GB & Ireland – Pennies Struck by the Heaton Mint


In 1911, the National Insurance Act, introduced on July 1st, created created an unusually large demand for bronze and silver coins. The Royal Mint could not meet this demand, so some of its production was sub-contracted to a private mint – The Heaton Mint, Birmingham.  A massive 16,800,000 pennies were minted here in 1912 – all showing the mintmark “H” in the exergue to the left of the date.

1912, 1918 and 1919 (H) Pennies

Apart from 1912, the Heaton Mint (The Mint, Birmingham Ltd.) was sub-contracted to provide some of the circulating coinage of Great Britain in 1918 and 1919 too. The 1912 penny is the most common of these issues but still scarce in comparison to normal penny mintages of the period.

1912 GB Penny (Heaton Mint) showing 'ghosting' of the king's head on the reverse

Great Britain. Penny, 1912-H (Heaton Mint, Birmingham). Uncirculated with mint red. This type was struck in large numbers throughout the reign of George V (1911-36) but the obverse had to be modified in 1926 (KM 826) and again in 1928 (KM 838) to alleviate striking problems, including the “ghosting” visible on the reverse of this specimen.

  • Obverse:
    • Bare head portrait of King George V to the left
      • Engraver: Edgar Bertram MacKennal (BM)
  • Reverse:
    • Seated Britannia, facing right, trident in left hand, shield in right hand
      Value lettering surrounding, date underneath, with ‘H’ to left of date.

      • “H” mintmark struck at Ralph Heaton & Sons, Birmingham – Sp#4052
      • “KN” mintmark struck at Kings Norton Metal Co, Birmingham – Sp#4053
      • All other issues struck at Royal Mint, Tower Hill, London – Sp#4051
1912 (Heaton Mint)

1912 (Heaton Mint) detail.

  • Mintage:
    • 1912 = approx. 16,800,000
    • 1918 = approx.   3,660,800 (mintage includes both KN and H mintmarks)
    • 1919 = approx.   5,209,600 (mintage includes both KN and H mintmarks)
  • Specifications:
    • Metal alloy = Bronze
    • Weight = 9.4g
    • Diameter = 31mm
    • Thickness = 1.64mm
    • Edge = plain

1874, 1875, 1876, 1881 and 1882 (H) Pennies

Perhaps less well known than those of George V, are the Victorian pennies produced by the Heaton Mint. Ralph Heaton pioneered the modern mill striking of bronze coins and he had established a solid reputation abroad before the Royal Mint approached him about the transition from copper to bronze coinage in Great Britain & Ireland, c. 1860.

Initially, Heatons supplied the Royal Mint with planchets but they also minted coins on their behalf – mostly anonymously. They did, however, produce some pennies with the Heaton mintmark (H) in 1874-6 and 1881-2.

1874 GB Penny (Heaton Mint)

1874 GB Penny (Heaton Mint). In 1874, the 2nd portrait was very slightly changed, i.e. the “D:G:” is further away from the Queen’s head.

  • Obverse:
    • Wreathed portrait of the Queen Victoria, facing left
      • Engraver:  Leonard Charles Wyon
    • Legend: VICTORIA D: G: BRITT: REG: F: D:
  • Reverse:
    • Seated Britannia, facing right, trident in left hand, shield in right hand
      Value lettering surrounding, date underneath, sea behind with lighthouse on left and ship on right, with ‘H’ centered beneath date.
1874 GB Penny (Heaton Mint) detail

1874 GB Penny (Heaton Mint) detail

  • Specifications:
    • Metal alloy = Bronze
    • Weight = 9.4g
    • Diameter = 31mm
    • Thickness = 1.64mm
    • Edge = plain

Most of these early Heaton Mint coins are scarcer than their George V counterparts – especially in the better grades. And there are many sub-varieties, e.g.

  • 1874 Mintage =  5,621,865
    • 1874H Mintage = 6,666,240
      • 1874H – 17 leaves, thin ribbons
      • 1874H – 17 leaves, thin ribbons, small date
      • 1874H – 17 leaves, thin ribbons, small date (Proof)
      • 1874H – 17 leaves, thin ribbons, large date
  • 1875 Mintage = 10,691,000
    • 1875H large date Mintage = 753,000
      • 1875H large date (Proof)
  • 1876 (all produced by the Heaton Mint)
    • 1876H Mintage = 11,075,000
      • 1876H large date (Proof)
      • 1876H small date
  • 1881 Mintage = 2,302,000
    • 1881H Mintage = 3,763,000
  • 1882 (all produced by the Heaton Mint)
    • 1882H convex shield Mintage = 7,526,000
      • flat shield
      • Proof

The Heaton Mint (The Birmingham Mint)

The Heaton Mint in Birmingham was founded in 1850 by Ralph Heaton Jr, the son of a local inventor and entrepreneur. Using second-hand equipment purchased from Matthew Boulton’s old Soho Mint, Ralph Heaton pioneered the modern mill striking of bronze coins, and was also contracted to produce bronze denominations for France, Italy and various other countries around the world.

  • On 1 April 1850 the auction was announced of equipment from the defunct Soho Mint, created by Matthew Boulton around 1788. At the auction on 29 April Ralph Heaton II bought the four steam-powered screw presses and six planchet presses for making blanks from strip metal.
    • These were installed at the Bath Street works, and in that year trade tokens were struck for use in Australia.
    • In 1851 coins were struck for Chile using the letter H as a mintmark.
    • The same year copper planchets (blank disks) were made for the Royal Mint to make into pennies, halfpennies, farthings, half-farthings and quarter-farthings.
    • In 1852 the Mint won a contract to produce a new series of coins for France. In this the Mint pioneered the minting of bronze.
      • Ralph Heaton III (son of Ralph II) took key workers to Marseilles to equip and operate the French mint there, staying to fulfill the contract, and producing 750 tons of Napoléon III bronze coins from 1853–57.

In 1860, the Heaton Mint was also sub-contracted by the Royal Mint to strike Britain’s new bronze penny, half-penny and farthing issues, which it continued to do until the 1880s, when the Royal Mint purchased machinery from the firm to allow it to strike its own bronze issues.

  • The Heaton Mint used 500 tons of copper, struck between August 1853 and August 1855, with another contract to follow in 1856.
    • These coins had no mint mark to identify them as from Birmingham.
    • During the peak of operation the four original Boulton screw presses were striking about 110,000 coins per day.

Contracts for producing coins and coin blanks from around the world allowed the Heaton Mint to become the largest private mint in the world at this time. In addition to the production of coins and blanks, the firm manufactured metal parts for ammunition, gas fittings, medals, ornaments, plumbing fittings, rolled and strip metal, tube and wire.

  • In 1871 the first order for silver coinage was for Canada
  • In 1874 the first gold (837 Burgersponds) were struck for the new South African Rep
  • Between 1896 and 1898 the Birmingham Mint struck all of Russia’s copper coins (over 110,000,000 coins per year)
  • In 1912, 16.8 million bronze penny coins were produced for circulation in the UK and Ireland. This date is the most commonly seen of the “H” pennies.

During the First World War, the Mint was also employed in other aspects of metalwork, producing brass and copper tubing for bullets and artillery rounds.

  • In 1918 and 1919, further orders for 7.1 million pennies saw the mint striking coins for the home market.
  • In 1923 the almost monopoly position of the Mint as supplier to foreign (non-empire) countries was lost as the Royal Mint was given permission to supply to the world market, although the Mint continued to supply the Royal Mint.
  • During The Depression profits were minute and after shareholder revolt the Mint was taken out of the hands of the Heaton family in May 1935.

From 1935 onward, coin and coin blank production became a less and less important part of the business compared to other aspects of manufacturing, such as the manufacture of copper tubing for use in industry and armaments.

  • In 1949 the Birmingham Mint produced an edition of the Maria Theresa thaler, a silver “trade dollar” widely used in the Middle East and previously minted by the Vienna Mint, or later, the Rome Mint.
    • Further mintings were in 1953, 1954 and 1955
Since 1780, the Maria Theresa thaler has always been dated 1780

Since 1780, the Maria Theresa thaler has always been dated 1780

  • On 19 September 1857, Emperor Francis Joseph of Austria declared the Maria Theresa Taler to be an official trade coinage
    • The Maria Theresa thaler could also be found throughout the Arab world, especially in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Muscat and Oman, in Africa, especially in Ethiopia, and in India.
    • During the Japanese occupation of Indonesia in World War II, enough people preferred it to the money issued by the occupying forces that the American Office of Strategic Services created counterfeit Maria Theresa thalers for use by resistance forces – collectors should be wary of these fakes !

Some of the last coins produced at the Mint were several million Euro coins issued for circulation in Europe. However, the firm was undergoing financial difficulties at this time, and closed in 2003, with most of its equipment sold off to rival mints, including Lord’s Security Mint Ltd and the Pobjoy Mint, who continued the Heaton Mint tradition by buying equipment cheaply from an old defunct mint and putting it to good use themselves.


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