August 12th. 2018.
· This was the trip to the London Mithraeum, Guildhall and Bank of England Museum
Monday 4th September.
Monday 3rd October.
Meetings are held at the Abbey Baptist Church, Abbey Square, commencing at 7.00 p.m.
As the designated speaker was unable to attend due to ill health the Chairman stepped in with a talk entitled ‘The Waterloo Medallion – its interpretation and why none were struck’.
While Napoleon’s successes and failures across Europe had caused much mayhem his main intention was to conquer England. This resulted in periodic panic and a volatile trading market. Consequently, when Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo in June 1815 it elevated Wellington to the status of a ‘Superstar’. For such an elevated person accolades, titles and gifts abounded such that in 1819 a grand medallion was authorised. The £2400 commission was given to Beneditto Pistruci, who also produced some coinage for the George’s 3rd & 4th.
The matrix for the medallion is full of classical allegorical figures. With the classics today not being understood, except by a few, it is difficult to understand the meaning these figures represent. However, an educated gentleman of the 19th century would have studied the classics and so would have been able to ‘read’ the medallion like a book. He would have readily understood the main laudatory messages as the ‘Triumph of Good over Evil’ and the ‘Restoration of Peace’. He would have also seen the warning to the heads of state that in future there should be ‘Good Governance’.
Throughout the talk the speaker explained the classical stories for each of the allegorical figures, which are too lengthy to be repeated here. However, a brief summary of the medallion is as follows.
On the obverse there are three mounted figures trusting forward, namely Wellington flanked by Victory, and Field Marshall Blucher coming to their aid. The way this scene is set very much reflects the actual unfolding battle which half way through could have gone either way. It was only much later in the battle when Blucher with his Prussian army outflanked & routed the French and won the day. At the top of medal is Jupiter throwing thunderbolts to defeat the giants which are depicted tumbling from the sky. In this pose the tumbling giants represent Napoleons defeated army.
On the reverse centrally placed are the four allied heads of state, around which the classical figures are placed. At the top Apollo is depicted sallying forth in his chariot while down below is ‘Night’ fleeing in her chariot. Apollo, the ‘protector from evil’ and ‘the bringer of day’ is driving out ‘Night’ that represents the dark days of Napoleon. On the top right are the lovers Iris and Zephyr and together with Apollo the message is peace and the good days have returned. The heavenly twins are depicted top left and otherwise known as Gemini, which astrologically is June, the month of the battle
That ends the laudatory part of the medal and it is now a message to the heads of state. On the left is Themis, the god of justice and on the right Hercules representing power. With the heads of state facing Themis the message is that henceforth they must govern justly and turn their backs on the use of force. To emphasise the message the figures depicted below are the Fates who determine the destiny of life and the Furies who are the avengers from the underworld. In other words use force and expect a visit from the Fates & the Furies.
Having concluded the interpretation of the medallion the speaker then explained why no specimens were struck. The principle reason was that it was thought the heat treatment hardening process would crack the matrix. It was explained why high carbon steel had to be used, why it had to be in a soft state to engrave the die and then why it had to be heat treated to make it hard before any pieces could be struck. To harden the die it is heated to a high temperature (750 degC) and dropped into water. By using a simple model the speaker illustrated how this process set up tensile forces in the die face that could produce craze cracking. The talk also covered how the die face was prevented from oxidising while being heated and the probable method of engraving given the uniqueness of the matrix
In conclusion it was stated that Pistrucci was well aware of the dangers of hardening his masterpiece and wrote copious notes on the subject. But he also did something very clever to reduce the volume of metal. Each half of the matrix is a circular die surrounded by an annulus.
And one more reason for not making any specimens. By the time of its completion in 1849 most of the intended recipients were dead.
Three intrepid members set out to look at part of the history of the City of London. We started at the London Mithraeum, which houses the remains of a temple from Roman times dedicated to Mithras. The temple is now back where it started, beneath the new Bloomberg building. It was discovered, (uncovered) by bombing during the second World war and was initially moved piecemeal from where it was found but has now been put back in its original place, beneath the new building. The entrance is currently an artwork, with walls decorated to mimic Ancient Roman architecture. A display cabinet shows some 600 items from the temple site and patrons are then able to descend to a large room containing the remains of the temple where they witness an audio/visual demonstration of what a service might have been like.
From there, with running commentary from Peter, we proceeded to the church of St Stephen Walbrook. This is the current incarnation of the church originally built on the old foundations of the Temple of Mithras. It was moved from the original site when that proved too small in about 1420. The church was burnt to the ground in the Great Fire of London but was rebuilt by Wren between 1672 and 1717, one of many dozens of rebuilt churches in London but special because this one was in Wren’s own Parish. The church was badly damaged by bombing in 1941, losing part of the dome and all the stained glass windows. The windows have been replaced but may have to be replaced by clear glass since the surrounding buildings have cut off a lot of the light previously available.
We continued on to another church, St Lawrence Jewry, where we arrived too early to wait for a lunchtime concert, though we heard some of the practising. The church was built in 1136 but as the previous, it was destroyed by the Great Fire and rebuilt by Wren in 1677. The name is derived from its dedication to St. Lawrence with an addition referring to its position in the Capital as there were several St. Lawrence churches. An excellent place for quiet contemplation and a cup of coffee (according to our guide).
Next we visited the Guildhall Galleries where we were able to view a large selection of paintings, including Constable, Copley and some of the pre-Raphaelites. Another interesting gallery contained works from the history of the London Mathematical Society and its leading light Augustus De Morgan whose work on Boolean Algebra underlies most of the computer technology in use today. Finally in the basement we were able to see the remains of the Roman amphitheatre that housed 7000 spectators. This again was augmented by audio/visual displays. The size of the amphitheatre can be gauged by the ring of black stones in the space outside the gallery. At this point we retired to nearby hostelry for refreshments before making our last port of call.
The Bank of England Museum has been visited by Reading Coin Club once before but they have recently been closed for a redevelopment. The Stock Room is often full of young children attempting to understand how to ‘balance the books’ by means of ingenious machines, controlled by knobs and dials with names such as ‘interest rates’ and ‘quantitative easing’. Our future will be safe in their hands! The rotunda hosts wonderful displays of silverware and artifacts related to the Bank’s history, and you even get a chance to try and pick up a real gold bar (it’s heavy). On the way out, just before the Royal Mint shopping experience there are display cabinets with a set of coins from each of the reigns from Queen Anne to Elizabeth II, with many five guinea pieces in evidence.
A very enjoyable day and thanks to Peter for organizing it so well.
Be reminded that subscriptions are now due. It would be most appreciated if members yet to renew their subscription would please do so at the next meeting. Please see our treasurer Peter. Membership cards are now available for paid-up members.
· London Coins Auction – 1-2nd September
· London Coin Fair/Argentum – Bloomsbury, London – 1st September
· Birmingham Coin Fair - National Motorcycle museum – 9th September
· Spinks Auction, 69 Southampton Row, London – 25-26th September
· DNW, Mayfair, London – 18-20th September
· DNW, Cut and countermarked coins, Mayfair, London – 25th September
· COINEX, Grosvenor Square, London – 28-29th September
Ten years ago, Michael Gouby gave a short presentation on the latest varieties in the Victorian copper penny series, as the advertised speaker was unable to turn up
Twenty years ago Gavin Scott gave a talk on “Framed Coins”
Thirty years ago Dr. Metcalf gave a talk on coins from the Dark Ages