On December 28, 2015 David Alexander published a nice article in CoinWeek about the history of Joe Segel's Franklin Mint. Here
are some short excerpts - be sure to read the complete version online. -Editor
The inside story of the Franklin Mint’s beginning is unknown to most collectors today, but is familiar to me because I observed the
Franklin Mint’s explosion onto the numismatic scene at first hand in 1966. My late brother, John L. Alexander (1938-1987) was a stock
broker instrumental in the underwriting of the mint’s first common stock listed on the National Stock Exchange (distant third of the “big
three:” New York, American and National exchanges).
John Alexander’s research in this dynamic young company interested his employers, the stock brokerage house of Hill, Darlington and
Grimm, which was active in underwriting and promoting new stock issues.
FM was then only one department of a parent firm called General Numismatics Corporation (GNC), whose home town was Yeadon, Pa., not yet
renamed Franklin Center. The story of the stock issue and of the beginning years of the Franklin Mint is basically the story of its
founder, advertising specialties prodigy Joseph M. Segel (born 1931).
Segel was a remarkable example of the go-getting American entrepreneur, who launched GNC in 1964 with an investment of $21,000. His
business experience was already extensive and uniformly successful. At the age of 13, he had launched a successful printing business before
entering the prestigious Wharton School of Business administration in Philadelphia, PA.
Collectors who associate the name Franklin Mint with the cataracts of gleaming coins it struck and marketed for an array of governments
or its many medal and ingot series are generally surprised to learn that most of its production in its founding year was base metal gaming
tokens struck for 27 casinos, mostly located in Las Vegas and Reno, Nevada. Some of the research involved my driving all over Miami, FL,
seeking examples of gaming tokens made by FM.
During 1964, silver prices began to soar, causing copper nickel-clad copper coins to come into production at the U.S. Mints and focusing
avid interest on the millions of U.S. silver dollars needed to keep the casinos going “Ka-Ching!” that were vanishing overnight.
Segel watched as the clamoring public stormed the nation’s banks, eager to redeem their Silver Certificates for silver dollars from
long-ignored Treasury stocks and later for silver granules from the national stockpile. Watching block-long lines form outside area banks,
the young businessman was fascinated by the profits offered by coin collecting.
National Commemorative Society
Segel’s first step in numismatics was actually in the field of membership-based medal series, through his National Commemorative Society
(NCS). The first six NCS medals predated the creation of GNC and were struck elsewhere, but the society was Segel’s first venture in the
field of “limited edition’’ collectibles. It should be noted that these six issues were omitted from future FM catalogs.
A couple of early management decisions set the tone for Segel’s NCS and later membership medal series. All were struck in Sterling
silver, .925 fine, which founder Segel appeared to believe was the highest fineness available. Makers of traditional large-diameter,
high-relief medals, generally chose .999 fine silver for their creations.
NCS closed its subscriber list at only 5,249 members, issuing one 39-millimeter medal each month, which were unobtainable by frequently
irritated non-members continuing to read about the series in the numismatic press. All were distinctly coin-like objects combining low
relief and brilliant Proof surface.
Segel called all of these low-relief pieces “coin-medals.” The term was distinctly contrived but starkly necessary. In 1965 the vast
majority of collectors in the U.S. were trained to focus on and collect coins and avoid medals at all costs. Segel resorted to this hybrid
term to overcome a widely held prejudice. .
Another major victory for Segel’s infant CNG was the hiring of U.S. Mint Chief Engraver Gilroy Roberts, creator of the Kennedy half dollar.
With remarkable courage, Roberts left a secure, if non-spectacular U.S. government civil service post to join a new and untried venture. Before his
death in 1992, Roberts became a wealthy man as Chairman of the Board of the Franklin Mint.
His creative opportunities were unlimited in his new post, and in these early years great honor was paid to the Franklin Mint’s artistic
staff. The name Gilroy Roberts “sold,” as in “Gilroy Roberts’ Birds,” and good use was made of it in merchandizing FM and its rapidly
growing range of products.
Segel possessed limitless self confidence. Where others eased into competitive situations, testing the waters, he plunged right in.
During the search for substitute metals for U.S. silver coinage, he was an active participant, distributing a cased three-piece set of
dollar-size pieces called “Pattern Trial Proofs.” Designed by Roberts, these depicted historic Gardiner’s Island and its colony of fishing
hawks or ospreys, located near the eastern tip of Long Island, N.Y.
Fantasy Coins and Real Inaugural Medals
Many collectors were disturbed by the Franklin Mint’s excursion into pure fantasy coinage. A 1965 set of purported coins of the “Sovereign
Order of Saint John of Jerusalem” attracted much debate since the authentic Sovereign Military Order of Malta (SMOM) in Rome already issued
symbolic coins that were widely collected.
SMOM is the actual military and charitable Order established in the Holy Land after the First Crusade in the 12th century. The Order was
later based on the island of Rhodes and subsequently on Malta until 1798. Since the early 19th century it had its headquarters on the Bocca
de Leone in Rome and is a recognized sovereign entity enjoying diplomatic relations with some 30 countries. The Franklin Mint’s group was
based in remote Shickshinny, Pa., and had no relation to the historic order in Rome.
Segel’s relentless pursuit of the main chance was brilliantly exemplified in his successful bid for the contract to strike and
distribute the 1973 Richard M. Nixon-Spiro T. Agnew Inaugural Medal. The late medal historian Neil MacNeil in his award-winning book, The
President’s Medal described the Franklin Mint as “aggressive and almost startlingly active.” First donating $113,000 in Franklin Mint stock
to the re-election committee, Segel closed in to clinch the medal deal.
Outgunning the staid and traditional Medallic Art Company, he had already prepared dies for five different portraits and struck bronze
and silver medals from them to display to the overwhelmed Inaugural Committee. Medallic Art thought it could guarantee $750,000 in overall
sale of medals and then then-popular collector plates. Segel guaranteed $1 million and promptly whipped out a bank check for that amount,
Not surprisingly, Franklin Mint and Gilroy Roberts produced the Nixon-Agnew Medal. It was marketed vigorously in both Proof and antique
finishes in silver and bronze, bronze goldplate along with a dazzling Inaugural Plate with the same conjoined heads. Artistic criticism of
its low relief and uninspired design went unheard as this medal was a dramatic financial success.
To read the complete article, see:
The Rise and Fall of the Franklin Mint
Wayne Homren, Editor
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