Tucked away in some of the most beautiful countryside scenery in Surrey, The Pobjoy Mint and their state-of-the-art facilities now rivals many of the world’s oldest and more established producers of quality coinage. Having begun as a producer of medals in 1965, they have evolved into providers of circulation and commemorative coins to many countries worldwide with a focus on countries in the Caribbean, and most recently in the Middle East. However, it is the Isle of Man that they have become especially known for striking both innovative commemorative and circulation coins for almost four decades.
I had the opportunity to speak to the current CEO, Taya Pobjoy who succeeded her father Derek in 1998. Taya is enthusiastic and focused about the industry and takes very seriously her family’s tradition of working with metals. It is this history which she means to uphold in the best possible way, my bet would be that we can look forward to more innovation, recognition and surprises in the field of coin production with Taya’s careful and creative guidance.
Hello Taya, it’s great to speak with you today. The last time we saw each other, it was at the last World Money fair in Berlin and you were picking up the COTY (Coin Of The Year) award for the most innovative coin which was minted for the British Indian ocean territory. In terms of what you do, what the Pobjoy mint is known for, how important is it to receive this recognition from a forum like the world money fair and the coin producing world?
Well, to us, it’s very important more than anything as a marker to make sure that we are still keeping up with the industry and that we’re still at the forefront of innovation as Pobjoy is renowned for. I think it begs the question “what award are you winning?” The COTY award in my opinion is still the most prestigious that a Mint can win and therefore, for us to win that type of award we are extremely proud and pleased. It’s also lovely for a country like the British Indian Ocean Territories, as we’re only in our second year of producing coins for them, to be able to win an award for a new country as such, it’s a great acknowledgment in my view.
The coin which was the object of attention, included a colored crystal in the center, can you explain the technique which was involved and how it was developed?
Yes, it’s the second of our crystal coin collection, the first which was produced by Pobjoy was with a design of the penguin and that was very successful in terms of sales and comments which is why we carried on with further designs. Initially, the concept behind the design was to highlight the life cycle of the penguin, how it starts off as an egg and forms from chick into adulthood and the varying stages in between. We thought that as it was their “life cycle” this is what the design would highlight and the idea of the silver ring on the outside with the crystal in the middle showing the animal fully formed. This year, we highlighted the turtle, from egg to fledgelings rushing towards the shore to adult turtle looking to repeat the process all over again, really a full life cycle! The adult turtle is what is captured in the crystal with a bi-metallic effect but instead of using two metals, we placed the crystal in the center, this is a quartz crystal which can be bought in various colors. With these coins, a motif which was designed by our studios was etched on the surface of the crystal. The outer silver coin is struck in proof finish and the crystal is placed into the center.
What do you think will be the next innovation or trend in coin production or application and is it in line with anything which the Pobjoy Mint is working on now?
I think the biggest problem that most Mints are facing now is the rising cost of the metals which are used in coin production. The main aspect we’re trying to address at the moment is to determine whether we should lessen the fineness or content of the gold and silver currently utilized in order to give the coins an “affordability” to our customers and collectors. We’re also looking at whether we should just keep the traditional Crown sized coin and charge accordingly. I think at the moment in the industry, there are a lot of questions as to how we should move forward. I do know that a fair amount of marketing companies have moved to base metal coin production because of this situation and have utilized a gold plating application process…
In this regard, might you consider perhaps a 50% silver alloy similar to what was used here in the UK after the First World War to combat the rising cost of silver…?
Definitely, we would consider it. Another aspect we’re looking at closely is to reduce the weight while still looking to maintain their diameter and fine silver content because I think many of our collectors prefer crown-sized coins. A lot of people think that innovation has to be something in the way of something added to a coin or an application such as a hologram or crystal, but innovation can also be making the world’s largest such as our 5 kilogram or smallest coin which is just a half gram, it doesn’t have to be something added.
Keeping with innovation and the need to develop this part of coin production, as you probably know, there are reportedly over 30 million one pound coins in circulation which are counterfeit. As a producer of coins and who has lead in innovation, what do you think might be an alternative to the present one pound coin?
Probably to go the way of a bi-metallic coin similar to our £2 coin and the one & two Euro coins, it’s just a bit more difficult to counterfeit, and I would produce a thinner blank. I believe a lot of the one pound coins contain a slug of base metal in the center which may be lead. Because the coin is so thick, it allows a lot of material to be used, whereas if the coin was thinner, this process would be difficult and the coin would be recognized easier as a counterfeit.
The US have been so unsuccessful at introducing a dollar coin which the public want to use, what would your suggestion be for a practical coin and would you like an opportunity at producing a coin for a population so vast?
For the Americans, I can give you the example of the Isle of Man for instance. There was initially an “anti” sentiment from going to coin from note because the feeling was that the pound was losing its value if it becomes a coin in your change. If America wants to make this a successful coin in their system, they have to be strict and stop the production of their dollar note. In time, the public will just carry on as normal and start using the coin. If you are going to produce a one dollar coin, I do think it should be fairly light and small, the public really don’t like heavy change. As for having the opportunity to produce the coin in question, of course I’d love to do it but, I have to be honest, we’re a small private Mint here in the English countryside and I think we could probably get by with producing enough coins for maybe one of the 50 states, after all, they do have four Mints of their own!
The Royal Wedding was by all accounts, a spectacular success, what has been your take on the various coins which have been issued for the occasion? Your own facilities produced a few versions, do you have any favorite designs and what is your opinion of the British example overall?
Interestingly, my favorite design doesn’t show a portrait of the royal couple, it’s actually the design with the two doves & wedding bells with an intertwined W and C, a symbolic design which I love. As far as the portraits are concerned, it’s always difficult to create portrait coins, here at Pobjoy, we’ve gone for a very official look, relying on profiles and of those we’ve created, my favorite one would probably have to be the Isle of Man issue which depicts Catherine with a wide brimmed hat, a very distinctive design. With images of people, you can draw something and it can be 100% accurate but, it might not be what most of us see in our minds. What many of us see with Catherine is her lovely thick, long and dark hair which isn’t so easy to feature or capture on a coin so in her instance, we concentrated on where her fringe might be where her face is concerned to try and concentrate on her distinctive look, on the profiles, it’s difficult in itself. I am surprised by how many “informal” poses of the royal couple there are on the market, informal as in looking at each other for instance rather than conjoined profiles. I think I prefer the more “formal” look for the very reason that they are as coins, legal tender and he may after all, be our future King and she our future Queen and therefore I think a certain level of respect should be paid… especially on a coin!
Royal themes seem to still be a favorite with a lot of collectors, and another significant royal occasion is also being celebrated next year, do you foresee a busy time for the Pobjoy Mint with this event and can you tell our readers what’s in store for some of the coins to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond jubilee?
Yes, we’re already working quite diligently on this, and I should say that one of these coins has already been launched which was in honor of the Queen’s 85th birthday, (21st April) this coin will form a part of the overall Diamond Jubilee collection. We’re referring to the life and continuity of the Queen’s long life as an inspiration for the designs of the coins. We’re delighted to mention that seven countries will issue coins in this series and as such, we proudly strike coins for more countries which display the Queen’s effigy than any other Mint. This upcoming collection will involve all of those countries. There will be an official silver crown collection and there will be other coins in other metals including a high relief portraited coin, for now this is what I can tell you, some other projects will be revealed in due course.
Has there been any theme on coins you’d like to see and which hasn’t yet been done and if so, what is it?
I would think by time, most subjects have been covered one way or another and at this point, it’s hard to find a subject which hasn’t been explored. The Tutankhamen coins were a favorite for me which included unusual shapes and hieroglyphic characters which included the Queen’s portrait along those characters. Part of the development of that series was actually going there to research the subject better. While I was there I had this need to pick up the sand and it wasn’t until I was on the plane going home when I thought “why not include some of the sand in the coin?”
Sometimes, the concept or application for a coin just happens that easily an the coin to mark the millennium was just as simple. When Greenwich advised us that they were installing a digital meridian line, we asked them what they intended to do with the old metal strip and at that point, we asked if we could have it… that’s how it ended up being a part of an Isle of Man crown. We re-melted the metal, pressed it back into thin strips and it was embedded into the coin. that coin with a mintage of 10,000 pieces sold out in 24 hours when we brought a significant consignment with us to the US! You know, Warner Brothers commissioned us to make the prop coins which were used in the actual film. At this point, we asked if might be able to make a consignment for ourselves and it was those extra examples which we marketed to fans of the series and books.
With the current economic situation coupled with the fact that precious metals haven’t seen prices rising this fast since the early 1980’s, has this had a significant impact on your level of sales or has it remained relatively steady in quantity or the “bottom line”?
We have definitely sold more gold since the prices have risen, people seem very nervous about what has been happening with gold and silver but I haven’t actually seen it affect sales at the moment apart from an increase in the sales of one ounce gold coins. Interestingly, not just those coins associated with bullion but proof strikes not just from collectors but from investors who want just that little extra. Looking at the premiums which were paid a year ago and compared to the prices just for the metal today, gold has risen well above those premiums.
I’d like to mention that your own company is approaching its 50th year since the Pobjoy Mint struck the Churchill medals in 1965 which catapulted your company into the consciousness of coin collectors and many commonwealth countries, have you given thought of what you might do for your 50th year?
Well, this question got me thinking earlier… and you’re quite right! According to my Father’s explanation as to how we were formed, it was just after the death of Churchill and the memorial medals which catapulted the Mint side of our family’s activities. I’ve been doing a bit of research to find out exactly as to when the Pobjoy Mint name was registered and I thought, “do we celebrate the first of the medals which were struck or the first of the legal tender coins?” So, in order to celebrate our 50th year, we’ll have to determine when we became the Pobjoy Mint and the business started. You know, we focus on our family having over 300 years of tradition in medals and craftsmanship in regalia which has been passed on from generation to generation. We’ll have to differentiate when we officially began to strike coins as the Pobjoy Mint and as our primary activities might require a bit more research.
I won’t ask you to look four years into the future now, but I will ask what numismatic programs the Pobjoy Mint is working on with the exception of the Royal wedding and, are there any favorite programs that you especially like or has caught your eye?
I’m looking to work on a “part 3” of the Egyptian coins earlier issued because they were so successful and I think there is a lot of interest in the subject… it also gives me a nice excuse to visit Egypt again! This was the basis for the original international collection program which the Isle of Man are issuing. We began with the issue of the Tutankhamen coins and the next year, there was a “part 2” with the coins of Kublai Khan and the Silk Road so, we’ll continue with that issue. Next year, there are the European football championships and Prince William’s 30th birthday and who knows… maybe William & Catherine’s first baby which I think we definitely would mark a royal birth…
As this article will be read mostly by coin enthusiasts, a lot of them will want to know if you are a collector yourself and if so, what’s in your collection…?
I do have a collection of particular coins. They are coins which have meant something special to me during my life with the Mint. For example, the Isle of Man Penny Black which was actually the first coin that I ever fully marketed myself in 1990 when I was 21 years old. Another personal item is the Gibraltar “Dog” crown featuring a long-haired Dachshund, this design was modeled on my own dog and is obviously one of my favorites and of course the Tutankhamen coins are included. Having been brought up in the industry, most of the coins that have been developed come from the passion I have for coins which gives me the enthusiasm to produce coins I hope our collectors will like.
Always good to hear and, it sounds like we have a lot to look forward to from the studios of the Pobjoy Mint, Taya Pobjoy, Managing Director of the renowned Pobjoy Mint here in the lovely countryside of the south-east of England, thank you so much for your time this afternoon.
My pleasure as always.