Ever since 1789 and the founding of the first private mint in the world – Mathew Boulton’s Soho Mint in Birmingham – has the world benefitted from private mints. These factories are in contrast to the national mints which strike coins to circulate as money to aid a nation’s commerce.
While private mints can strike coins – and indeed some do for countries that do not have their own national mints as evident by the outpouring of coins from America’s Franklin Mint in its 1960s and 70s heydays – private mints can produce just about anything that can be made by a pair of coining dies – coins, medals and tokens for the most part. In a previous article, June 21, 2010, I listed 101 objects that could be made with a coining press, most all of which are numismatic, and have some appeal as collectors’ items.
But while national mints, and some of these have “Royal” in their name for a national mint in a monarchy, these institutions are less concerned for innovation, doing something in a new way or embracing a new technology. As we shall observe, private mints are more attuned to stretching the technological envelope by creating innovation in what they produce.
National mints are concerned with production, striking the vast quantities of coins to supply banks and business firms with the medium of commerce. Private mints are concerned with “what can we make different? What can we make to appeal to a discerning public? How can we make it better?”
Coins of a national mint are thrust on a public – they have little say in its form or appearance. Products of a private mint are selected by its public. They have a choice in its acquisition, thus a private mint’s product must have greater appeal.
Innovation at national mints is driven to implement production and make coins faster. Innovation at private mints spans every aspect of production, including the complete spectrum from design to delivery.
With the notable exception of the Paris Mint in the mid 1700s where considerable development in press design and operation occurred. A feeding mechanism was created to feed blanks to the screw press then in use, followed by a delivery system after the coins are struck. Much of this was the inventive genius of Jean-Pierre Droz, a Swiss engraver-machinist working with mechanic Philippe Gengembre, the pair mechanized the method of coining over manual methods previously employed.
While in Birmingham, Matthew Boulton had accepted part ownership in the patent for the steam engine in payment for a debt, he persuaded the inventor of that steam engine, James Watt, to join him at his factory to capitalize on his creation. The pair joined the steam engine to the screw press and they had the means then to strike small objects. This led to Boulton’s desire to first strike buttons until he set his goal on striking coins.
To accomplish this, and to establish his mint, he enticed Jean-Pierre Droz away from the Paris Mint, to come help him create his Soho Mint. This was inspired for several reasons: Droz not only prepared dies, but also built and improved equipment, created new coining methods and processes. Droz inspired Boulton and Watt as what could be done at a private mint. Overall Boulton made tremendous improvements in diemaking, hubbing, blanking, coining and striking.
Here is a list of the major innovations that occurred at the Soho Mint:
- Boulton and Watt devise a way to apply their steam powered engines to run screw presses, then available, also to make full use of automatic feed and delivery systems developed and brought to the Soho Mint by Droz.
- Boulton develops first edge thickening of blanks which he called “rimming” (elsewhere, including U.S. called upsetting). The treated blanks make for a uniform roundness, helps form the rim and aids coining; striking coins in coining presses could not be accomplished without this preparatory step in blank preparation.
- First to use clad strip, Barton’s metal, for a coin blank (in 1789) in cooperation with Droz.
- First edge lettering with raised lettering on a medal, struck at Soho Mint in Birmingham. He gave to each of the officers engaged in the Battle of Trafalgar a medal which bore a portrait of Lord Nelson. Around the medal was the edge lettering: TO THE HEROES OF TRAFALGAR FROM M BOULTON. This was accomplished by the segmented collar (virole brisée) invented by Droz.
Somewhat unhappy in his position at Soho Mint and his relationship with Boulton, Droz returns to France (1799) to become General Administrator of the coins and medals, keeper of the mint museum and consultant to mints of the world for coining and mint equipment.
The following chronology offers a timeline of minting innovations that have been developed away from national mints. Those that were created by private mints have been named, with the names in large CAPITOL LETTERS.
|1812||In Germany, mechanic Diedrich Uhlhorn builds his first coining press based on a knuckle-joint rather than a screw for power in one of the most important breakthroughs in coinage technology.|
|1817||Diedrich Uhlhorn, patents his knuckle-joint press and paves way for creating an advanced coining press (surpassing the screw press) and establishes a factory for their production. His press (called a “lever press”) utilizes a flywheel to transfer power to the die by a knuckle-joint hinge. His factory is active for more than 60 years supplying 57 presses for coining to nine European mints by 1847. He had died in 1837, but the factory is continued (Uhlhorn & Sohn) by his sons, who had built and sold 200 more presses by 1876. The firm is out of business by 1882 but its influence on coin and medal making was unprecedented in history.|
|1828||In Britain, first medals issued in series sold by subscription to the public by publisher James Mudie (flourished 1815-1820) and struck by Edward Thomason (1769-1849): Medallic Illustrations of Science and Philosophy, the Kings and Queens of England, plus Thomason’s famed Medallic Bible.|
|1833||As a machinist in Paris, a Frenchman with last name Thonnelier, designs an improved press for coining. These are sold in Europe and U.S. but not build in Paris (there was no factory), instead the actual construction is contracted to others. Thus each Thonnelier press is always somewhat different and the nameplate on each of these presses is usually that of the constructor, seldom is Thonnelier mentioned. (This in contrast to all Uhlhorn presses which all bear Uhlhorn nameplates.) The first Thonnelier press for the U.S. Mint was built by Merrick, Agnew and Tyler, a Philadelphia firm.|
|1836||First die-engraving pantograph developed which employed a rotating cutter in effect making the pantographic reducer a mechanically controlled milling machine instead of a copying lathe. The inventor, Contamin (no other name or dates known) was French; he had adapted an earlier French mechanical pantograph by Jean Baptiste Dupeyrat, ca 1788. Contamin’s engraving pantograph was in widespread use for over 60 years sometimes in competition with the English mechanical engraver developed by C.J. Hill.|
|1840||George Richards Elkington and Henry Elkington (cousins) receive the first British patent for silverplating, marking the date for the development of electroplating. Early electroplating was done with primitive batteries until commercial electricity became available.|
|circa 1840||Medallist Jean Baptiste Maire (1787-1859), in France, makes improvement on reducing machine, has knowledge (or machine) of Contamin and/or Caqué. It is Maire’s (or Contamin’s) engraving pantograph that is first to use ahard metal pattern made by electroforming – Jacobi’s process – (previous patterns were cast metal).|
|1856||C.J. HILL perfects his die-engraving pantograph. Solicits die work he can perform on his machine, preferring not to let the machine out of his control. Ultimately William Wyon obtains the machine and all rights to it (for 2000 pounds).|
|1859||RALPH HEATON & SON, Birmingham, patents a rimming machine that mechanically feeds the blanks into the machine. The patent was in the name of Ralph Heaton III and his brother George.|
|1861||First medal design patented in America, the General Winfield Scott Patriotic Medal of 1861 by C.G. Quilfeldt and J. Lebretton. This 2 1/2-inch white metal medal bears the legend in tiny letters on the reverse: “Entered According to Act of Congress in the Year 1861 by D.E. Hall in the Clerks Office of the District Court for the Southern District of New York.” (The use of the first copyright mark was not to come until 1909.) No national coin or medal needs to be copyrighted, they are protected by counterfeiting laws, but the design of private medals were protected, first by patent, then by copyright laws.|
|1892||Victor Janvier establishes his JANVIER ATELIER in Paris to produce three-dimensional reliefs, models and statues. He begins experimenting with existing die-engraving and sculpture-reducing pantographs, develops his revolutionary twin-cone drive.|
|1899||Victor Janvier patents his die-engraving pantograph creating the most successful reducing machine to be used by mints and medalmakers throughout the world during most of 20th century; establishes factory to manufacture his pantograph machines.|
|1965||Rise of casino gambling in Nevada required need to quickly distinguish tokens of different casinos. Joseph Segel of FRANKLIN MINT receives U.S. patent 3,350,082 for interrupted reeding to distinguish tokens by the widthsand number of reeds on the edge (each casino having a unique pattern of reeding).|
|1967||U.S. Patent 3,338,084 issued to Clifford F. Stegman Sr., of OSBORNE COINING COMPANY, Cincinnati, for a progressive die for striking transportation tokens. The compound tool performs striking, piercing and blanking (at separate positions) in one cycle of press. The strip advances precisely for each function to be performed at each step.|
|1967||The first hologram in a work of art appeared in an art medal by Israel’s Yaacov Agam, titled And There Was Light Medal.|
|1968||First high relief proof surface art medal struck by MEDALLIC ART COMPANY in New York City. The 1½-inch (38.9mm) medal was the Martin Luther King Junior Memorial Medal (68-56) by Abram Belskie. It was issued in bronze and silver by International Numismatic Agency (Neil Cooper) who wanted something different to make this medal stand out among hundreds of other medals issued on the death of the Civil Rights leader.|
|1996||England’s POBJOY MINT issues first coin with a hologram, it appears in a Viking ship’s sail on the reverse of a 140 ecu coin of Gibraltar.|
|200?||I do not know what mint was first to use the new technology – pad printing – to add color to a medal’s surface. But chances are it was a private mint.|
As Medallic Art Company has acquired this new technology we are all looking forward to exciting new products to come from this most innovative private mint.