Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Birmingham Mint

It is amazing what ebay can throw up. Three months ago, I did not own a single historic coin of Brunei. Today I own half a dozen, with the sixth arriving yesterday. These 'duit bintang' which I have written about in the past was issued by Sultan Hashim. These were minted at Heaton, Birmingham in 1886. The Mint at Heaton produced hundreds of millions of coins for countries around the world from 1850 until its demise in 2006. This is a short story of what happened to that mint.

The mint at Heaton now known as The Birmingham Mint, was originally known as Heaton's Mint or Ralph Heaton & Sons. It started producing tokens and coins in 1850 as a private enterprise, separate from, but in cooperation with the Royal Mint. For those who lived in Birmingham or know Birmingham quite well, its factory was situated in Icknield Street, on the edge of the Jewellery Quarter. It was created by Ralph Heaton II, using second-hand coin presses bought from the estate of Matthew Boulton.

Matthew Boulton created the Soho Mint around 1788 but the company did not survive. It was on April Fool's Day in 1850 that Ralph Heaton II bought the eqiupment mad eup of 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. Other coins started to be minted for Chile and for the British Royal Mint. It also struck coins for Napoleon and for a time operated the French Mint. They won more and more work and during its peak struck around 110,000 coins a day. By 1862 it was the largest private mint in the world. In March 1889 it became a public limited liability company and renamed The Mint, Birmingham, Limited. In 1912, its first competition was the Kings Norton Metal Company. Kings Norton became part of Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) in 1926 and was reorganised as part of Imperial Metal Industries Limited (IMI) in 1962. The Mint started spiralling downwards. By May 1935 it moved into non-ferrous metal sheet and tube productions with coins accounting only some 10% of business. From this time the production of coins became a small part of the overall business of non-ferrous metal sheet and tube production. Bomb damage during World War II left the factory run-down.

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. The Mint was acquired by JFT Law & Co Limited who still produce and sell commemorative coins and medals from a website. Substantial parts of the plant and machinery were subsequently purchased by an Indian company, Lord's Security Mint Limited. The POBJOY Mint purchased the newest high speed presses plus new tooling. Most of the complex, excluding the Icknield Street block and the rear, retaining, wall, was demolished in April 2007.

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