The Trial of the Pyx – What is it, and why does it exist?

trial of the pyx

The Trial of the Pyx is one of Britain’s longest-established judicial ceremonies; held since the 12th century and remaining largely unchanged since that date and Henry III’s reign.

The word ‘pyx’ comes from the Latin word ‘pyxis’ or small box, and in this case refers to the chests used to store and transport the coins ready for the trial. Throughout the year, coins are randomly selected from every batch and denomination struck, sealed in bags of 50 and locked away in ‘Pyx’ boxes ready for testing to commence at the Trial of Pyx.

The trial has taken place in the Hall of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, in London, since 1870. It is held once a year and is presided over by a judge and expert jury of assayers. It also involves the Chancellor of the Exchequer, several financial leaders, representatives of The Royal Mint and freemen of The Goldsmiths’ Company.

It brings together some of the oldest and most recognised organisations in the coinage industry, to ensure newly-minted coins conform to the required standards, quality and accuracy. Coins are tested against a benchmark known as a ‘trial plate’ to ensure that the coin’s diameter, chemical composition and weight all match those requirements laid out.

Once all of the coins have been thoroughly examined, usually over two to three months, and the Assay Office have established that all requirements have been met, the Trial court is reconvened. The verdict is then provided to the jury and is read aloud by the Clerk of the Goldsmiths’ Company, at the instruction of the Senior Master and Queen’s Remembrancer.

History books read that if any coins fail the trials, the Chancellor of the Exchequer risks losing a hand as punishment. Of course, that hasn’t happened for hundreds of years, but during the entire trial’s history, 94 Moneyers (a role very similar) have had their right hands cut off by order of the King currently reigning.

None of this happens today though, and the Trial of Pyx lives on and is likely to continue for many more years.

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