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Long Beard's Blog

03 Jan 2022

The Forgotten Mint

Coins | Long Beard

Mention the name Franklin Mint and visions of plates depicting cats dressed in Victorian attire that you're grandmother collected are likely to appear. To us seasoned and aged collectors we are surely to remember the multitude of coins, medals and other numismatic products available. Many of us are also likely to have a piece or two, the U.S. Bicentennial issues of 1971 to 1976 being the most common and popular, found inour collections. But what do we really know about this long all but forgotten and shuttered mint? Enjoy!




Medals and tokens are nothing new. For centuries, companies and individuals have struck them to commemorate various things and events or in some cases fill voids in commerce during times of economic or political turmoil. While a select few, the Medallic Art Company and Heraldic Art Company as examples, have seen decades of collectible coins and medals being struck, only the Franklin Mint could be called the King of private mints. So what was it that made them such a powerhouse of the collectible market?




The origins of the Franklin Mint was the culmination of legendary entrepreneur, Joseph M. Segel's drive and vision with an emphasis on perfection. Born in 1931 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Segel was highly motivated individual even at a young age. At thirteen, he started a small printing company turning a respectable profit. By age sixteen, the business growing, he sold it before enrolling at the Wharton School of Business majoring in accounting. While there, he found a company to print post cards with messages written in invisible ink, which he sold as a marketing gimmick as this was a strange fascination of a young public at the time. Yet again, in 1950, he founded another printing company. Advertising Specialty Institute which printed and sold the publication Advertising Specialty Directory, once more selling it in the early 60's for a nice profit.





During these same years, the value of precious metals had been rising to record highs. Particularly silver which was used to coin currency for commerce. To remedy the situation of silver in coinage being valued much greater than the monetized amount and the shortages from a hoarding public to cash in on the profit, nickle clad copper was about to replace it. Already knowing this, Joseph Segel began to sense an opportunity. On March 25, 1964 the Treasury Department ceased to supply any more dollars (Peace and Morgan dollars were still available stashed in their vaults) to financial institutions. As the lines at every bank of every major city grew longer in the hopes of getting these last silver dollars, news outlets quickly picked up the story. It would be that of a photograph by Time magazine which caught his attention. However, one final and seemingly unrelated event occurred eleven days later which would set an unstoppable juggernaut into motion. The death of the great General Douglas MacArthur, who the public still much adored. President John F. Kennedy had just been assassinated five months prior and the release of the new half dollar honoring him was a huge success with a mournful public. So why not a coin honoring MacArthur? "My idea was to create a series of solid sterling silver medals, a little larger than the silver dollar, of the highest quality of the of limited edition and each designed by a different famous sculptor."- 1988 interview to Direct Marketing.




With a ten-thousand dollar investment, in the Philadelphia suburb of Yeardon, Segel created the National Commemorative Society. A numbered, membership only club whereby the members voted on future contenders to be commemorated. The first step was to advertise in Sunday supplemental ads, numismatic publications and direct mail brochures. Early-bird specials, the first two weeks, was $10.00 and $40.00 afterwards. Membership included the monthly publication and offer of a new commemorative for $6.50. Expecting 1,000 members initially and hoping for 2,000, by week eight there were 5,250. Although far exceeding his estimates and growing rapidly, despite their satisfaction, Segel was far less pleased with the quality of his creations . He had fallen short of the promised proof like medals. While they existed from coins struck by the U.S. Mint, even they were having difficulties producing reflective backgrounds and frosted devices. Something collectors were eagerly paying a premium for on the secondary market. To complicate matters, he wanted his to be larger, about that of a British Crown, which resulted in larger dies and larger pressures to strike. The necessary larger and tougher dies resulted in a reduced surface quality. Unable to solve the issue he turned to an expect in such things. Gilroy Roberts. The then current Chief Engraver for the United States Mint in Philadelphia. With little persuasion, the promise of not only substantially more than his present salary but total reign on design, Gilroy accepted the offer. By late 1964, Roberts had remedied the difficulty by employing a different alloy for the larger dies.





With himself as the President and Roberts as Chairman, and his company turning a profit of $10,000 (that of the initial investment), a second mint was constructed in Franklin Center (Yeardon) and placed on the stock market in 1965 as General Numismatics Corporation. The Franklin Mint was now fully operational. Scoffed in the beginning by investors and bedrock firms, GNC went from $392,000 in profit at the close of 1965 to around 45.8 million by 1970. There was little doubt at the demand for collectible coins, especially quality coins. Even the U.S. Mint had taken notice as their own was still lagging behind in the latter. None so great as that of countries around the world who would pay a visit to the Franklin Mint to see first had how they were struck. In the coming years, many of which contracted to have their coins for commerce struck and shipped from the Franklin Mint. The Bahamas, Trinidad, Panama and Tunisia among many (As shown in the images, courtesy of MA-Shops). Just as he had done in previous years, Joseph M. Segel sold the company in 1973, remaining on the board of directors, to pursue new things. Another of his greatest, and highly unknown, would be an equally powerful company, achievements was the founding of QVC. Which is still a leading retail outlet.




Franklin Mint only grew, despite his stepping aside, under the leadership of Charles Lovette Andes. With sales of commemorative coins and medals leveling off, and already marketing other collectible products as well as casino tokens, Andes expanded to include plates, jewelry, furniture, model cars and figurines. By the close of it's second decade, the company had reached a profit of some 360 million. Like his predecessor, Andes was always striving for more. Thinking that merging with a major company with much deeper pockets would open vast new expansion. So in 1980, the Franklin Mint was sold to Warner Communications in exchange for cash, investment options and stock ownership. The problem was, unseen by Andes, that Warner also owned the much more popular and profitable Atari, another company at the height of the exploding video game market. Warner wasn't about to back the less popular company over the booming. Further complicating matters, contradictory claims made by Forbes that Franklin Mint's assertion of their products being a solid investment causing a hit on the mint's stock and stockholder lawsuits arose. The recession which occurred in the early eighties became the death nail of the Franklin Mint.





While the Franklin Mint may have risen and fallen, no longer to strike commemoratives, the market for their products has been seeing a rise in popularity once more. Will there ever be another to take it's place? Some point to Moonlight Mint and David Carr's creations. Only time will say.



Research sources: CoinWeek, The New York Times, Alter.com and of course the MA-Shops for the circulating coinage. A great dealer!





Comments

AC coin$

Level 6

Long Beard thanks for a fun trick .

$tarCollector

Level 4

I generally do not collect non-genuine US Mint coins but those ones are unique and better I would say.

Kepi

Level 6

Thanks for a really interesting blog! Enjoyed it very much!

The Franklin Mint made a killing during the mid-1960's when the U.S. Mint hibernated and went to sleep for a couple of years. And you gotta give them credit for that. Also, the FM was someone to compete against and this raised the quality of the u.s. mint's product. I'd say FM was about 50/50 with interesting stuff versus outright junk. Buy it for fun, and nothing else.

Long Beard

Level 5

The early proof commemoratives are incredible. Far superior to anything from the U.S. Mint at the time and better than some of the current.

CheerioCoins

Level 5

Great information I learned a lot. It was a great read. Thanks!

CheerioCoins

Level 5

Wow and I though this blog was lengthy!

Long Beard

Level 5

Thank you. There is much, much more to the history of the Franklin Mint than I wrote about. One could literally write a 500-600 page book on the subject.

Longstrider

Level 6

I really learned a lot from this blog today. It seems like all our grand folks had something from them. Some nice coins struck for other countries. Thanks.

Long Beard

Level 5

If I'm not mistaken, they were the only one to strike circulating coinage for other countries. Which sets them apart from competitors such as Medallic Arts and Moonlight Mint.

I. R. Bama

Level 5

I learned so much about them today, thanks for such a well researched blog!

Long Beard

Level 5

Thank you! It's been a while since I researched and wrote a blog of this type. Very enjoyable and appreciative of the replies.

Mike

Level 7

Excellent. It's good to read a good blog once in a while. Not all this cut and paste. Your facts are on the money. No pun intended. I never bought anything from there. However the Danbury mint will not leave me alone. . They have nice items but very pricy. Thanks or a great readl

Long Beard

Level 5

You aren't kidding the prices are high. And for inferior quality comparative to other companies. A few would be nice to have though, their better than usual stuff. But only on the secondary market for far less.

"SUN"

Level 6

A very productive mint, issues a lot "junk" during final years

Long Beard

Level 5

No argument there. After the Bicentennial issues.

AC coin$

Level 6

Beautiful coins and medal collection , great blog . Thanks for sharing .

Long Beard

Level 5

Reluctantly, the coins are not my own but those being sold by MA-Shop. A great dealer, easy to deal with. I simply needed a few images to match the story line.

Golfer

Level 5

I became a medal collector the past two years. Like the Heraldic art medals. So called dollars are also an interest of mine. Great blig. Really interesting. Thanks

Long Beard

Level 5

I'm probably going to start the Heraldic Art half dollars which began after the Mint stopped striking commemoratives in 1947. Some really nice pieces.

thatcoinguy

Level 5

I think somebody within the next 50 years will see the profit the Franklin’s Mint has made, and create a similar business.

Long Beard

Level 5

Dan Carr at Moonlight Mint is making a strong move in the right direction.

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