Dick Johnson writes:
Volume 7, Number 40, October 3, 2004: THE HISTORY OF COIN PRESSES
My Best-Of was the one most requested to be reprinted.
Dick Johnson writes: "We are glad Dan Gosling is back from
his five-week dream vacation enumerated in last week's
E-Sylum and is now asking questions. To answer his inquiry
on Taylor & Challen coin presses, he need go to only one
source: Chapter 14 of Denis R. Cooper's book "The Art and
Craft of Coinmaking; A History of Minting Technology." Dan
will find there a picture of a Taylor and Challen press on page
153 and the reason they were so popular at mints around the
world ? they employed the knuckle-joint action to efficiently
strike coins and could do this at a rapid rate (at the same
time inserting the blank and ejecting the struck piece). All
coining presses today that are not hydraulic employ this
Perhaps a capsule history of the coining press would be
useful for Dan (and perhaps all E-Sylum readers!).The first
diestruck coins were made by hammer and anvil - no press.
Similar hammered techniques continued for more than a
thousand years. Leonardo da Vinci drew a press for striking
coins, medals and seals in his notebooks in 1500. Da Vinci
recognized you need a blank to strike so he put two presses
back-to-back - one to blank, one to strike the design (with
the same blow!). But da Vinci?s press was never built (until
20th century - IBM had one build from da Vinci's drawings,
it is now in the Smithsonian Institution).
In 1506 an Italian, Donato Bramante (inspired by a fruit press)
built a screw press but only did blanking on it. In 1550 Max
Schwab of Augusburg built a workable screw press which
could both blank and strike, and made other equipment (as
rolling mills to roll metal strips for blanking). He tried but failed
to sell this equipment to mints in Germany and Italy. He
succeeded, however, with the French who imported his
equipment but met with resistance from French moneyers
(who still made hammered coins).
By 1641 the screw press was finally in use at the Paris Mint
but the same thing happened in England, where the first screw
press arrived but was prevented to strike coins. England
overruled the moneyers and had a screw press in use at the
Royal Mint by 1652. [America obtained its first screw
press for the 1652 Pine Tree Coinage]. The screw press
was in universal use (and remained so until 1892 when it was
entirely replaced by hydraulic presses).
It was a German mechanic, however, who revolutionized
coining. Diedrich Uhlhorn (1764-1837) invented the
knuckle-joint action press in 1812. He patented his invention
(1817) and built a factory to sell his presses to national mints.
He called his invention a "lever press" and sold 57 such
presses to nine European mints by 1847.
In 1835 a Paris machinist, last name Thonnelier, also perfects
a knuckle-joint press (similar to Uhlhorn's technology). He
does not build these presses, instead he sells drawings and
plans to build his style presses. The U.S. Mint bought
Thonnelier's plans in 1833, and their first such press was built
by Merrick, Agnew and Tyler; in1840 Franklin Peale
rebuilds it. In each case the mints either had to build their
own or hire "constructors." In 1858 an engineer at the U.S.
Mint, David Gilbert, rebuilds their Thonnelier press for greater
strength. Morgan & Orr was one of these constructors at the
Philadelphia Mint. Joshua Morgan and Arthur Orr built these
over three decades including a heavy duty coining press in
1874 (to accommodate a new steam engine installed at the
The Paris Mint?s Thonnelier press was built by J.F. Caili et
Cie, who act as agents and build these for European mints.
Thus every Thonnelier press has a different nameplate,
the name of the constructor (never "Thonnelier").
Meantime in 1862, at the Second International Industrial
Exposition in London, two coining press manufacturers
exhibited - Uhlhorn's sons, then in charge of the Uhlhorn
factory, and Ralph Heaton, flush from acquiring all the
Soho Mint equipment, purchased at auction in 1850 (who
then used the name "Birmingham Mint"). As often happens
at trade expos, these two press makers met and formed a
consortium. Heatons get permission to build presses using
Uhlhorn's technology. Heatons build presses for the
Mandalay Mint in Burma by 1865 but build 12 Uhlhorn-style
presses for their own Birmingham Mint.
Now Taylor and Challen were also coin press manufacturers,
founded 1850 by Joseph Taylor, competitors to Ralph
Heaton. They stepped up their activity and developed an
improved coining press. This is what is shown in Cooper in
chapter 14. They could supply complete press room
equipment (as they did for the Sydney Mint, Australia).
Early in the 20th century, another German firm, Schuler,
enters the manufacture of coin presses. Schuler presses are
now in use around the world. They developed a new
technology - instead of the dies on a vertical axis going up
and down with blanks fed horizontally, one style of Schuler
press uses a horizontal axis with gravity fed blanks vertically.
They also developed "indexing" and a method of double
striking (as for proof coinage).
In anticipation of tremendous need for new coins for the
decimal conversion in the British Empire technicians at the
Royal Mint in 1950 build 12 Uhlhorn-style presses in
their workshop, still utilizing this 140-year old technology
but with modern improvements.
Today coining presses are made in Germany (by Schuler,
Grabenel), in Austria (by Reinhard & Fernau), in England
(by Heaton, Taylor & Challen and Horden Mason &
Edwards, now a division of America's Cincinnati Milacron),
in Belgium (by Raskin), and in Sweden (by Arboga). Both
national mints and private mints buy these presses as
coining technology expands universally."
[Many thanks to Dick for his detailed submission. Every
numismatist should become familiar with the basic history
of coin presses. -Editor]
Another one of Dick's landmark contributions, which help make The E-Sylum so much more than just an e-newsletter.
To read the complete original E-Sylum article, see:
THE HISTORY OF COIN PRESSES
Wayne Homren, Editor
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