An Important Group of Ephemera relating to Thomas Graham, Master of the Mint

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Date of Auction: 4th December 2019

Sold for £3,400

Estimate: £1,200 - £1,500

Victoria, Letters Patent affixed to the Seal appointing Thomas Graham to the post of Master of the Mint, dated Westminster, 27 April 1855, and entered in the Audit Office by F.A. Hawker, 26 May 1855, and in the Office of Comptroller General of the Exchequer by Jas. F. Otley, 26 May 1835 (sic). Letter very fine and crisp, Seal with minor circumferential damage on lower left edge, otherwise an important and significant item; housed in original darkened metal case, diam. 173mm £1,200-£1,500


The text of the document confirms Thomas Graham as ‘Master and worker of all our monies both gold and silver within our Mint in our Tower of London and elsewhere within that part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland called England with the net yearly salary or sum of one thousand five hundred pounds payable in our manner’, in succession to the astronomer, chemist and polymath Sir John Frederick William Herschel, Bt (1792-1871), who himself had been appointed to the post on 16 December 1850 at the same salary (Challis, History, p.501). Graham’s salary was paid in two annual instalments, on 5 January and 5 July, an arrangement that persisted until his death, in office at the age of 63, on 16 September 1869. The office was abolished and Robert Lowe (1811-92), then Chancellor of the Exchequer and MP for the new London University constituency, became the ex-officio Master, with the very able Charles Fremantle (1834-1914), continuing his 1868 appointment as Deputy Master.

Thomas Graham, born in Glasgow in December 1805, was the son of a textile manufacturer who wanted his son to enter the Church of Scotland. Instead, enrolling at Glasgow University in 1819, he studied chemistry under Prof. Thomas Thomson, passing out with an MA in 1824. Going on to study medicine at the University of Edinburgh, he returned to his native city as the first professor of chemistry at Anderson’s Medical School in 1830. In 1831 his paper on the diffusion and effusion of gases to the Royal Society in Edinburgh won him international acclaim in what became known as ‘Graham’s Law’ and he received the Society’s Keith Medal, one of several significant medals awarded him throughout his career. In 1837 he was appointed professor of chemistry at University College, London and he founded the Chemical Society of London in 1841. With the resignation of Herschel from the Mastership of the Mint in 1855, he having masterminded reforms originally instigated by William Gladstone, Lord Palmerston appointed Graham to the post who, as Christopher Challis noted, ‘already had knowledge of the Mint from his work as one of the non-resident assayers’ (History, p.506). Graham’s period in office, a little over 14 years, is today best remembered for his overseeing the introduction of the new bronze coinage in 1860, itself a reform originally contemplated by Gladstone as far back as 1844. Graham’s copper survey, published in the summer of 1857 and seen by present-day scholars as having some serious shortcomings, nevertheless set in train the programme for change, if not decimalisation