James R. Gill has just issued his first medal: A medal for the centennial of his hometown of Manhattan Beach, California. Struck by Northwest Territorial Mint, the medal was recently delivered, setting off a wave of marketing and publicity efforts by promoter Gill.
Google Alert sent me a news article where I learned of Gill’s medallic efforts which led me to his web site and further information about his town’s centennial activities. The more I read, the more I realized James Gill had done everything right in creating his medal. I contacted him asking for an interview for an article chronicling exactly how he did this.
I wanted to learn every step he took in the process of creating a city anniversary medal he had managed to establish as a tribute to his beloved hometown. This information, I thought, might be useful to others who would like to do the same for their city. Indeed, Gill had done everything right.
Where did you get the idea to do such a medal? I asked Gill.
“I’ve been a coin collector my entire life, since I was a kid. I loved them, collected them. I’m from Manhattan Beach, third generation, so I have a passion for our town. Some time ago I acquired a 75th Anniversary Medal somebody had done, but I wasn’t impressed by it. So for many years when we got to our centennial year I wanted to create one that was more special than that 75th one.”
And where did he obtain that 75th medal? He bought it on eBay. James Gill, 46, was a lifelong resident of Manhattan Beach on California’s southern shore.
“It’s a wonderful beach town,” he related in that interview, “a suburb of Los Angeles, but completely different atmosphere than anything in Los Angeles. The people are different, the way of life is different. Here we wear shorts and flip-flops at all ages, we are outdoors a lot. The beach is our front yard. We have lovely weather all year round, sixties and seventies in the winter time. You pay for that convenience and great weather that’s why mortgages are so high.” I smiled at that remark.
One of the most important clues to the success of his medal project was that he started early, in 2008, four years ahead of the centennial year, 2012. He learned, early on, he had to deal with municipal bureaucracy, and ultimately a Centennial Committee.
“In the very beginning I began talking to City Council members. I knew since I would use the city seal on the medal, I would have to get the city’s approval. I began by talking to the Council members. They liked it. But they had to wait to see who was going to be on the Centennial Committee.
“Would it be a Centennial Committee decision? Nobody would be sure how to approach such a thing. So it was all up in the air in the beginning. I applied to be on the Committee, but I wasn’t chosen, and that was a good thing since it would have been, they tell me, a conflict of interest.
“The Centennial Committee was a little slow getting started. I would say they began a year before our centennial year, in January a year ago.
Gill had formulated his plan, underwriting the entire project. “From the very beginning I proposed that I would do it all, to create the medal, to pay the money to make the dies, and put up all the upfront money. Also that I would share those proceeds with the committee after I covered my costs. The month the Committee was formed they had an email from me with the proposal, with photographs, with artwork that had been created at that point.
Months before Gill had done extensive work on the design. Taking photographs. Searching the internet for desired images. Selecting those that were significant to the local area. He had taken a bowl from his kitchen to draw a large circle and began arranging design elements – the city pier for the obverse, the city seal, a surfer, a volleyball player for the reverse – all to fit inside that circle.
As a savvy internet user he had gone on the net to find a medal producer who could mint the “coin” he had in mind. “Northwest Territorial Mint popped up as being one of the leaders, so I contacted them. I learned they are here in the United States of America, it is their main business. I knew that is where I wanted to go.
“I emailed my designs to them. Beginning in 2009 I began working with Northwest Territorial Mint designers on their end, and come back to me with that they thought would work on a coin. We went back four or five times changing the art. I think they felt bad, they sat around on my designs for a year and a half until we finally got the go-ahead.
“The Committee had no input. Their only concern was that if a medal was to be done by the committee it would have to be a public [design] contest, people would turn in art work and [a winner] chosen. I know that would be a problem. But as I learned about this process, that somebody with a beautiful design, artists at Northwest Territorial Mint would have to change it around dramatically and it would look nothing like the one designed.
“I tried to express [the impracticality of a design contest] to them, but the bottom line was the committee was not interested in doing a coin, even though they did one for the 75th, they just didn’t care.
“The leaders of the committee didn’t care. They were already involved with T-shirts and hats, not selling as many as they had hoped, and it was more work than they had hoped. They felt like getting involved in more merchandise was not what they wanted to do. They hadn’t taken time to read my proposals that I was going to take all the risks, do all the work, and share the money.
Then how did you convince them? I asked.
“After going to four or five meetings, speaking up, asking have you looked at my coin proposal? Anybody have any questions about it? Finally, there was a meeting I got to speak, It was literally November , a month and a half before the centennial was to begin. I had almost given up hope, and I got a chance to explain to them, you are not at risk for anything, I am doing the whole thing, I want your permission to go do it. They took a vote and I got approved and off I went.
Step by step.
I asked Gill to relate the steps he had taken to create his medal.
“Around 2008 I got this idea I was going to do this, I got it in my head. I grabbed my camera and went down to the beach. Our iconic image here in Manhattan Beach is our pier. There have been several versions of it but it goes back to the 1900s. It’s an iconic image for us here. First thing I did was I ran down there and took pictures of the pier at different angles in how I would want it to appear on the medal. I came home and printed these on my printer.
“For the reverse I tried to think of the biggest things in Manhattan Beach I would want to have on the medal. Surfing and volleyball are two things that are extremely popular here. I played around with images from Google, I printed those, cut them out, and arranging them on the medal, and see how those would come out.
“Beginning in 2009 I began working with Northwest Territorial Mint designers on their end, and come back to me with that they thought would work on a coin. We went back four or five times changing the art. I think they felt bad, they sat around on my designs for a year and a half until we finally got the go-ahead. I think several employees and come and gone before I actually got the okay to do it.
“I got the all [the images] in there. The one thing I was excited to get in there, and leery what the committee would say about it — my initials. On one of the coins I own was the 1909 VDB penny. I knew I wanted to have my initials on this coin. I stuck them in there on the reverse and hear of anybody on the committee complain about them. But they didn’t. Had they caught it. That was the one piece I was worried about. I got the surfing in. I got the volleyball in. I got the city seal in. I got the pier in.
Persistency pays off. I was impressed with the tenacity Gill had toward this project. I said “Sounds like you were pretty persistent.”
“I was,” re replied. “That was one thing that the council members I had spoken with said — to be persistent, to keep going to those meetings and keep speaking out. It paid off.”
I turned the conversation to the actual medal. “What was your first impression when you first saw the medal?” I asked.
“I was very nervous to see it. I had never dealt with Northwest Territorial Mint before. I had very high expectations. In my coin collection I own some of the most beautiful coins in the world, a 1910 gold coin and the 1905 Indian gold coin, and I even have one of the one-ounce Indian head gold nickels.”
“I had high hopes. Very high hopes. When the box came and I opened it I was ecstatic. I think the [medals] turned out exceeding my expectations!
There’s a testimonial statement from a very satisfied customer:
The medals turned out exceeding my expectations!
I asked how the sales staff had treated him. “Sales staff was good. They gave me what I wanted. I knew what I wanted. Sales staff was great working with me. What was interesting was dealing with the artists.
How was that? The contact with them?
“No. I never had any contact with them. I never spoke with them. I never had a direct email with them. It was [always in contact with] the sales staff for the art.
“That was a little scary, because, you know, I didn’t have a direct conversation with any [artist]. But the bottom line they did do a great job, they got [understood] what I was trying to do. And they knew
what actually works on a coin. They did a great job. They never really complained when I had an issue with something minor. So that all went rather well.
Company artists can take a bow.
Marketing the medal. I then asked about how he was marketing the medal. Who are you selling it to?
“This has been the exciting part about it. I am a big social person.
My career has been based around the internet and computers. I was a financial stock trader, working with computers for 16, 17 years. This was an interesting part of it for me, selling the coin.
“I knew the reality, truly the market was Manhattan Beach people, cause the coins are twice the value of silver, so its not the collector who will go for my coins, for intrinsic value or whatever. Its just the people who love and want a keepsake from Manhattan Beach. So I knew my target market was Manhattan Beach.
“I knew I wanted to have a web site. I knew the fastest and easiest way for me to reach a lot of people and get the word out was Facebook. Within a week of receiving my coins I had a Facebook page up and running. The day I received my coins I had it for sale on Facebook.
“So that was all free, easy and very viral. You get your friends looking at it and the minute you hit the like button for your fan page, for your coin, their friends see that they liked on your fan page. That was the fastest, cheapest way to get busy with this. So I was immediately selling coins on Facebook.
“Phase Two was eBay. A very inexpensive way to get it up and running right away was on eBay. So I have an ongoing auction on eBay for people who search eBay for Manhattan Beach stuff. Had that up and running.
“Phase Three for me was to get its own web site up. So now there is a web site called MANHATTANBEACHCENTENNIALCOIN.COM
That is the main web address and I have even created a short web address so I could advertise it faster to the locals. MB100COINS.COM points straight to MANHATTANBEACHCENTENNIALCOIN.COM
“So I have a shortcut one that I can easily advertise that people remember quickly and then a longer one they can find when searching the web.”
Gill reported sales have been “moderate. He has sold 45 silver coins, and 20 brass medals.
“In two months I have about fifty percent of my initial investment back. That includes a second order of silver that is coming in a few days. The bullion payment is also in those figures. I had about fifty percent recovery at this point. I am happy now with that as I feel I will not have trouble breaking even. And that was my main goal — just get it made, break even, and be a part of Manhattan Beach history with this coin.
You mentioned that sales are coming in through three avenues. Is there one that is more successful than the others or is it spread out?
“It’s definitely spread out. Facebook was the fastest thing up and running so I probably had more sales via Facebook, whether or not they purchased them on Facebook or went to my web site from Facebook. I would definitely say my best marketing was Facebook.
“I have also begun another phase here which is publicity. I got it in the local newspaper here. That’s how you learned about me. So I have been in the local newspaper. I am kind of surprised I expected a huge slug of orders come through after that article got out. I think I have sold only five coins from that article.
“Its cumulative.” I said. “Are you planning on getting on local TV?”
“I got on TV in the very beginning. I got a few orders from that too. I tried to record. But I never caught it. It was late in the afternoon. I hope to get a little more of that out.
“Then I am going to local businesses to put a flyer in their windows.
The sales pitch being that the proceeds also benefits the centennial. Hopefully I can put some flyers up in the windows.
“Also I will go to local meetings. I will go to a Rotary meeting. I will go to organizational meetings to also get the word out.”
“Are any local merchants selling the medals for you?” I asked.
“No. I spoke to the Chamber of Commerce about getting it in their office because they do sell items of merchandise about Manhattan Beach there. It would be a perfect place to have it, but they are in a transitional period right now, they just let the CEO go and I am not getting a lot back from them.
“Also if I am selling the silver medal for $85, could they buy it from me at $70 and then sell it for $85? I am a little leery of doing that because I don’t have that many medals to sell to recoup my investment. So I would rather have them refer people to my web site, [but they declined].
Always thinking ahead, I asked: Are you ready to design your second medal? Any subjects in mind?
Gill replied: “You know, all sorts of ideas run through my head. Where could I go with this? If I considered this a very big success. I guess I have an eye for coins and what [designs] looks good on a coin. I don’t know the answer to that question. I don’t know what’s out there to design.
Overall, James Gill, how do you view your experience with your first medal project?
“I enjoyed it very much. I am very proud of the results. It was a great experience. I would open my eyes to a second medal.”