Private mints are scarce these days, but many still exist and some are thriving. We've discussed products of the Shire Mint on occasion in the past; here's some backgound from their website. First, an introduction from their About Us page.
We are Shire Post Mint, a small, family-run coining operation located in Arkansas, USA. We specialize in licensed fantasy coinage, but we make lots of other things too.
Shire Post Mint began in 2001 when Tom bought his first antique coin press. He had a passion for coin collecting since his childhood and his years of knife-making gave him metalworking knowledge that he used to start making coins. The techniques used of hand-engraving steel dies and pressing one at a time are the same used in the 1800s and earlier. After a few years of research, refinement and building a small following online, his work caught the eye of George R.R. Martin, who was interested in having coins made from his new series of books, A Song of Ice and Fire.
Since then, Shire Post Mint has grown into an internationally recognized company known for attention to detail and a high level of craftsmanship, all while still being super nerdy!
In 2021, we moved into our new home: 7,000 sqft building in West Fork, Arkansas. You can now visit our gift shop where we sell our coins (made on site) as well as locally made products from other Arkansas small businesses. From the gift shop, you can peek into our manufacturing shop where we design and manufacture all of our designs!
A lengthy illustrated article by Helen Maringer describes how Shire Post Mint creates a fantasy coin, and it's a great overview of the classic minting process ingeneral. Here's an excerpt - see the complete article online, including several videos.
Coins are simply bits of metal that have been impressed with a design and are used as a medium of exchange. The basic process is that a "die" is created with a negative impression of the design. Two dies are then pressed or "struck" with the metal blank between. A fantasy coin is made in a few basic stages: design, engrave, blank, stamp, and finish.
Designing a fantasy coin
The coins we aim to make here at Shire Post Mint are in-world, meaning that they could come out of the pockets of a commoner or king. When designing, we look at the world as a whole and try to answer some basic questions: Who or what would be depicted on the coin: a ruler, an idol, a god, a symbol, or simply text? What would the coins be used for: a monetary system, exchange of information, advertising for a new ruler?
Once we have a basic concept, we move towards the design and more questions arise: What metals would they use? How big would these coins be? What would the text say? We often look back to Medieval and ancient world coinage to research art and engraving styles as well as the information often included on a coin. Engraver Greg Franck-Weiby used the same chisel-engraving technique for our Leif Ericsson Vinland coin as the Vikings used when making coins in the 9th and 10th centuries.
A Viking silver penny of Sihtric Silkbeard, circa 990-1000 AD
Leif Ericsson Silver Penny circa 2004
Our coin designs are 2D, often sketched by hand and aided by simple graphic design programs. The subtleties within the design (such as texture and depth) are up to the engraver in the next step.
Engraving the design
The first step in engraving is to reverse the design as the coin will come out as a mirror image. Tom's very first experiment with making custom coins came out backwards because he forgot this step! Many techniques can be used to engrave into tool steel including acid etching or the use of electric engraving tools. Here at Shire Post Mint we often use a pantograph machine, also known as a pantograph mill or reduction lathe, to begin the process. This allows us to take a large design and reduce and engrave it directly into the steel. The engraver controls the engraving point of the pantograph by "tracing" the 2D design with a stylus. A spinning bit cuts the same movements into the steel. The engraving with this machine is very basic and rough so all the finishing will be done by hand.
When the outline is done, Woody, our resident engraver, will use carving tools to continue the design. In the case of the viking coin shown earlier, the engraver used the same chisel-engraving technique that was used to make ancient coins.
When the engraving is finished, test strikes are done on a soft metal so as not to damage the dies. We keep a bit of the very soft metal indium in the shop for this purpose, but a thick piece of aluminum also works.
Above is a test Strike on Indium metal for Patrick Rothfuss' King Feyda Calanthis Breakable Vintish Penny, a coin launched December 2020 from the world of The Kingkiller Chronicles.
The article includes images of their original manual screw press, an electric screw press, an electric knuckle press, and a hydraulic press, as well as a discussion of the blanking and finishing processes. Great education for the numismatist. Check it out.
The Iron Coins of the Faceless Man go through a heat-based oxidation darkening process and then are tumbled to age them and bring out highlights. They are then dried and waxed to prevent rusting as they are made of pure iron.
To read the complete article, see:
How a Fantasy Coin is Made - Shire Post Mint's Process
Wayne Homren, Editor
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