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Spring is coming: Announcing a new commission with the Royal Mint Museum

“On 15 February 1971 Britain changed over from the centuries old system of pounds, shillings and pence to a new currency based on 100 pennies to the pound. This change affected the entire nation, bringing people together as they learnt to master a new way of valuing everything.”

The Royal Mint Museum in Llantrisant, Wales, is celebrating the 50th year of decimal currency in the UK. We have co-created a ‘What’s that in new money?’ collection that can be sent to any care home in the UK free of charge for a reminiscence session. There are 45 boxes in their flock available to borrow. That means about one thousand possible outreach visits in the year. Amazing!

The What’s that in old money? collection is a mix of coins, purses, a decimeter, and postcards
A decimeter, used for conversion from old money to new

We were first contacted by Amy Williams back in the Great Before. She’s the Education and Learning Manager at the Mint Museum. They were keen to make a big splash nationally to celebrate the transition to decimal currency. We concocted an ambitious plan to thing big and figure out what it might mean to send Boxes to schools all over the nation. Museum in a Box contributed to a Mint grant application then held our breath. Unfortunately, when Covid hit, the granting body hit pause on that funding stream and went into emergency mode. Even after that challenging news, the Mint team let us know they still wanted to go ahead at whatever scale would work once the Covid dust settled a bit. As a company, we were coming to the end of Batch No. 1, which was a big “what should we do?” moment. The Museum swept up the last five Boxes in that batch, and let us know they wanted to go large and expand their “flock” if/when we decided to make Batch No. 2. This was so encouraging and exciting, and ultimately, what we needed to commit to Batch No. 2.

We also faced schools in Wales and across the UK opening / closing / opening / closing, so the museum decided to shift their outreach focus to reminiscence sessions with their older audience.

What’s that in old money?

The first step in any commission or Make Your Own project is to figure out which objects to include in your collection. How do they hang together, and what do you want to say about each thing?

I called on Rob Sherman to bring the collection to life. We’ve worked with Rob before, on our Greek Gods & Goddesses collection, and with the National Justice Museum’s Creative Courtroom commission. Rob’s a pleasure to work with, and is a bit of nerd which fits this realm. It was he who introduced me to what a tannoy is, and I am forever grateful, because that’s worth at least 10 points in Words With Friends, which I’ve been playing a lot of.

Bethan Clark, (former) Public Engagement and Information Officer at the museum, assembled our draft list of original objects and photography for the collection, and the museum team edited it down to our recommended size of nine things. Together, we decided to place a young woman named Linda Thomas at the centre of each the object’s story. She was living in Llantrisant when the Mint moved there from London, and had witnessed decimalisation first hand with her young family. Rob crafted nine episodes of her life to accompany each object, from helping a customer in the department store where Linda worked do a conversion to worrying about her grandad and how he’d cope with the new money. 

Once the stories were ready, we found actor and singer Ceri Ann Gregory to bring Linda to life, and had a great afternoon recording Rob’s scripts via three different locations with our friends at The Voiceover Gallery. Once the raw scripts were recorded, Rob and I – mainly Rob! – figured out the soundscape for each track to make the stories more rounded and evocative. Coins clinking, a rugby match, brass band, Welsh men’s choir (obvs), and other bits and bobs really make the audio rich. Here’s a sample for you – this is a shot from my dining room table, where the collection first sprang to life as all the pieces came together for the first time:

In the meantime, the museum was keen to order more Boxes. First, we thought another 15, and then – whoa! – another 25! That’s a flock of 45 Boxes; the biggest deployment to a single organisation we’ve ever done. Bethan James, Project Officer, has been super to work with figuring out logistics of delivering this sort of scale from our front rooms to Llantrisant. The museum also chose to order custom boxes to hold the collection, which has meant that Takako Copeland, our Maker of Special Things, has been very busy over the Christmas period and into January making 45 beautiful, sturdy, purple containers for each of the loan boxes. They are beautiful.

The museum has just sent out its first five boxes, and is maintaining a map of where they’re going, which I’ve embedded here:

This is our second reminiscence project commission, alongside the Monroe Country History 1960s reminiscence program, and joins several other loan box programs likeTraveling Trunks @ Smithsonian, Barnsley Museums, Tees Valley Museums, and Jewish Museum London, and soon, UMass Amherst.

On a personal note, it’s extremely gratifying that we can deliver at this scale, and I especially want to thank Adrian, Takako, and Jenn for jumping on board to work with me to do it. There is still availability in our official Batch No. 2 – there are just over 30 boxes left. This major commission has meant the batch is selling much faster than we’d thought, but, what a great thing! Those 30 remaining boxes could become Little Kits, or Big Kits (3 boxes per), or delivered as part of a larger commission, like the Royal Mint Museum’s Decimalisation Reminiscence program.

The daffodils are starting to spring up around London. The sky is grey, and the wind is whipping the budding trees about. In this odd, wintry January I’m so pleased to be able to share this slightly stealthily-made new commission. What a boon! 

Perhaps our fallow phase has paid off?

By George Oates

I am the Founder of Museum in a Box!

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