritating the enemy and his friends, and not to go to the new offense. In short, if the mind will rule over passion, it and vigilance are your best advocates. Please note that justification in this way, for example: "He behaved so defiantly that I could not resist," understood to friends, but do not matter for outsiders, showing only the weakness of the traveler.

To this I add some general guidelines regarding the research and observations, which are now sleeping in my head. For example: 1) follow the policy, welfare and public affairs of nations as possible for the individual traveler; 2) learn about the taxes on different groups of the population, trade and remarkable products; 3) the laws and customs as they differ from ours; 4) trade and art, as far as they are higher or lower than we have in England; 5) strongholds which who you meet on the way, their type, the advantages of defense and other significant military circumstances; 6) power and respect enjoyed by the nobles and magistrates; 7) the time can not be wasted on a catalog of names and deeds of those most prominent in the mind of every nation, teaching or respect; 9) observed natural products of nature, especially in the mines, the process of their development, production of metals and minerals, and their treatment; 10) the price of food and other items; 11) the main products of the country.

These general guidelines (which I could come up with now) may, in any case, be useful when planning your trip ...

Isaac Newton

It is worth noting that the letter was written on 26-year-old Newton, who had never been abroad and in England his trip confined Cambridge, London and native Lincolnshire. - Ed.


Електронний кампус

Інформаційні ресурси

Викладачі КПІ

GitHub репозиторій