Almost two weeks ago, you likely heard the surprising news of the retirement of the Pobjoy Mint’s current director, Taya Pobjoy, and subsequently the closure of the Pobjoy Mint. Anyone who has been an active collector of modern coins during the last half century would probably have at least one or more coins produced from their privately owned facility in Surrey, England; it’s virtually impossible not to. With Taya Pobjoy’s announcement that she wanted to retire after having been at the helm for over thirty years, few could find fault with the reason. Taya, a wife and mother of two daughters, referenced wanting to spend time with her family and that it was essentially “time” to go. However, many couldn’t help but harbour the thought in the back of their minds: “Why didn’t the company simply name a new CEO to head this leading brand in terms of privately owned world mints?” If there wasn’t a member of the Pobjoy family who could fulfil the task, then surely someone with a reasonable business and numismatic background could have been considered. The closure and retirement of this widely recognised brand certainly seems both arbitrary and too final, and the possibility of re-establishing the business in the future does seem unlikely.
Some suspect that the Pobjoy Mint simply ran out of steam, while others suggest there is too much competition and the collector market is far too saturated with products as it is. Others might rightly point out that Pobjoy Mint may have been the victim of its own success. It seems quite evident that the business model the Pobjoy Mint perfected over the years has since been readily adopted by many other minting facilities, both national and private. This involved the prolific production of gold, silver, and base metal collector coins, purpose-driven marketing campaigns used for many of those coins and mintages to satisfy demand. More importantly, their formula involved securing a variety of issuing authorities to release collector coins on their behalf. Anyone can produce medals in whatever quantity they wished. Still, the release of an actual coin or NCLT (non-circulating legal tender coin) was cultivated by Pobjoy Mint since it first signed a contract with the once-obscure treasury of the Isle of Man in 1970. Today, this is something routinely carried out by the likes of national mints from the Czech Republic, Poland, the Netherlands, and Lithuania, to name but a few. In some instances over the years, the coins of the Pobjoy Mint and national mints were virtually indistinguishable in terms of theme, prolific numbers, and eye-catching presentation. It should be pointed out that the same model was successfully undertaken by the Franklin Mint, another privately owned production facility and once a serious competitor to the Pobjoy Mint from the mid-1970s to the early 1980s. They churned out countless coins and sets until they fell out of favour with collectors, were bought out by a larger entity, and ultimately, the brand faded from existence. Articles at the time referenced the fact that the Franklin Mint misjudged the market and didn’t keep up with buying trends from more informed and hesitant collectors.
Of course, with some good comes some bad, and in this regard, it also became evident to plenty of collectors who had invested in the many coins, sets, and numerous multi-coin collections that they might have made a massive and costly error. Having worked with respected coin dealers in the early 1980s, I encountered collectors who would bring in boxes full of gold and silver Proof sets and coins; the expected windfall these collectors expected was soon dashed, and I was often the bearer of that bad news. Many of the coins were worth no more than their intrinsic value, base metal coins were barely worth their face value, and the offers made were only to ensure dealers weren’t burned themselves. These beautifully designed and struck Proof and Brilliant Uncirculated coins had a limited or non-existent place in the secondary market in those days as there was simply a glut of these coins. Fast forward four decades, and these Proof coins, sets, and novelty pieces are viewed as “retro’ and keenly sought after by the same type of collector who originally purchased them, just a generation or two later but at give-away prices mostly on online auction sites.
Over time, Pobjoy Mint coins were joined by similar offerings from national mints, which included silver Proof crowns, gold commemoratives, large-size pieces which did capture the imagination of collectors but were usually on the pricier side and often with sizable mintages to match. To compete with national mints, Pobjoy pulled out all the stops with innovative designs, shapes, and minting techniques that involved applied colour, ultra-high relief, and even a patented base metal they named verenium, in honour of the founder Derek Pobjoy’s wife Verena. Derek, (born 1933), with a jeweller’s background, became the leading force in the eventual creation of the Pobjoy Mint in 1965 after having produced a medal to commemorate what was supposed to be the 90th birthday of Winston Churchill. In 1998, with the retirement of Derek from day-to-day duties, his daughter Taya became the full-time managing director of the mint and subsequently the longest-serving female head of a mint and one of the longest-serving mint directors anywhere. I interviewed Taya Pobjoy in 2009 for Britain’s COIN NEWS (June 2009) and asked about the origins of the Pobjoy Mint, to which Taya replied:
The Mint actually began in 1965 and the first project was a medal of the former Prime Minister Winston Churchill while he was still living which was just a tribute to a living statesman. However, Churchill passed away in that year. It (the medal) was an absolute success since no one expected his death but everyone thought we were so quick on the mark to get a medal out but really, it was just a coincidence. Ultimately, this project paid for the company’s first minting press as the medal sold out almost instantly. In the early 1970s, we gained a contract with the Isle of Man government. At that time, state mints were only striking commemorative or collector coins if the event itself was being hosted in their respective countries but I think my father can be largely credited with changing that practise and his thought at the time was “just because a country isn’t hosting the world cup or Olympics, it doesn’t mean that we can’t all celebrate these events.” He began to strike commemorative coins for the Isle of Man as well as their circulation currency coins. The Pobjoy Mint’s big break came with the Isle of Man’s “Gold Angel” and that was followed with the platinum “Noble.” Both these coins to this day are still some of our best sellers.
Ultimately, Pobjoy Mint, during its fifty-eight years of production, would go on to strike coins for forty-two different countries and territories. As trends changed and new, more savvy collectors demanded different products and, more importantly, lower prices and mintages, Pobjoy Mint’s products moved toward bullion-related coins from kilos, multiple ounces down to a half-gram gold ounce. They became an innovator in minting titanium coins, tinting silver and cupro-nickel crowns and crystal inlays, all of which were acknowledged with many coin awards over the years for innovative approaches to minting and design. Is Pobjoy’s closure a case of too much success or too much saturation? Well, it may be a bit of both. Over the last decade, a preference for and supply of bullion-related coins has become paramount for both national and private mints. For the most part, they’re far more affordable, they’ve become more decorative and theme-oriented, and there is often a much smaller premium over the cost of their counterpart precious metal collector coins. One slight problem with the sale of bullion coins is their small profit margin and premium over “spot” versus specialty collector coins with their higher point of sale price. The Pobjoy Mint excelled at this kind of collector coin. Still, over the years, they have also lost their mandate to produce collector coins for a variety of issuing authorities, more notably the contract from their first client treasury, the Isle of Man, in 2017 and, most recently, Gibraltar. However, Pobjoy remained the leading manufacturer of legal tender coins for British Overseas possessions such as the British Antarctic Territory, the British Indian Ocean Territory, and the British Virgin Islands. Whether these contracts were enough to sustain the cost of manufacturing, marketing, direct customer sales, and logistics is only something Pobjoy’s accountants can answer. Similarly, the state-funded Mint of Finland lost their mandate to produce collector coinage for their own country in 2018, but they are still a big fish in an ever-decreasing market. Ironically, Finnish collector coinage, and their considerably slashed number of releases, are now produced by the smaller Lithuanian Mint. Sweden’s former minting facilities were swallowed up by the Mint of Finland in 2009, the Royal Norwegian Mint was privatised, and Danish circulation (and now very infrequent collector coins) are produced by the Mint of Finland. The Royal Canadian Mint, the U.S. Mint, the Royal Australian Mint, and the Perth Mint all seem to be competing to determine which one can post sales for bullion coinage that break their previous year’s mintages and sales figures. Uncertain world circumstances always fuels the desire to funnel personal wealth into metals, and the trend is to stockpile coins, not medals or ingots.
Figuring in all that, and over the last three years, the United Kingdom has also had to manage their export markets after a pandemic, the worldwide level of inflation, and some would add, the death of a much-beloved monarch. The last equation was especially important to Pobjoy Mint since most of the coins from British territories included an effigy of the Late Queen, many having a royalty-themed design and a reason that Taya herself referenced during her announcement. Considering these setbacks and a collector market already bursting with an abundance of silver, gold, and base metal coins, this doesn’t sound like a positive or sustainable business scenario for the production of coins. Is Pobjoy’s departure a case of “going while the going’s good” while the company is still at the top of its game? That is also something for Pobjoy’s management to answer. The present conditions all seemed to have conspired to sabotage the production of circulation and collector coins overall, and just when the Royal Mint unveiled their latest series of circulation coinage to welcome in the reign of King Charles III.
On the day collectors learned about Pobjoy’s closure, we also heard the news of the Royal Danish Mint’s final announcement of their permanent closure at the end of November. It’s no wonder that the coin world is asking which big player or even mid-sized national mint may look to cease operations next — especially as there seems to be an illogical race to create cashless societies. As I referenced earlier, Pobjoy may be the victim of its own success or just another example of a general trend to de-monetise countries, but the saying “you never know what you have until it’s gone” might well be an appropriate sentiment concerning physical money and Pobjoy’s departure. The coin-buying market isn’t flat. On the contrary, it’s just the opposite, with bullion coinage and vintage coins sold at auction making up a substantial share of worldwide sales. The game, it seems, is changing and to this end, so perhaps, must the players. However, as one door closes, so they say, another opens. As part of the announcement of Pobjoy Mint’s closure, Taya mentioned that her husband is steering the family back to their roots of jewellery production with their own brand, Pobjoy Diamonds.
As part of their announcement to close their doors, the Pobjoy Mint added they will produce a Top 100 Pobjoy Collector’s medal to be sent to collectors who were active buyers during the period from January to November. No coins dated “2024” will be produced, and a “last release” coin that will be offered for sale later this year will be announced soon, with details to follow. The mint’s website will remain operational until the end of November. For additional information, please visit https://www.pobjoy.com/.