In July 2016, Taya Pobjoy, managing director of the Pobjoy Mint—one of the world’s largest and privately owned Mints—announced that from March 2017, they would no longer act as the official mint to the Isle of Man, a small British dependency sandwiched between Great Britain and Ireland. With the announcement, their working relationship, which had lasted more than four decades, was at an end. For many who read the announcement it was quite a shock, since their close co-operation had resulted in many innovative “firsts” in the numismatic field. Coins such as the Penny Black crown coin, see-through crystal embedded into silver pieces, unusually shaped coins (such as Eiffel Tower and pyramid), and ultra-high-relief strikes, to name but a few, were borne out of their longstanding relationship and delighted many coin collectors over the years.
I had the opportunity to speak to Taya Pobjoy, who has been at the helm since 1990, about the Isle of Man announcement and other topics. During our interview, she was both candid and retrospective about the circumstances behind the Isle of Man Treasury’s decision, which resulted in their naming a new official mint and awarding it a 10-year contract effective from April 2017. During our interview, Taya was eager to make it clear that despite the change in their long association, it was business as usual, and that the split doesn’t mean a decrease of the products and innovations on which the Pobjoy Mint had built their reputation. In fact, it’ll result in just the opposite, as their products development team embark on exciting and new innovative concepts that will continue to push the boundaries of technical and production capabilities.
Michael Alexander: The news that the Pobjoy Mint from March next year would no longer be the official mint to the Isle of Man Treasury was surprising for those of us who are familiar with your close relationship with the Isle of Man government. You’ve spent more than four decades as such, which was a legacy of your father during his time as the director. So, my first question is, can you explain to our readers who aren’t familiar with the story, what were the circumstances that led to this decision?
Taya Pobjoy: With regards to our relationship with the Isle of Man coming to an end, the Isle of Man government had received some criticism over the years for not putting the contract out to tender and therefore felt that they needed to abide by what was required as a government and do this. I think the reason why we’ve have gained the reputation of “Pobjoy Mint is the Isle of Man” and “the Isle of Man is Pobjoy Mint” is because in the 1970s both of us were in a unique position that the Isle of Man had never really marketed commemorative coins and Pobjoy Mint were fairly new in the industry, and as a result, the Isle of Man became a good partner who were keen to do something different. Pobjoy’s were keen to put their mark in the industry and therefore, we built up an innovative unique reputation together. However, over the years, Pobjoy Mint had not been exclusive to the Isle of Man and believe it or not, we’ve been producing coins for Falkland Islands for 18 years, British Virgin Islands for 17 years, and South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands for 16 years. On top of that, we produced Gibraltar coins for 13 years. So it’s amazing how quickly one loses track of time. It is actually a public misconception that Pobjoy Mint and the Isle of Man have worked hand in hand exclusively when you can see that we’ve actually worked closely with many other countries in that time as well. There’s no remorse in regards to the decision made, and we wish the Isle of Man all the best for the future. I would add that over recent years it had become more and more difficult for our product team to get coin designs approved, and if you look at our recent products, you will note that most coins, the larger marketing projects have been produced in conjunction with other countries.
MA: When you made the announcement yourself in July on the Mint’s website, it must’ve been made with a little bit of remorse since it was such a long relationship…
TP: I would say it was sadness, it’s a bit like a marriage really. I understand that the Isle of Man had been with Pobjoy’s for over 40 years, and were therefore, maybe wondering what else is out there. Time will tell whether they’ve made the correct decision.
MA: The information from the Isle of Man Treasury suggested they wanted to limit their annual collector coins in the coming years and that there would be a substantially reduced number of numismatic programmes from them in the future. Do you think their treasury took this decision because there was such a prolific range of coinage and perhaps there was that element of too much of a good thing? Was this an aspect that you think influenced their decision to make this change?
TP: I’m not sure why the Isle of Man have made this decision. They have benefited over the years of having lots of very successful issues that have stood the test of time, even when people have made comments in the past such as “you mint too many coins.” If you look at all the government mints today, they’ve all copied us, they’ve all done the same. Therefore, I think Isle of Man and Pobjoy’s as a team made the right decision at that point in time to produce the issues and ranges of coins that were issued. Why the Isle of Man have chosen now to produce so few issues in the future, I don’t know. It’s a question you would have ask them.
MA: There were many programmes and products that were closely related or associated with your marketing, such as the Cat crown, Christmas, TT 50-pence coins, and of course, the Angels and the Nobles. The Angels specifically were incredibly popular bullion-related coins. From your point of view now, what happens to those coins and projects? Is it possible maybe to re‑launch them perhaps with another country’s treasury? Or, are they for all intents and purposes now retired?
TP: Sadly, the Cat crowns, the Angel, the Noble as you mentioned were all Pobjoy Mint ideas, and although they were put on Isle of Man coins they are Pobjoy creations. As you will be aware the Angel coin became one of the world’s foremost bullion coins and won major coin awards. The reason I said “sadly” is because these ideas will now be lost to the Isle of Man—but, if we feel appropriate, they may be passed to other countries we produce collector coins for. For example, we’re just issuing now the silver bullion reverse proofs, which are doing particularly well and hopefully will gain the same reputation as the Angel.
MA: If I can go back to the relationship that you were talking about with the Isle of Man Treasury, in hindsight, was it a mistake perhaps to develop the close relationship where your company was so synonymous with one client? When collectors thought of the Isle of Man they automatically thought of Pobjoy and vice versa. You both essentially built up each other’s share of the coin collector market over the last four decades. How does your company go forward from here—what’s the strategy?
TP: That’s a good question. Part of our strategy is we have six exclusive countries who we mint for, which are British Virgin Islands, Ascension Island, South Georgia and the Sandwich Islands, Falkland Islands, British Indian Ocean Territory, and British Antarctic Territory. Therefore, what happens is that at certain times, certain anniversaries happen and a particular country will fit that anniversary better than another. I think that history changes over time in what happens and countries which may not be as interesting in terms of collector coins suddenly become very interesting. A perfect example is exactly what’s going on at the moment with the South Antarctic and all the publicity now. If you talked about them 20 years ago, people would’ve looked at you and wondered why you’re talking about those countries. Now, everybody knows where they are as trends in the news change, so I think we just move along with those trends … essentially carry on with what works in our ever-changing collector-coin market.
MA: Over the past four decades Pobjoy Mint built a name and a reputation for innovation in terms of design, technical achievement, and marketing for products both bullion and collector-related. So with this change, is it now a situation of looking at what has worked for the mint and going forward with these programmes, and obviously that which doesn’t work is discontinued? From your standpoint, what do you think does work at the moment? Is it bullion collector-related material, or is it your commemorative collector or something entirely different?
TP: Yes, for instance, our reverse proofs as I mentioned earlier are definitely working very well for us at the moment. The other area which is particularly successful for us have been the ultra-high-relief coins that we’re minting, which are particularly made for the British Virgin Islands. We’ve minted anniversary coins for JFK, Lincoln, and the Queen and we will be having more next year, so we’re very excited about these projects. Ultimately, out of all the coin issues I think there’s only one that has not sold out, but it is still selling so that’s encouraging. The other area that we’ve particularly done well with at the moment is for collectors whose budgets don’t extend to precious-metal coins, we have minted the unusual-shaped base-metal pieces such as the Eiffel Tower and Big Ben. Next year we’re going to be minting a coin in the shape of the American Capitol building. Interestingly, William Thornton designed it and he is from the British Virgin Islands, so this new coin will be issued from there. The other range of coins which we’re selling out quicker than we had anticipated or can produce them to fill orders are our coloured titanium coins, which are just doing amazingly well. There are going to be a lot more innovative coins or “firsts” in Pobjoy’s future.
MA: In your initial e-mail that included your announcement regarding the Isle of Man, you reassured those who have a close association with Pobjoy that it is “business as usual” and that there are many more projects in the pipeline. Obviously, Pobjoy will continue to be relevant in the industry, so I’d like to know if you can perhaps let my readers know what’s in store for 2017 and beyond. You mentioned the Capitol coin, is there anything else you can share?
TP: Yes, of course… We’ve got some exciting projects for 2017. I already mentioned Capitol building and also the reverse proofs that we’re minting. There are going to be several of those proofs next year, including the 100th anniversary of the birth of JFK and one for the 20th-year memorial of the death of Princess Diana. We are producing some more of our ultra-high-relief coins in 2017 as well as continuing with the titanium collection. All of the titanium coins we mint will depict sea life, birds, or mammals, such as the blue marlin, the hummingbird, the seahorse—we’ve got the blue crab-eater seal, blue petrel, blue squid, blue whale, the elephant seal, the green turtle, the Patagonian tooth-fish, and the snow crab. On top of all this, we have some projects for the more serious collector, such as a bimetal coin dedicated to the goddess Theia. She was the goddess of gold and silver, and this coin will be minted as a gold-and-silver piece. We are planning a coin that will be produced to raise money for cancer, which we will publicise closer to the date of the project. Over the years, we have noticed a major trend in collecting 50-pence coins, and of course you know we produced special Christmas pieces for the Isle of Man. There was such uproar when last year the Isle of Man didn’t issue a Christmas 50p. So, we will be producing for the Falkland Islands a collection of 50p coins featuring penguins next year—I am looking forward to that little collection myself. Another project for the Falklands will be a coin for the 35th anniversary of the invasion in 1982. 2017 will be an important Royal year, which is the platinum wedding anniversary of the Queen and Prince Philip, and we’re also looking at minting something very special for this occasion. I can say there’s going to be a lot of great issues coming out and I’m really excited to get these going!
MA: We both know how competitive the coin-producing industry is—myself from the standpoint of reporting about the activities, and obviously, you in terms of production. In this era of fierce competitiveness, even state-funded mints have taken quite a beating in recent years. How does a mintmaster or managing director such as yourself keep your business relevant and up and running? Do you see a positive future for the simple the coin in your pocket?
TP: I feel that although there’s been a lot of talk about this now for, I will say coming up to 20 years, that coins will disappear from our pockets and we won’t need them, you’ve got the smartphone to spend money. Personally, I would say we make more currency now than we’ve ever made. And I think that the reason being is that in the old days £1 obviously was probably equivalent to £5 nowadays. Therefore, people would think about using a different format for paying. Today, change in our pocket for little things that we’re buying, I still don’t feel that people want to put that on their card even though you could, and I personally can’t see that ever really changing. I think people still like to have the feel of money in their pocket and I think Pobjoy’s will continue to be innovative and strive to create a better product, a more interesting product. I think more classical designs are coming back, which is what Pobjoy’s are most proud of from all our work. I think that is our forte, and therefore, I think we will only benefit with the way future trends are going.
MA: Time will tell … watch this space! Taya Pobjoy, managing director of the Pobjoy Mint, thank you very much for your time today.
TP: My pleasure.
Interested collectors can view the latest coins produced at the Pobjoy Mint for their client countries at pobjoy.com. My thanks go to the press/media-relations office of the Pobjoy Mint for their assistance with this interview, it is greatly appreciated.
Pobjoy’s original announcement:
21st July 2017 SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT
Pobjoy Mint Ltd would like to announce that as from March 2017 they will no longer represent the Isle of Man as the official minter of Isle of Man legal tender products.
Recently, the Isle of Man has announced a reduction in the number of themes that can be produced in any year.
This will mean that many Isle of Man coins will no longer be made and we urge our customers to order existing Isle of Man products while stock last.
We will continue to produce high-quality coins from our six other issuing authorities and look forward to showing our customers the new and exciting products we have for the balance of 2016 and into 2017.
Pobjoy Mint Ltd has had a long and fruitful relationship with the Isle of Man that has lasted for over 40 years; we wish them well for the future. ❑