BRIOT, Nicholas

Nicholas Briot (1579-1646) was a celebrated coin engraver and medal maker. 

He was born in Damblain, Lorraine, France in about 1579. He came from a Huguenot family who were involved in coin production. His father, Didier, uncle, François and brother, Isaac were all coin engravers in France. His first wife, Pauline Nisse, died in 1608. They had one son, Philippe. In 1611 Nicholas married his second wife Esther Petau. They had two children: Jacques, born in 1612 and Esther, born in 1614.

From 1605-1625 Nicholas was the Engraver General of the coins of France and he was also the Chief engraver of the Paris Mint from 1606-1625. In 1610 he created medals to commemorate the coronation of the 9 year old French king, Louis XIII.

From 1616-1625 Nicholas tried to introduce a mechanical method of coin making to France, which he had learned in Germany. This was not popular with the coin makers, as they resisted all use of machinery and continued making coins by hand, striking them with a hammer, which produced less perfect looking coins. Eventually, unable to convince them to adopt his methods and to flee his creditors, Nicholas left France to live in England in 1625.

In England Nicholas joined the court of King Charles I. He worked at the Royal Mint at the Tower of London, where he lived. Coin making was kept separate from the other activities at the Tower, and the staff lived and worked together. The Mint was a dangerous place, with fumes from the deadly chemicals and the poisonous gases from the large furnaces used to melt down the precious metals. Before the screw-operated coin press was introduced by Nicholas Briot, making coins by hand was a very precise operation and many accidents occurred when the coin makers lost a finger. After mechanisation coin making became much safer.

In 1626 Nicholas created a gold Medal for the coronation of Charles I on 2 February. On 16 Dec 1628 Nicholas Briot was granted full denizen by Charles I. The act of denization granted certain rights to immigrants residing in England. In 1633 he was appointed Chief Engraver to the Royal Mint in London. 

From 1635 he became Mint Master of the Scottish Mint in Edinburgh and stayed in Scotland. His daughter, Esther, married Sir John Falconer, who held joint office with her father as Master of the Mint in Scotland in 1637/8.

With the outbreak of the Civil War in August 1642, King Charles I and his court moved from London to the safety of York, and then after 6 months moved to Oxford. Nicholas Briot went with the king, setting up a travelling mint, taking his tools so he could carry on minting coins. “Briot was recalled to England by the King; and at the time of the Rebellion he took possession of the punches, roller instruments, and coining apparatus at the tower by order of His Majesty, and had them removed, trussed up in saddles, at the hazard of his life, for the purpose of continuing the coining operations in the cause of the King.“ (Samuel Smiles)

Nicholas remained in the service of the King as his Engraver until the time of his death in December 1646. There is a record of his burial at St Martin-in-the-Fields on 25 December 1646. At the Restoration of Charles II in 1660, many years after Nicholas’s death, his widow, Esther, recovered the sum of £3,000 in arrears, which had been due to her husband.


 Dictionary of National Biography volumes 1-22 for Nicholas Briot

The Huguenots: Their Settlements, Churches & Industries by Samuel Smiles (1881)

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