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Made in Brum: Foreign coins that could still make a mint; Rare currency made in city now worth a pretty penny.

Byline: Mike Lockley Features

THEY are among the rarest and most sought-after coins in the world. And they were struck in the West Midlands.

The currencies may be foreign, but their background is Brummie. They were produced by either the Soho Mint, created by industrialist Matthew Bolton in 1788, Ralph Heaton and Sons, formed in 1850 or the Birmingham Mint, which went into liquidation in 2003 after 209 years.

Add to the mix Kings Norton Metal Company which won a contract to produce coins for the colonies in 1914.

All of the businesses were an overspill for the Royal Mint which simply could not cope with demand.

The Birmingham factories produced the coins that now top every coin collector's wish-list.

That list is topped by the 1973 Ecuador Dos Sucres, a non-descript piece of shrapnel made of copper and nickel. Even in very poor condition, it will set you back PS500. The Birmingham Mint, based in Icknield Street, produced two million Dos Scures. Less than 40 are known to exist.

According to bullion dealers Chard there's a reason for the scarcity. A company spokesman said: The Dos (two) Sucres coin of 1973 is one the world's rarest coins. According to specialists Krause, the entire mintage of two million pieces were melted down with the exception of about 35 pieces.

"We do not know why the production order was cancelled, presumably the Ecuadorian government changed its mind as governments do, but the two sucres denomination had only been issued three times before, in 1928, 1930, and 1944. If this were a US coin, with only 35 existing, it would probably sell for over 100,000 dollars."

Finding a Dos Sucres hidden down the side of your sofa is akin to scooping the lottery.

Mozambique is a long, long way from Birmingham, but when the south east African country gained independence in 1975, its leaders turned to the Birmingham mint to mark the monumental occasion.

The Mozambique one centimo is tiny, lightweight and possesses all the visual appeal of a washer. Yet it is worth a mint... The aluminium, tacky-looking piece of shrapnel never made it into circulation and it was thought all had been melted down.

But a very few remained at Birmingham Mint.

It is those that dealers are in a stampede to possess.

Chard state: "This diminutive and insignificant coin is actually a great rarity. Because these coins are in aluminium, none will be brilliant, because aluminium oxidises readily to a somewhat dull but stable layer of toning.

"An accurate value for this sort of coin is difficult is determine. The mintage figure in itself would suggest a very modest value, perhaps up to $10 or PS10, but the fact that most were melted lifts the value much higher. If this was a US coin, it would undoubtedly trade at thousands of dollars, possibly more." As it is, the tiny one centimo sells for around PS700.

The Birmingham Mint was at the forefront of the euro revolution too. The currency was born in 1999 and there was a clamour among European mints to be part of the new money.

In a bid to gain orders, the mint - as a marketing exercise - produced an experimental set of euros.

The set, consisting of eight coins featuring the badge of the Birmingham Mint, never became legal tender.

But in the new coinage, some made it into circulation. Only recently, one of the few remaining sets sold at auction for PS2,000.

Chard said: "Trial or pattern sets like this would normally be sent to governments of relevant countries as a commercial sample, possibly with a request that they be returned at some time.

"Often a small quantity don't get returned, and eventually find their way onto the market, sometimes decades after the original issue. Because the Birmingham Mint went into liquidation in March 2003, it has perhaps accelerated this process, as it appears that a number of very rare coins produced by them have recently appeared.

"The reverse of all eight coins shows a design superficially the same as that on the regular euro coins, except for slight differences. The word 'specimen' is stamped on each, and the map design is slightly different in a number of places."

The sets are so scarce that none can be purchased for under PS1,000.

For Birmingham's rarest coins, collectors need to scour the east of the empire. Hong Kong is home to some of the most valuable examples in the world.

Anyone who can get their hands on a 1941 Hong Kong Cent can virtually name their own price. And that price starts at PS5,000.

Yet Birmingham struck a staggering five million of them - that's a million more than the 1942 threepence, which now sells for a fraction.

According to the World Coin Price Guide, those five million Hong Kong cents were split into three lots. One was held in Britain and melted to supply copper for the war effort.

The second batch was sent to Hong Kong but seized by the Japanese after the colony surrendered in December, 1941.

They, too, were melted down for the Japanese war effort.

The third is still on the ocean floor after a U-boat sank the ship carrying it.

Coin grading experts The Numismatic Guaranty Corporation explain: "If any of these three groups of 1941 Hong Kong cents had survived, the coin would likely be relatively common today.

"However, the perfect combination of events has led this coin to become one of the most expensive and rarest dates of British Territory Hong Kong Cents.

"There are thought to be less than one hundred 1941 Hong Kong Cents that survived the war."

The information underlines the importance of studying old coins gathered while holidaying abroad. Hidden in a coppers jar may be a metal moneyspinner made in Birmingham.

110,000 PENNIES A DAY BIRMINGHAM'S mint industry began in earnest on April 29, 1850, when Ralph Heaton II bought at auction presses belonging to the defunct Soho Mint, founded by Matthew Boulton.

Within a year, Heatons were producing trade tokens for Australia. By 1851, coins, sporting the trademark "H" next to the date, were being struck for Chile and a year later a lucrative contract had been clinched to create new currency for France.

With the Royal Mint near overwhelmed by the production of gold and silver coins, Birmingham was tasked in 1853 with the production of British coppers. A staggering 110,000 pennies were churned out each day. So great was the local success story that Heatons moved from Bath Street to large premises in Icknield Street in 1860.

> Ralph Heaton The firm became a limited liability company in 1889 and was re-branded The Mint, Birmingham Limited.

The business was hit hard by the 1930s depression and, following a shareholders' revolt, was taken from the Heatons family. From then on, coin production took a backseat to the manufacture of tubing and metal sheets.

The new euro coins led to a late revival in fortunes, but a following slump led to the mint's sale in 2003. It was acquired by JFT Law & Co Ltd who still produce commemorative coins and medals.

Birmingham factories produced the coins that now top every coin collector's wish-list.


<B Ralph Heaton

<B The Birmingham Mint went into liquidation in 2003

<B A 1973 Ecuador Dos Sucres will set you back around PS500

<B The Mozambique one centimo sells for PS700
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Geographic Code:9HONG
Date:Oct 19, 2017
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