Thomas Simon (alternatively spelled as Thomas Symonds) was an English medalist, born in Yorkshire about 1623.
Simon studied engraving under Nicholas Briot, and about 1635 received a post in connection with the Royal Mint. In 1645 he was appointed by the parliament joint chief engraver along with Edward Wade, and, having executed the great seal of the Commonwealth and dies for the coinage, he was promoted to be chief engraver to the Royal Mint and seals. He produced several fine portrait medals of Oliver Cromwell, one of which is copied from a miniature by Samuel Cooper.
Edward Greene died in 1644 and on 4 April 1645, Simon was appointed Joint Chief Engraver alongside Edward Wade. They shared a salary, but it is assumed that due to the unimpressive quality of the coinage during the latter half of the 1640s, Wade worked on coins whilst Simon focused on medals.
Simon’s engraving talents piqued the attention of Oliver Cromwell, then Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland, and his Puritan leanings further endeared him to the Protector. Simon was commissioned to produce a portrait of Cromwell following the Battle of Dunbar, in which the Republican Army defeated Charles I’s supporters in Scotland. Known as the ‘Dunbar Medal’, Cromwell was extremely pleased with his portrait and appointed Simon as his personal medallist in 1651, remarking "the man is ingenious and worthy of encouragement". The same year, Simon engraved the Great Seal of England, and was also ordered to engrave the Great Seal, Privy Seal, and Seal Manual. Under Cromwell, Simon also produced seals for the colonies, including Jamaica, Virginia, Barbados, Bermuda, and Ireland, county seals, many personal seals, a seal for the Order of the Garter, and a seal for the Royal Society. By 1655 he was "sole chief engraver for the Mint and Seals" and, following Cromwell’s death in 1658, he was asked to produce the "death mask" for the Protector’s funeral procession, which became the predominant model for subsequent busts and sculptures of Cromwell.
Working with Pierre Blondeau, an engineer of the Parisian Mint, Simon engraved the dies for Cromwell’s coinages in 1656 and 1658. It is claimed that during this period of work, Simon introduced a stippling to the design, which gave a frosted appearance and was the first of its kind. Simon’s working relationship with Blondeau would continue as in 1662, after the Restoration of the monarchy, King Charles II ordered him to travel to Paris and bring the engineer back to London so he could prepare the machinery intended to produce the new coinage. The minting technology had long been in use in continental Europe, which meant that Simon played a role in helping to establish the practice in London.
In the wake of the Restoration and Charles II’s return from exile, Simon petitioned the king "for the employment of Chief Engraver to His Majesty and the Mint, which he held under the late King, and for Pardon, because by order of Parliament made their Great Seal in 1643, and was their Chief Engraver of the Mint and Seals". The request was initially unsuccessful as Thomas Rawlings, who had been granted the title of Chief Engraver under King Charles I, was reinstated. However, Simon continued to do most of the work typically attributed to the Chief Engraver, producing the Great Seals for Charles II.
Simon was eventually reinstated as Chief Engraver in 1661 but was further aggrieved in the form of the Roettier brothers, whose family had helped Charles II with loans during his exile in Holland. As a reward, the king invited the brothers to London to produce a new coinage . In January 1662, Simon and the Roettiers were ordered to engrave the dies for the new coinage, but resentment and "by reason of a contest in art between them" rendered the working relationship a stalemate. A trial of skill ensued, whereby both sets of engravers were asked to produce a trial piece of a silver crown. The king favoured the work of the Dutchmen, which prompted Simon to produce a piece in response: the Petition Crown. The piece was so named due to the inscription, which Simon engraved by hand, and is regarded an incredible feat of engraving skill to this very day:
"THOMAS SIMON MOST HVMBLY PRAYS YOVR MAJESTY TO COMPARE THIS HIS TRYALL PIECE WITH THE DVTCH AND IF MORE TRVLY DRAWN & EMBOSS’D MORE GRACE: FVLLY ORDER’D AND MORE ACCVRATELY ENGRAVEN TO RELEIVE HIM"
The petition was unsuccessful, yet the crown is considered as Simon’s most famous work and is widely regarded as one of the finest in numismatic history.
Simon continued to work at The Royal Mint and his last known work was a small yet beautifully crafted medal that commemorated the English naval victory over the Dutch in 1665. The same year, Simon died from the Plague that had struck London. Despite his passing, Simon set an incredibly high standard for the engraving profession, and 150 years would pass before his talent was matched through the works of the Wyon family and Benedetto Pistrucci.
A volume of The Medals, Coins, Great Seals and other Works of Thomas Simon, engraved and described by George Vertue, was published in 1753. He worked together with his brother Abraham Simon.