Q: How do you design a fantasy coin?
A: The basic idea is to use real-world coins as a rough guide to the evolutionary pattern of coin making and design, and then to use that information to guide in the design work. We strive for authenticity and realism, so great effort is put forth to design a coin in accordance with the social and technical status of the target culture. Obviously a great deal of artistic license is applied! Coins have always been used as “advertising” by the issuing authority… and there is a “language of coinage” in which symbols appear and have accepted meanings.
Q: How do you make coins?
A: Coins are simply small 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 (backward) impression of the design. Two dies are then pressed together or “struck” with the metal blank between. The major technical problems are three: making the blank, making the dies, and applying the necessary amount of force, with many minor problems associated with each! Early coins were struck by hand using hammers, such coins are necessarily small and with low relief. The evolution of minting has basically followed the evolution of art and industry, as larger presses and better steels have become available, the engraver’s art has been portrayed on a larger ‘canvas’ and with more and more precision. See our page on “How a coin is made.”
Q: What equipment do you use at Shire Post to make your coins?
A: We have a small workshop and use mostly antique equipment. There are currently seven presses on the shop floor… five screw presses, one large knuckle press and one large hydraulic press. They range in force-capacity from about 10 tonnes up to 320 tonnes. The smaller presses are mostly used for punching blanks, ejecting coins from collars, and die-sinking, while the three largest are used for heavy die-hobbing and all the actual coin-striking tasks. The presses are all antique manually operated mechanical devices which have been made functionally obsolete with respect to modern minting practices by advances in computer controlled equipment. They hydraulic is the most modern of the group, but even that one is considered obsolete by most modern shops. And yet, they still work for their design function, albeit slowly, and they possess a beauty and classic grace which more modern equipment simply cannot match! We also have a variety of support equipment including a rolling mill, metal lathe, milling machine, pantomill, grinders, band-saws, heat-treating furnaces, and several different sized tumbling drums for polishing blanks and antiquing finished coins.
Q: How can I get started making fantasy coins?
A: If you have some workspace and are familiar with metal-working you may already have most of what is needed to get started. The presses are awfully nice once you get going… but you can do quite a lot of smaller coins with just a six pound hammer! Investigate your local chapter of the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) which has a “Moneyer’s Guild” and often accepts apprentices. The ANA (American Numismatic Association) hosts a seminar each year with classes on die-engraving and other coining techniques. The best introductory book available is The Art and Craft of Coinmaking by Denis R. Cooper, Spink & Son Ltd. London, (ISBN 0907-605-27-3) which goes through the entire evolution of coin-making from ancient times to modern.