Chard Ltd has been very much a part of the Blackpool landscape—as much as the Blackpool Tower or pier—for just over half a century, and in that time the company has made a significant impact on the numismatic scene in the United Kingdom. Having set up shop in 1964, Lawrence Chard eventually went on to build one of the largest privately owned investment-coin and bullion dealerships in the country.
Lawrence has headed the company from 1965, along with his wife, Jane, with Chard Ltd having fully embraced the benefits and convenience of 21st-century online technology. They have done so as much as any other big-business entity and have taken full advantage of the opportunities to expand and extend their reach to a new audience and clientele. Lawrence, as many of his friends and clients can attest, is always ready to lend an opinion on the hobby as well as on the investment side of the business. For this interview, he commented on current investment trends as well as what he perceives are the benefits of doing business tucked away in a city that previously was not known for bullion-related activity—that is until Chard opened their doors for business 53 years ago and have never looked back.
Their new headquarters, opened in 2014, is very impressive indeed and accords their customers a real insight to the current bullion market and the collector- and investment-coin market. There is something to be said about experience and know-how, which Chard, after half a century in business, is known for.
Chard garnished some international notoriety last year during the United Kingdom’s “Brexit” referendum with the issue of their “IN or OUT” Brexit medal—which, for many, added a little suspense to the campaign but may indeed have played a part with some of those voters who were genuinely undecided.
With their motto of “Inform, Educate and Inspire,” it’s no surprise why Chard became and remains one of the more influential names in the business. If you find yourself in the vicinity (taking into consideration you don’t already live locally), a visit to Chard is well worth the time, and if Lawrence and Jane are around, no doubt they’ll be pleased to welcome you personally.
Michael Alexander: Locals know something about the origins of Chard and the many years you’ve been in business here in Blackpool, but can you describe to those who aren’t familiar with the name and brand, a little something about how Chard was established and how long ago?
Lawrence Chard: Our name, or website says it all—Chard since 1964. Along with my cousin Robert Alan, I used to work and help during school holidays and weekends at a family-owned amusement arcade on Blackpool Promenade while we were still at school. Sometime before 1964, we formed “R and L Coins,” which at that time made sense because we were well located with access to mountains of old pennies every day, and a big part of our job was to count and bag them. When Robert went to university in 1965, he sold his share in R and L Coins to me, and when the changeover to a decimal currency was announced in March 1966, we were already a well-established business, ahead of scores of new dealers. From 1966 to 1971 there was a huge popular pre-decimal-coin collecting boom, and in addition to old shilling coins, we used to trade in gold sovereigns and other bullion coins. From 1964 to 1966, and it’s hard to believe now, but we used to sell sovereigns at £3,500 ($4,230) per thousand.
MA: You’ve been very much a part of the numismatic and bullion scene, doing so from Blackpool. My question is, were you ever tempted to move your operations to London or maybe even Manchester—just what keeps you here?
LC: Well, from our very beginning, we were originally well placed in Blackpool, but after the U.K. adopted a decimal currency on the 15th February 1971, the popular coin-collecting bubble burst. But, in 1971 it again became legal for U.K. residents to own and buy gold coins, so we quickly expanded this side of the business. We were also the first British dealer to offer a buy-sell spread, on sovereigns and Krugerrands—this helped to emphasize how competitive our pricing was.
It certainly is true that we would have been exposed to more demand and bigger markets in a major city, but remember, most coin dealers then and now worked largely by mail order, and more recently the Internet has globalized the industry. Relocating any business is a major disruption, and even adding a branch also has its problems. With the Internet, we can buy and sell worldwide. I don’t think adding a London branch would increase this coverage. In Blackpool, we have the advantage of low costs, and a very pleasant commute along the seaside or Promenade.
MA: Chard publicized their big move to newly renovated premises about two years ago. The refit and renovations took the better part of two years, which resulted in very impressive results. What was the greatest challenge during the refit? Your wife, Jane, showed me around the storage vaults and this part of the renovation alone look as though they proved a real challenge.
LC: One of our strong-rooms is rated for up to £30 million insurance cover, but that’s just the smaller, lower-grade one. The other one is value or rated for “at least £100 million,” so we are delighted that we have been able to create such a secure facility, within a tastefully restored, 1940 ex-cooperative art deco building. In 2012, when we first looked at what would eventually become our new home, it was a horrible, empty shell filled with old mail, rusty pipes, as well as a copious amount of pigeons and feathers. The history of the building is quite fascinating, as it once served as a ballroom dancing venue, and the evidence of this era is still preserved with the hardwood floors, which we fully restored on the floor above our showroom. We also restored the stained-glass windowpanes, and for good measure, we even installed a new mirrored ball on the ceiling, which pays tribute to that previous activity.
MA: Chard has a very prominent place online, which, as you mentioned, enables Chard to conduct business both nationally and internationally. Your comments and advice also touch on the hobby, activity, and trends. With the many websites online today, is there something that is missing in terms of practical advice or collector guidelines?
LC: I believe we “joined” the Internet rather late, in 1998, but we were one of the first dealers to have a significant web presence and we’re now making up for lost time at stellar speed. From then, I often worked 12-hours days and six-and-a-half-day weeks, creating thousands of web pages, many packed with information, advice, and opinions, together with high-quality photographs. I often meet international dealers who tell me they rely on our websites and pages as their most reliable information source! Regrettably, web search has become corrupted in recent years by “sponsored links,” which go to the highest bidder, so much good or impartial advice and information has become harder to find.
MA: It’s no secret that you have on occasion been critical of the Royal Mint and their projects, which at times fall short on the expectations of investors and collectors alike. I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t ask you about your opinion about them.
LC: Ah, you noticed! Yes the Royal Mint have made many mistakes, and enemies, since it started marketing “modern issues” in 1970, and I am sure you don’t want a catalog of them here, but I think it is their marketing department which is to blame for this arrogance, propaganda, and more. Sure, they do produce many attractive designs, and their recently opened Visitor Centre is worth a visit. I have long had a great respect for their museum, now renamed Historical Services, and the knowledgeable enthusiastic people who run it.
MA: Many collectors would have heard of and will remember the now-infamous “Brexit” medal,” which may have actually played some part in assisting voters in making up their minds at the last minute, but some may not know that you were behind the project—what prompted you to develop the medal, and were you satisfied with the results?
LC: Our business revolves around coins, so about two months before the referendum, we came up with a wild idea of making an EU referendum IN/OUT coin with “IN” on one side and “OUT” on the other. We started questioning whether votes might be cast on the toss of a coin, so by spinning the IN/OUT coin you could just cut through all the spin that is being issued by both the IN and the OUT parties. We received a lot of media attention ranging from local coverage to being interviewed by news correspondents as far away as Japan. Many major historical events used to be commemorated by medals or medallions, and I believe the EU referendum was one such event that screamed for medallic recognition. We also had fun giving many of them away to leading politicians on both sides, usually with a rather tongue-in-cheek letter suggesting it might help them decide. We were delighted to receive a very nice letter from the British Museum thanking us for examples, which are now on public display.
MA: The results of the vote saw the British pound fall against the dollar and metals sharply increase. Overall, do you think both will stabilize, or from your experience are we in for more of a roller coaster in terms of higher gold and silver bullion—are metals a better alternative for investments “post-Brexit”?
LC: When the pound sterling fell sharply, anyone with holdings of “investment gold” saw their wealth protected, and an instant profit when measured in GBP. Where precious-metal prices go from here depends very much on major governments and their influence on currency values. It still seems that many countries would like to see their currency devalued. If this continues then gold should continue to shine, but you do know that some don’t like the “I” word, don’t you?
MA: OK, so if the “I” word is questionable, what’s the best-selling item with your business presently, and has there in fact been an upswing in sales after the result?
LC: Back in the 1960’s the most popular investment coins were gold sovereigns. In the 1970’s this changed to Krugerrands, and later the Canadian Maple Leaf was “in fashion.” Now, thanks to capital-gains tax exemption, gold sovereigns and gold Britannias are popular in the U.K. Back in 2000, I seemed to have been the only person who was aware of that fact, but clearly other dealers and the Royal Mint have read and noted the information published on our Tax Free Gold website.
MA: The new, larger premises are now completed, so what’s next for Chard? I know your daughter Juliana is very much a part of the business, so it looks like she’s well and truly going to bring Chard into the third generation of numismatics and bullion. Without mentioning the word “retirement,” what can we look forward to—perhaps a London branch?
LC: Juliana has been helping since she was four or five years old. After school, sometimes she’d come to the office with me, and she always headed for the floor under a sorting desk in the back room, where she could always find some coins which had escaped. Her size gave her a great advantage in finding small coins which had managed to roll into corners. After gaining a degree in pharmacy at Liverpool’s John Moores University, she has worked as a hospital pharmacist for 10 years, so the transition to us was gradual at first, starting with three days per week with us, partly to ensure a smooth handover in her NHS work. She currently commutes from her Liverpool home, to work four days, but in practice she often works late into the evening, and from home, putting in more hours than most people working full time. It is Juliana who has been coordinating our big I.T. / website project. The only slight problem is the maternity leave which she expects to be taking from mid-March 2017, but … at least she is working on a possible third generation in the family business!
With all of this going on, we’re going to have to pass on a London branch. We are in the middle of a huge project to update our websites and I.T. systems. It is no longer enough to have the biggest and best (or most informative) websites—now people expect to be able to browse and buy via their smartphone or tablet, expect real-time buy and sell prices, websites as slick as Amazon, delivery yesterday. All of this requires major “back-end” investment in databases, servers, SSL certificates, online payment systems, and much more. There are many multinational businesses who don’t manage to provide all this perfectly, even with multi-million-pound resources. For a small, specialist business, it is much harder, but hey, we are seeing great progress, and very encouraging customer response, and we are only about halfway through the process. While this is going on, we still have to remember we are a coin dealer first and foremost.
MA: Last, I’ve always thought it was almost impossible to be a collector and dealer at the same time—has that ever been an issue with you, or has Chard been mostly business? Is there something you’ve been looking for and have either never found as a collector or is there an item still eluding you, and if so, what is the item?
LC: Only recently I recalled collecting coins at least twice before becoming a dealer. I have an image of myself trying to get every date of penny, before I was in my teens. I sometimes joke that my collection is all the stock we have not yet managed to sell, but seriously there are a number of coins which I wish we had never sold. One consolation is that since the advent of digital photography, even when a great coin has gone, we still get to keep photographs of it, which we can also share via our websites.
I would like to acquire a high-grade example of the very first depiction of Britannia, on a Roman coin of Hadrian, although I would be just as happy to get the chance to photograph one. Any time we get the chance to photograph a rare or high-grade coin, we do so enthusiastically. Nowadays, professional-grade digital cameras and macro lenses are comparatively affordable, and could be a great way for collectors to have a “virtual” coin collection. You will have noticed that we have some 30″ poster-sized numismatic photos in our showroom. It is easier and more secure to view a coin collection on screen than in hard-copy format. It is almost possible to view in much greater detail.
MA: From your photo lab or facility that I’ve managed to see up close, clearly you have taken numismatic imagery to another level—images which I myself have utilized. Thank you very much for your dedication to this particular aspect of collecting and sales.
Chard Ltd can be visited online at www.chards.co.uk. Their physical showroom is located at 32-36 Harrowside, Blackpool FY4 1RJ. ❑