The Birmingham Mint, a coining mint, originally known as Heaton's Mint or Ralph Heaton & Sons, in Birmingham, England, started producing tokens and coins in 1850 as a private enterprise, separate from, but in co-operation with the Royal Mint. Its factory was situated in Icknield Street (grid reference SP057877), 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.
Ralph Heaton II
Ralph Heaton II (1794 – October 1862) was the son of Ralph Heaton I, an engineer, inventor and businessman in Slaney Street, and later Shadwell Street. Ralph Heaton II was a die sinker operating in Shadwell Street independently of his father. On 2 December 1817 Ralph I conveyed to his son land and buildings at 71 Bath Street to enable him to develop a separate company. Ralph II engaged in brass founding, stamping and piercing. Brass chandeliers were made for the newly invented gas lighting and a "bats wing" burner patented.
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.
Ralph Heaton III
On the death of Ralph II in 1862, Ralph III (1827 – 10 November 1891) took over the running of Ralph Heaton & Sons. He added eleven lever presses, made on site, retiring the last of Boulton's screw presses in 1882. In addition to the production of coins and blanks the firm manufactured metal parts for ammunition, gas fittings, medals, ornaments, plumbing fittings, rolled and strip metal, tube and wire.
Following parliamentary approval in 1881 to upgrade the Royal Mint, the firm provided ten lever presses and a cutting-out press, effectively depriving itself of coining contracts from the Royal Mint for some time.
Shortly before his death, Ralph III converted the family business into a public limited liability company, passing control on 22 March 1889 to the new company named The Mint, Birmingham, Limited. The agreement paid £110,000 to Heaton with £10,000 worth of copper. In addition £2,000 annual rent for the Mint property would be paid, and his son, Ralph IV would be general manager, his other sons Gerald and Walter would have senior positions, and he, Ralph III, would remain as a director. He died two years later.
Ralph Heaton IV
Almost immediately his son, Ralph IV, was elected managing director by the board. 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, 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' appearing alongside the date: many of these coins were removed from circulation by collectors during or before the decade preceding February 1971. However, also 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. Kings Norton became part of Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) in 1926 and was reorganised as part of Imperial Metal Industries Limited (IMI) in 1962.
Ralph IV retired in 1920. His successor was his brother in law, W. E. Bromet. Heaton's son Ralph V joined the firm in 1922 on the commercial part of the business, eventually rising to the position of company secretary.
In 1923 the almost monopoly position of the Mint as supplier to foreign (non-empire) countries was lost as the Royal Mint was given permission to supply to the world market, although the Mint continued to supply the Royal Mint. During The Depression profits were minute and after shareholder revolt the Mint was taken out of the hands of the Heaton family in May 1935. From this time the production of coins became a small part of the overall business of non-ferrous metal sheet and tube production. Coinage accounted for 10–20% of the business from 1940 to 1964. World War II again demanded quantities of brass sheet and copper tube for ammunition and aluminium-brass cylinder linings for Rolls-Royce aeroplane engines. Bomb damage and the effects of continuous production for the war left the factory run-down. It was unable to supply new minting machinery to the Royal Mint in 1948, but did provide the necessary drawings.
Maria Theresa thaler
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.
By 1953, coins accounted for only 5% of the business. A major product was copper tubing and fittings for the building industry, supplied under the MBL trade mark. Medals, slot machine tokens and gambling tokens were produced.
In 1965 a consortium of the Mint, the Royal Mint and IMI achieved a growth in the export market. The Mint expanded to an adjacent site in 1967 but a reduction in orders from the Royal Mint immediately followed, apart from a large order for 1680 tons of bronze half-pence blanks and 466 tons of cupro-nickel 10-pence blanks, which were supplied to the Royal Mint in 1968–71 for the decimalisation of the coinage.
Business reorganisations saw the sale of the copper pipe business in 1975 to a company called Econa Ltd., and a reinvestment in new coining machinery with continuous casting techniques. The modernisation was interrupted in 1977 when an underground fire was discovered beneath the new casting lines. The fire had to be dug out to a depth of nearly 30 ft. In 1980 the pressings business, which had been expanding rapidly, was formed into a separate subsidiary named Birmingham Mint Pressings Limited. From 1976 to 1981 coins were struck for over 50 countries and in 1979 a record output of 13 million coins per week was achieved.
In addition to manufacturing coins, the Birmingham Mint also produced proof medals and tokens for vending machines. They also produced and named Long Service & Good Conduct medals for West Midlands Fire Service.
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 burnt and subsequently demolished in April 2007. The façade is grade II listed.
After being purchased by George Wimpey, planning consent was given for a large mixed use residential and commercial scheme. However the project was deferred due to the downturn in the wider economic climate, and it was later sold on in January 2007 to Junared Property Group.
Construction of scheme commenced in early 2007 with the intention to be complete by spring 2009. Unfortuately Junared Property Group ceased construction in December 2008 after funding was withdrawn by HBOS before lapsing into administration in February 2009.
In May 2010 the development of the site was revived by Rabone Developments, intending to produce a gated residential development.
- Sweeny, James O. (1981). A Numismatic History of the Birmingham Mint. Birmingham: The Birmingham Mint Ltd. ISBN 0-9507594-0-6.
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- A site on attractions in Birmingham
- Historic England. "Details from listed building database (1076314)". National Heritage List for England.