The theme for this month is private mints. The first ones we might think of are the various Birmingham mints which issued pennies in the early years of the Twentieth Century. The KN and H pennies were keenly sought by coin collectors checking their change in the 1970s.
The Mint, Birmingham, check made of copper, arms of Birmingham, the mint birmingham around, six-pointed star punctuation, revs. ralph heaton & sons coiners around to the english and foreign governments
Lot 548 (part) Date of Auction: 2nd April 2014
Sold for £190 Estimate: £80 - £100
Image courtesy ofDix Noonan Webb
The International Coin, Banknote, Medal & Jewellery Specialists
The Birmingham Mint, originally known as Heaton's Mint or Ralph Heaton & Sons, started producing tokens and coins in 1850 as a private enterprise, It was created by Ralph Heaton II, using second-hand coin presses bought from the estate of Matthew Boulton.
On 1 April 1850 the auction was announced of equipment from the defunct Soho Mint, created by Matthew Boulton around 1788. At the auction on 29 April Ralph Heaton II bought the four steam-powered screw presses and six planchet presses for making blanks from strip metal. These were installed at the Bath Street works, and in that year trade tokens were struck for use in Australia. In 1851 coins were struck for Chile using the letter H as a mintmark. The same year copper planchets were made for the Royal Mint to make into pennies, halfpennies, farthings, half-farthings and quarter-farthings. In 1852 the Mint won a contract to produce a new series of coins for France. In this the Mint pioneered the minting of bronze. Ralph Heaton III (son of Ralph II) took key workers to Marseilles to equip and operate the French mint there, staying to fulfil the contract, and producing 750 tons of Napoléon III bronze coins from 1853 to 1857.
In 1853 the Royal Mint was overwhelmed with producing silver and gold coins. The Birmingham Mint won its first contract to strike finished coins for Britain – 500 tons of copper, struck between August 1853 and August 1855, with another contract to follow in 1856. These coins had no mint mark to identify them as from Birmingham. During the peak of operation the four original Boulton screw presses were striking about 110,000 coins per day.
As overseas orders increased, particularly for India, the Mint added a new lever press and further equipment, filling the Bath Street premises. In 1860 the firm bought a 1-acre (0.40 ha) plot on Icknield Street (the current site, since enlarged) and constructed a three-storey red brick factory. Completed in 1862 it employed 300 staff. It was at this time the largest private mint in the world. In 1861 a contract for bronze coins for the newly unified Italy was signed, the Mint sending blanks and equipment to Milan to be struck into finished coins by their staff in Milan.
In 1871 the first order for silver coinage was for Canada, and in 1874 the first gold was struck – Burgersponds for the new South African Republic – 837 pieces. Between 1896 and 1898 the Mint struck all of Russia's copper coins (over 110,000,000 coins per year).
Orders for colonial coins, blanks and bar metal were a steady source of business until, in 1912, an order for 16.8 million bronze coins for Britain, and in 1918 and 1919, and further orders for 7.1 million pence saw the mint striking coins for the home market. British penny coins minted by Heaton and dated 1912 can be identified by a very small upper case letter 'H' alongside the date: many of these coins were removed from circulation by collectors. In 1912, the Mint saw its first competition as the Kings Norton Metal Company was also contracted to supply bronze blanks to the Royal Mint, and in 1914 struck coins for the colonies. In both 1918 and 1919 the Kings Norton Metal Company struck a batch of bronze pennies which can also be identified by the upper case letters 'KN' appearing to the left of the date.
In 1949 the Mint produced an edition of the Maria Theresa thaler, a silver "trade dollar" widely used in the Middle East and previously minted by the Vienna Mint, or later, the Rome Mint. Further mintings were in 1953, 1954 and 1955.
In later years, the plant became increasingly busy with the introduction of the Euro within the European Union; the mint produced several million €1 and €2 coins. However, a slump in trade and contractual agreements between them and the Royal Mint resulted in the sale of the mint in late 2003.