The World’s First Counterfeit Cop?

Sir Isaac Newton was a renowned scientist whom many consider a genius. But he didn’t spend all of his spare time sitting under an apple tree thinking about gravity. For most of his life he was more obsessed with alchemy and divining hidden codes in the Bible than what we now call physics. He also spent a significant number of years hunting down and executing counterfeiters.

Sir Isaac Newton

           Sir Isaac Newton


In 1696 the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Charles Montagu, made Newton a warden of the Royal Mint, based in the Tower of London. The warden’s job was to enforce laws against counterfeiting.

Counterfeiting near the end of the 17th century provided plenty of problems to keep him occupied. By 1696, 10 percent of England’s coins were known to be fake. They were cast or stamped from forged or stolen molds; and coin clipping, in which the edges of coins were shaved off and used to make new coins, was rampant. The face value of an English coin didn’t match its bullion value, and coins were being shipped, en masse, to other European cities like Paris and Madrid and sold on the metals markets there. Newton had the solution.

He called for the Great Re-Coinage, the taking in millions of pounds of coins by weight and re-minting them at their correct values. He organized a production line of 500 men at the Tower of London, smelting much of England’s money supply over a four-year period. Parliament also passed the Coin Act in 1696, making it illegal to sell or own the equipment needed to make coins. The punishment for counterfeiting was death.

In 1699, Newton captured his era’s most notorious counterfeiter, William Chaloner, who claimed to have forged more than 30,000 gold Guineas in his career. After Chaloner was tried, convicted and hanged, Newton was made Master of the Royal Mint, a position he would hold until his death in 1727.

Thursday, July 13th, 2017 Uncategorized