Fwd: Newton and the Counterfeiter - Radio National (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) - The Science Show
- The podcast is a very interesting tale -- focusing on Newton's career in London post-1687.
Terry Foreman---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: terry foreman <terry.foreman@...>
Date: Mon, Mar 25, 2013 at 12:16 PM
Subject: Newton and the Counterfeiter - Radio National (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) - The Science Show
To: pepysdiary-yahoogroup <email@example.com>
- Saturday 23 March 2013 12:26PM (view full episode)
Why did a criminal write to Isaac Newton begging not to be hanged? And why did the great mathematician ignore those pleas?
Newton left Cambridge in his fifties to run the Mint in London—an odd choice for such a scientific genius. But Professor Tom Levenson of MIT explains why it made sense at the time and how Newton saved the economy of England by rescuing its money.
Extract from Newton and the Counterfeiter: It took him only a few months, and the path he found earned him scandalised admiration from his biographer. The first part of his ingenuity showed itself in making tin watches with dildos et cetera in them. That is, Chaloner's first enterprise was as a purveyor of sex toys. London in the 1690s was as famous or perhaps notorious for its spirit of sexual innovation as Berlin would be in the 1920s.
Chaloner saw his chance at the very moment that England was literally running out of money in what was a nationwide demonstration of Gresham's Law, the axiom that bad money drives out good. The crisis was driven by a peculiarity of England's coinage, the fact that for almost three decades the country had been living with two parallel types of money; the hand-struck coinage produced up to 1662, and coins manufactured since on a set of machines installed in the mint that year. The older currency, struck by a mint moneyer swinging his hammer, was irregular and prone to wear. Worse, it had smooth rims, which meant that anyone with a good pair of shears and a file could snip the edge of a coin and then file the piece smooth again. A cut here and a slice there and pretty soon a coin clipper could accumulate a healthy pile of silver, at the expense of a debased currency.
Clipped coinage was hardly new. It had been punished as high treason since Elizabeth's reign. Ever since, clippers had been caught, tried and condemned to death by the rope or fire on a regular basis, but with little effect, especially in the orgy of clipping that took hold between 1690 and 1696. But there was a still faster route to wealth available to those with access to more sophisticated technology. By 1695 counterfeit money accounted for about 10% by value of all coins in circulation. The secret of that success lay in the counterfeiter's ability to crack the second and more formidable of England's two types of legal currency.
Samuel Pepys had toured the mint in 1663 and concluded that the new machines yielded a currency that was freer from clipping or counterfeiting than ever before. No mere London ne'er-do-well could copy coins without an engine of the charge and noise that no counterfeit will be at or venture upon. But Pepys drastically underestimated the ingenuity of England's underworld. William Chaloner for one was already comfortable working with hot metal, and in a goldsmith named Patrick Coffee he found a master. It was Coffee who taught him the essential techniques of counterfeiting, most importantly how to use moulds to produce a plausible imitation of the milled edging that was the mint's pride and the clippers' enemy.