Before the mechanization of coinage mints were staffed by moneyers, who physically struck the coins. In England at least, moneyers seemed to have owned their own tools. In 1484 Robert Hart, an English moneyer, bequeathed to his apprentice “my anvil, 4 hammers, a mallet, a pair of tongs, an hamnekyn, and 2 pairs of shears.”
Moneyer as an organized trade or skill stretches back to the ancient world. In the Roman Empire moneyers were members of a hereditary profession, recruited mainly from families holding high positions in government. A member of the moneyer caste could not resign without furnishing someone to take his place. In Rome, as in later societies, trust and character were an important qualification for the profession of moneyer. The same skills that allowed a moneyer to strike coins meeting official specifications could be put to work to forge counterfeit coins, or to debase official coinage at a secret profit to the moneyer.
English moneyers organized themselves into a company or guild and elected a leader, the provost, who could call a meeting of the moneyers at any time and impose mild disciplinary penalties. New recruits to the company had to serve as apprentices for seven years and take an oath to serve the company and the Crown loyally. The warden of the mint paid the provost, who in turned paid individual moneyers. Mints lay idle portions of the year and moneyers came to work only when the mint was in operation. The most important mint in medieval England was the Tower mint, and moneyers from the Tower mint were assigned to local mints in other parts of England. A few localities provided housing for moneyers while they were engaged at the mint. Some of the moneyers worked for goldsmiths when the mint lay idle, and judging from their debts, moneyers were not poor people.
Codes of law in medieval England regulated the conduct of moneyers. One provision stipulated that a moneyer found guilty of issuing debased or light coin should have the offending hand severed and fastened to the mint. Although the profits from forgery were high, the risks were also substantial. At Christmas in 1124 Henry III summoned all moneyers to Winchester, where, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, within a period of 12 nights all were mutilated. According to the Margam Annals, 94 were punished. By the close of Henry’s reign 19 out of 30 mints had shut down, probably because of a shortage of moneyers.
In the seventeenth century mechanization began to replace the moneyers. Moneyers were now supervisors who oversaw the work of laborers operating machinery. The term moneyer does not seem to have been used in the United States. It was still applied to English mint workers into the nineteenth century, but it fell into disuse in the twentieth century. Today there are no craftsmen working at mints who bear the title “moneyer.”