that’s ’cos we does ’em here. The real buggers are the mites, ’cos they’re worth half a farthin’ but cost sixpence ’cos it’s fiddly work, bein’ so small and have got that hole in the middle. The thrupenny bit, sir, we’ve only got a couple of people makin’ those, a lot of work which runs out at seven pence. And don’t ask me about the tupenny piece!”
“What about the tupenny piece?”
“I’m glad you asked me that, sir. Fine work, sir, tots up to seven and one one-sixteenth pence. And, yes, there’s one-sixteenth of a penny, sir, the elim.”
“I’ve never heard of it!”
“Well, no, sir, you wouldn’t, a gentleman of class like yourself, but it has its place, sir, it has its place. Nice little thing, sir, lot of tiny detail, made by widow women according to tradition, costs a whole shilling ’cos the engraving is so fine. Takes the old girls days to do one, what with their eyesight and everything, but it makes ’em feel they’re bein’ useful.”
“But a sixteenth of a penny? One quarter of a farthing? What can you buy with that?”
“You’d be amazed, sir, down some streets. A candle stub, a small potato that’s only a bit green,” said Shady. “Maybe a apple core that ain’t been entirely et. And of course it’s handy to drop in the charity box. It makes a clink.”
And gold is the anchor, is it? Moist thought.
He looked around at the huge space. There were about a dozen people working there, if you included the golem, who Moist had learned to think of as part of a species to be treated as “human for a given value of human,” and the pimply boy who made the tea, who he hadn’t.
“You don’t seem to need many people,” he said.
“Ah, well, we only do the silver and gold—”
“Goldish,” Mr. Bent intervened quickly.
“—Goldish coins here, you see. And unusual stuff, like medals. We make the blanks for the copper and brass, but the outworkers do the rest.”
“Outworkers? A mint with outworkers?”
“That’s right, sir. Like the widows. They work at home. Huh, you couldn’t expect the old dears to totter in here, most of ’em’d need two sticks to get about!”
“The Mint…that is, the place that makes money…employs people who work at home? I mean, I know it’s fashionable, but I mean…well, don’t you think it’s odd?”
“Gods bless you, sir, there are families out there who’ve been making a few coppers every evening for generations!” said Shady happily. “Dad doing the basic punching, Mum chasing and finishing, the kids cleanin’ and polishin’…it’s traditional. Our outworkers are like one big family.”
“Okay, but what about security?”
“If they steal so much as a farthing they can be hanged,” said Bent. “It counts as treason, you know.”
“What kind of families are you used to?” said Moist, aghast.
“I must point out that no one ever has, though, because they’re very loyal,” said the foreman, glaring at Bent.
“It used to be a hand cut off, for a first offense,” said Mr. Bent the family man.
“Do they make a lot of money?” said Moist, carefully getting between the two men. “I mean, in terms of wages?”
“About fifteen dollars a month. It’s detailed work,” said Shady. “Some of the old ladies don’t get as much. We get a lot of bad elims.”
Moist stared up at the Bad Penny. It rose up through the central well of the building and looked gossamer-frail for something so big. The lone golem plodding along inside had a slate hanging around its neck, which meant it was one of those that couldn’t talk. Moist wondered if the Golem Trust knew about it. They had amazing ways of finding golems.
As he watched, the wheel swung gently to a halt. The silent golem stood still.
“Tell me,” said Moist, “why bother with goldish coins? Why not just, well, make the dollars out of gold?”
“Very fast way to lose gold, sir!”
“Did you get a lot of clipping and sweating?”