The Birmingham Mint - a bit of history and more...

My main reason for looking into all of this...


Being a member of the WBCC I had to put a bit of effort into finding some "new" British bi-metallics. This led me to a number of things, on of the more noteworthy being The Birmingham Mint. I managed to get some of bi-metallics and in telling the WBCC about these pieces I told them a amount of related info on the subject.

I will start by describing the pieces I got.....

sample piece




These pieces are "IMI Birmingham Mint Ltd" (now known as just "The Birmingham Mint") sample pieces - pieces from this mint that are/were used as samples to show potential customers. There are four types known altogether - two sizes and for each size there is a version CuNi/AlBr and AlBr/CuNi - I assume here that the alloys are Copper-Nickel and Aluminium-Bronze (this is what they appear to be).

The larger pieces have dimensions as such - 34.23mm diameter and 2.30mm nom. thickness. The large piece with AlBr centre has a mass of 16.92grams and the large piece with the CuNi centre has a mass of 16.75grams.

The smaller pieces have dimensions as such - 25.23mm diameter and 1.55mm nom. thickness. The small piece with AlBr centre has a mass of 5.87grams and the small piece with the CuNi centre presumably has a mass a little less than 5.87grams (this is the one piece that I do not have.

However the most important thing that all pieces have in common is the design. All pieces have the same design as each other and it appears on both sides of each piece. The pieces are all dated 1996, have plain edges and coin alignment.
 
 

sample piece




The legend around the outer ring is incuse and reads "IMI BIRMINGHAM MINT LTD." above and the date "1996" below - these legends are incuse on a raised border - this design element is reminiscent of the British Cartwheel Penny and Twopenny coins of 1797 which were made at the Soho Mint (near Birmingham, England) by Matthew Boulton. This legend surrounds the main central design. This is the design currently used as a main logo of The Birmingham Mint, it has a coat of arms which includes a "traditional" mintworker with a pan balance behind. This coat of arms has a ribbon below with a motto of the letters/numbers "H", "1794" and "KN". The mint originated in 1794 - making it the world's oldest independent mint. The letters "H" and "KN" are the mint mark letters originally used by Ralph Heaton and Sons and the King's Norton Metal Company Limited respectively.

So what exactly connects "IMI Birmingham Mint Ltd"

with "H" and "KN" mints ?

Ralph Heaton bought what remained of the Soho mint in 1850. The mint of Ralph Heaton and Sons (which later became “The Mint, Birmingham Ltd.” in around 1860) was noted for making some of the Bronze Victorian pennies of Great Britain. The "H" mintmark appeared on a number of these issues but not all of them. The use of the "H" mintmark did not cease with the change of name of the mint. In fact the "H" mintmark can be seen on many twentieth century coins, usually of countries with strong links to Britain (e.g. British West Africa, East Africa and Hong Kong), all of which were made at the mint’s Icknield Street works. I know of just one such "H" mint marked coin issue for the last twenty years or so though and that is the “H” mint marked 1985 1 Rupee coins of India. (All the foreign-made Indian coins of the last several years have included some form of mintmark too and this is always at the request of the Reserve Banks of India.) After some time, in 1974, the name of this mint was again changed, this time to “The Birmingham Mint Ltd”.

The “King's Norton Metal Company” (King's Norton being an area south of central Birmingham) was another private mint in the Birmingham area. One of its first important contracts in the coinage business was a contract to supply blanks for British farthings, halfpennies and pennies in 1911 and 1912. During the following ten years the mint fulfilled a number of contracts for coinage. These earlier contracts were for coins for places such as Great Britain, British West Africa, East Africa and Egypt. The mint’s “KN” mintmark soon became very well used. The “King's Norton Metal Company” became part of “Nobel Industries Ltd.” in 1918. This firm was one of those that founded “Imperial Chemical Industries Ltd.” in 1926. Around 1931 the whole minting facility was moved to Kynoch Works, Witton (in what is now Herford and Worcester). Kynoch Works was the headquarters of the what was then “ICI Metals Division”. In 1962 all of ICI’s metal interests were put under the cover of “Imperial Metal Industries Ltd.”. This name that later became just “IMI Ltd.” and the mint’s name “The IMI Mint” and then changed to “IMI plc” (no doubt following floatation of some or all of the company into public ownership). Throughout all this time the mintmark “KN” continued to be used. The most recent dated pieces I have that use this mintmark are two token types - a “1” and a “2” - for “The River Bus Partnership” dated 1990. (This page could do with an image of one of my pieces of these.). Coins were last made with the “KN” mint mark in the early 1970’s which, with the exception of the Indian example stated earlier, is when “The Birmingham Mint Ltd.” also ceased to use a mint mark on coins. Why mint marking stopped I do not know. Perhaps it was at the request of the British Royal Mint whom these mints would very often sub-contract for.

In early 1991 “IMI plc” bought “The Birmingham Mint Ltd.”. It was decided to merge the mints at Witton and Icknield Street by closing Witton and expanding operations at Icknield Street. “The IMI Mint” at Witton closed on 9th August 1991. The mint at Icknield Street was named IMI Birmingham Mint Ltd. (This was the name of the mint in 1996, the date on my samples.) However, looking on the web I found that this mint is now just known as "The Birmingham Mint Ltd.". The information about this detailed that “IMI plc” had sold the mint, to an institutional buy-out, led by "3i" a venture capital company, for a sum of 18 million pounds. This was part of the continuing transformation of IMI's specialist engineering division and was reported on 22-May-98. These days the company does rather a lot in the way of production of coins, coin-blanks and gaming tokens.

My page The Occasion of the Closing of The IMI Mint shows images of a medallion marking this occasion and the letter given out to each recipient of the medallion back in 1991.
 

A Bit More Information I Found...

Sometime later and after some further research and put over some more info relating to the above sample pieces. There was quite a bit to say......

For a long time I have always thought there must be more British bi-metallics to find out about, other than those from the past e.g. encased farthings, Moore's models and plugged farthings & halfpennies. I was sure that there must be some recent pieces somewhere other than those currently known about by the WBCC.

My number one research tool is of course the internet and so what could I do with it ? The main thing was to find the sites of the British private mints and/or their distributors/representatives. (Much is known already about the Royal Mint and the private firm Pobjoy Mint.) The first site of relevance to this was the site of Eurocoin Limited - the URL is http://www.eurocoin.co.uk/. This firm's name is a name often seen on European machine tokens and obviously can be a bit misleading, though often the words will be "EUROCOIN   LONDON". Having seen numerous different "Eurocoin" tokens I thought this could well be a firm to have produced bi-metallic tokens or to have had them made for their customers so that the could be sold with (gambling) machines they also sold to these customer.

After some communication with a man at Eurocoin Ltd., he sent me the bi-metallic sample pieces I have. I also learnt of the connection that Eurocoin Ltd. has with The Birmingham Mint, it is that  Eurocoin Ltd. is the European sales agent for the tokens produced by The Birmingham Mint. Eurocoin's other products are all to do with gambling too. In fact hey are distributor/agents for a broad range of companies such that they can supply completely everything required for a casino to be set up - they supply "turnkey" solutions.

More through luck than patience (url guessing in fact...) I came across the website of the Birmingham Mint, it is at http://www.birmingham-mint.co.uk/, this was some time after my communications with Eurocoin Ltd. I knew that The Birmingham Mint would have something they could tell me about bi-metallics (helped by a few hints). Also by this time an image had appeared on the Eurocoin Ltd. site of a bi-metallic token for "London Clubs" a British casino chain. So I asked The Birmingham Mint many things including questions about my bi-metallic samples, the "London Clubs" pieces and of course the (future legal-tender) Euro coins.

Their reply included the following section of three paragraphs.

---start quote

        With respect to bi-metallic coins and blanks, we have long made these, initially for the casino trade (yes to London Clubs) although you may well have some of our samples which do go back eight years or so.
        In general, we now use a High Speed Bi-metallic Minting press by Schuler to mint this type of coin although we have several slower, older presses which we have adapted. Such facilities were made to make bi-metal blanks for several countries and also bi-metal coins which are in circulation. Unfortunately, I cannot commit to paper the names of those countries for reasons of confidentiality.
        We are involved in making Euro Blanks - last year alone we made in excess of 1700 tonnes. This was mostly in Nordic Gold and CPS but contained an element of Euro components ( 1 Euro nickel brass rings) for national mints to strike. We, this year are also again involved in selling rings to one country and both ring and inner (in clad cupro-nickel on nickel) to another country.

---end quote

The above is all very useful information - especially the facts about British involvement with production of a series of coins that our British government is still opting not to use. (I seem to remember that the Royal Mint has a large involvement of some sort with coin-blank production of Euro coins too - but I have no details on this particular to bi-metallic blanks.) The Birmingham Mint also sent me some of their sales literature and on this there was an image of a further bi-metallic - it is a small piece resembling a pure brass parking meter token I have - so a bi-metallic "version" of these must be lurking in some corner of Britain (or Europe even) I suppose. This literature also included brief details of "GDC" of Hernando, Mississippi, U.S.A. and "Casino Token Inc." Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S.A. and belong to The Birmingham Mint. Well actually they don't anymore - around August 1999, Birmingham Mint closed down both GDC and GDC's subsiduary CTI.

Unfortunately further questions I have sent to Eurocoin Ltd. and The Birmingham Mint seem to remain unanswered - but many thanks to them for the answers they did give to me. This left me with one main option - letters to casinos. There are just a limited number of these in Britain and many are part of large chains - I found the website with their mail addresses on (British casinos are not allowed to directly advertise so cannot have their own websites). I carefully picked a handful of casinos to write to - some said they had no bi-metallics and couldn't have sent them anyhow (security reasons), some said they just didn't have any bi-metallics and some of course didn't answer. Just one firm sent me tokens, they sent me two normal, large metal casino pieces (one of which turned out to be special for other collecting reasons of mine). Of course one of those casinos that did not answer was "London Clubs" - perhaps I'll just have to find someone who's been !
 
 

A Further Bi-metallic Piece...

Some time later (early November 2000) I got a further bi-metallic piece relating to The Birmingham Mint.

Sometime during 2000 (or perhaps a little earlier) a different Bi-metallic piece from The Birmingham Mint appeared on their website. The image was of a slightly similar to the 1996 pieces and was dated 1991. The image on The Birmingham Mint's website rotated (animation) and so it was hard to take a good look at the piece. One could not tell for sure if the image was of a real piece of metal, so there was no way of being sure that I would ever be able to obtain a piece. My 1991 piece has 25.6mm diameter, approx. 18.5mm inner-core diameter, 2.3mm nominal thickness, 9.73grams mass. The materials are base alloys, apparently Cu-Ni ring and Nickel-Brass centre, they are not quite the same as for the 1996 pieces. As with the 1996 pieces this 1991 piece has obverse and reverse with the exact smae design. This 1991 design is different to the 1996 design in a number of ways.
 



The 1991 piece I have has four notable features:- (a) normal raised letters on the face of the outer-ring, (b) the mint name "THE BIRMINGHAM MINT", (c) the date on the centre-core and divided by the central coat of arms, and (d) the date "1794" (weakly struck) on the central section of the ribbon of the coat of arms and the letter "H" within the coat-of-arms to the mint worker's right. (Perhaps the weakness of strike was down to the mint’s production methods for ringed bi-metallics still being under development at the time.) The 1996 pieces have:- (a) incuse letters on the face of the outer-ring, (b) the mint name "IMI BIRMINGHAM MINT", (c) the date on the outer-ring and (d) the letter "H", the date "1794" and the letters "KN" over the three main sections of the ribbon of the coat of arms.

The use of the letter "H" in both designs was due to "THE BIRMINGHAM MINT" having used this "H" mintmark many time in its long past. The addition of the letters "KN" to the design of the 1996 pieces was down to the connection of these letters “KN” as a mint mark to “The IMI Mint” that had merged with the “The Birmingham Mint Ltd.” some time towards the end of 1991, to become the “IMI Birmingahm Mint Ltd.” (Further historic details have already been given on this page.)
 




I did a second image to show the central detail up a little better - the colouring of the piece for some reason was not very agreeable to the camera and so I did not get as good an image as I would perhaps have hoped for.

Some time later on in November 2000 (by chance) I got yet another piece relating to The Birmingham Mint.

This piece is similar in design and the same size to the 1991 dated bi-metallic above. However - it is a little more recent as the company name is shown as "IMI BIRMINGHAM MINT", the exact date is not shown. Again the design is the same on each side. The main other difference can clearly be seen in the image....


Yes that difference is that this piece is not bi-metallic ! It would appear to be Nickel-Brass. (Note also the presence of "H" and "KN" on the ribbon of this piece.
 
 

A Couple of Other Birmingham Mint Related Pieces (not coins)...

I do believe that there are other Birmingham Mint sample piece of the 1990's other than the bi-metallic types such as those I have described here. Of course there was a time when none of their samples would have been bi-metallic. The piece below is such a piece and is likely from a time long before the modern bi-metallic. It seems this piece could possibly be around 100 years old.
 
 


 
 

And Finally...

A final piece relevant to The Birmingham Mint I have, that I ought to mention is this odd one.
For many years I knew nothing about it. Around Feb 2001 I got a clue from someone who told me that he had used a "Scan Coin" machine.

Scan Coin '3'
(Both sides are the same.)

I tracked "Scan Coin" down on the internet and they kindly gave me some useful information......

To see this and some NEW "Scan Coin" pieces go to my new Scan Coin page.

Another series to mention are the HME/Cincinnati/Verson Coining press manufacturer advertising pieces - though I have no definte link between threse and The Birmingham Mint. See Coining Press Advertisers page.

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