The Royal Mint’s all-important Commemorative Coin department has seen its fair share of change since it received a new director in late 2015. Aside from the production of circulation coinage, collector and commemorative coin programs are among the most familiar and important initiatives carried out by the Royal Mint. With anniversaries, national events, historical figures, and an extraordinary 1000-plus-year history, it’s no wonder that the Mint issues many fascinating coins highlighting a variety of relevant events.
Anne Jessopp was named the department’s new director in time to make the pilgrimage to Europe’s largest collector coin event, the World Money Fair in Berlin. She was on hand to meet the Mint’s avid coin collectors and also took the opportunity to speak with me on an array of subjects, including the Mint’s new visitor’s center. We also discussed existing Royal Mint products, some controversies over recent product additions, and where she sees the commemorative coin market heading in the future.
Anne joined the Royal Mint with an impressive CV that included experience in human resources and manufacturing for blue-chip companies ranging from Proctor & Gamble to Rolls Royce. She has been with the Royal Mint since 2008; in September of last year she succeeded Shane Bissett as Director of the Commemorative Coin department.
We discussed points recently raised about Royal Mint products, as well as how she plans to make this position her own while meeting collector’s expectations for innovative and popular products. This year the Royal Mint will also have the opportunity to welcome visitors for the first time since relocating to Llantrisant, Wales, having traded their London premises for a new purpose-built visitor’s center that will open its doors in May. As the Commemorative Coin department takes shape under its new leader, I am looking forward to the fresh ideas, inspiring products, and innovative approaches that will ensure their continued success. — Michael Alexander
Michael Alexander (MA): Congratulations on your new job. You’ve come into this position after Shane Bissett, who made a great impact in terms of new products and achieving what some would call a heightened profile for himself in the process. How do you plan to make this position something that you can put your own stamp on? How will you look to make a notable difference “Anne Jessopp” style?
Anne Jessopp (AJ): Thank you for the welcome Michael; I am very excited to be leading such a talented team. In terms of making my mark, one thing I do want to place emphasis on is the importance of listening to our customers. Of course, the team should continue to plan well ahead when making long term decisions about the coins we produce, but we must make sure that we are always thinking about what will benefit and appeal to the people who are going to be buying and treasuring our coins.
MA: Your new job as Director of Commemorative Coin essentially means that your department is responsible for the themes and marketing of coins issued for national anniversaries and events. Is there a part of your position that might surprise someone reading this interview, perhaps including me?
AJ: My role is not only the sales and marketing of commemorative coin, but also the whole value stream. So, the team won’t just hear me talking about marketing commemorative coins – I am equally likely to be heard asking if we are dispatching in the right way, and whether we are manufacturing on time. What is the quality like? Are we delivering coins that are worthy of the world’s best mint? It’s about continuous improvement across the whole of the Royal Mint, and how the actions of all departments fit together to make an impact on our customers in the best possible way.
MA: Under your predecessor, the department you now head met with a lot of advantageous and significant occasions, such as the Olympics and the Diamond jubilee, which introduced a variety of products to the collector. Some were more successful and popular than others; was there anything to be learned by the products that didn’t perform as well? If so, what can collectors expect to see regarding changes in upcoming or future products?
AJ: The Royal Mint has had the responsibility of marking occasions of state and significant events on Britain’s coinage for over 1,000 years; it’s to be expected that some will resonate more with the public than others. It’s quite a challenge, as there are always so many deserving events and people to choose from. The rigorous selection process (the Royal Mint Advisory Committee, final approval from The Queen) gives us the confidence to know that themes that finally make it through are without a doubt the ones that we have a responsibility to be marking, regardless of their breadth of appeal.
One thing that we’ve learned is that a beautiful design is just as important as a great theme. Part of our role is to make sure that even with themes that sell themselves, the design on the coin is beautiful as well. We want to produce coins that our customers are proud to own. In terms of what collectors can expect to see from us in the future, I’m afraid I’m going to let the suspense build a little; all will be revealed in the fullness of time, close to launch dates. What we can absolutely guarantee is that the Royal Mint will continue to produce coins with the high level of craftsmanship and skill that it has always done.
MA: Speaking of products which the Royal Mint marketed recently, have there been any that have surprised your department, either for their popularity or weak sales? If so, can you elaborate? I was surprised myself with the slow reception to the Churchill and Waterloo anniversaries; at the same time, there was the strong initial appeal of the £-for-£ or “popular silver coin series.” Was this a similar finding in your department?
AJ: We know that different coin themes will resonate with different interest groups; it is up to us to inspire our audiences with the stories behind those themes. The creative designs in the Winston Churchill coin range were actually very popular with our customers, and it was great to have the support of Churchill’s great grandson, Randolph Churchill, in helping us to enthuse our audiences with narrative about the great man. Churchill was one of our top ten performing themes in 2015. We were equally pleased with the performance of the Waterloo anniversary coins too.
Our Royal themes are always popular, which should come as no surprise, since we are the organisation that has been manufacturing coins for the kings and queens of the country for so long. We want to be the first place that people think of when there’s a national celebration, as it’s only natural that the Royal Mint’s voice is heard during occasions such as Diamond Jubilee, Longest Reigning Monarch, and later this year when we celebrate Her Majesty the Queen’s 90th birthday with the nation.
We expected that the launch of the first £100 coin at the end of 2014 would attract interest, since it was another ‘first’ in our popular silver coins series, but even we were surprised at how the Big Ben design captured the imagination of the public – to the extent that the coin sold out in just days! This year’s themes are particularly strong, marking well known historical, arts, and cultural moments in history: Shakespeare, the Great Fire of London, and that date that everyone seems to remember from school, the Battle of Hastings in 1066. We’re excited that we’re now marking more recent moments in history, such as the 150th anniversary of Beatrix Potter. We expect the theme to strike a chord with many who have grown up with characters such as Peter Rabbit and Squirrel Nutkin.
MA: The new “popular silver coin series,” such as the £20, £50, and £100 face value coins, seem to have been well received with new and established collectors alike, and have perhaps developed a following of their own by filling a niche, but there has been controversy about how to exchange them for cash should one wish to do so. How does the Royal Mint view the status of the coins? Does there need to be clearer information about them in terms of their redemption, or is the information about right?
AJ: We always say that commemorative (non-circulating legal tender) coins are treasured for their aesthetic and collectible/rarity value by collectors and gift buyers who appreciate the Royal Mint’s detailed, expert skills used to make them. Commemorative coins are not intended for daily commercial transactions. To avoid any further confusion to the public we have removed the term ‘legal tender’ from the product information on the Web site, as its definition is a narrow one. It allows UK coins to be accepted for payment of debts in court, but only circulating legal tender coins are designed to be spent and traded. If in doubt, we will always encourage our customers to talk to us about any questions or concerns they have in relation to our coins.
MA: If I can ask you to think ahead into next year, many may not realize that mints develop plans for coin projects and programs sometimes many years in advance. As the 200th anniversary of Benedetto Pistrucci’s iconic reverse design of St. George slaying the dragon is fast approaching, can you share with our readers what kind of coins or projects we may expect to see for this event?
AJ: You’re quite right that Benedetto Pistrucci’s St. George and the dragon design will be an incredible 200 years old in 2017. When it was created for the gold sovereign of 1817, the intention was to make the coin as distinctive as possible, and I think all would agree that the legendary Royal Mint engraver certainly achieved that. I wonder what Pistrucci would have thought had he known that we are still appreciating his iconic design on the Royal Mint’s flagship sovereign coin 200 years later? We will certainly want to celebrate the anniversary, but Pistrucci fans will have to wait and see what we have planned!
MA: As we’re meeting here in Berlin at the World Money Fair, anyone who has attended this amazing numismatic event will know that the Royal Mint has a very prominent profile that seems to pay off with the substantial numbers of collectors who visit the pavilion. How important is it for you and your department to have these person-to-person interactions, and does this ever result in a new or improved product?
AJ: We are constantly made aware of how well respected the name of the Royal Mint is worldwide, and we like to think that we keep close to our customers all year round, but nothing quite beats face to face feedback. The World Money Fair is a great way to find out what customers expect and want from us for the future. It’s almost like holding a mirror up to our organisation to get a true reflection of how we are perceived. It’s a very healthy experience, and it helps keep us on track, creating commemorative coins, bullion products, and gifts that the public can continue to appreciate.
MA: Lastly, as the Royal Mint visitor’s center nears completion, I would like to know what this new center will mean to the Mint in terms of engaging with both collectors and the general public. Will there be a sales desk there with exclusive offers? A forum for coin meetings? How does the Mint see the center’s overall function?
AJ: As the world’s leading export mint and Britain’s oldest manufacturing organization, this is a very exciting time in our history. There’s a wealth of fascinating stories to be revealed, and we can’t wait to throw our doors open and share them with our visitors – collectors and the general public alike. A visit to the Royal Mint Visitor Centre experience includes a behind-the-scenes guided factory tour, and visitors can even choose to strike their own coin. I would urge any and all of your readers far and wide to come and see for themselves. They will be guaranteed a very warm welcome!
MA: Anne Jessopp, Director of Commemorative Coin for the Royal Mint, thank you for your time today.