A flash of inspiration when the deputy vice-chancellor of Birmingham City University tuned in to an American reality TV show called Pawn Stars has resulted in a replica of a 227-year-old coin produced in Birmingham being presented to President Trump.
Professor Julian Beer, president of the British American Business Council (BABC), was watching the programme which chronicles the daily activities of a Los Angeles pawn shop when it featured a rare coin, called the Large Eagle Washington Cent.
He was captivated by its history and Birmingham’s involvement and decided to have 400 reproduced by the University’s School of Jewellery for delegates attending the BABC transatlantic conference in Birmingham today.
The first two commemorative pewter coins minted were presented to US Ambassador Robert “Woody” Johnson during the conference gala dinner at Birmingham Town Hall with one for him to pass on to President Trump.
All other delegates attending the conference at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire during the day were also presented with the coin as a memento.
Professor Beer said: “I had just taken on the BABC presidency and was thinking about a forthcoming trade mission to Chicago coinciding with the BABC Conference last year.
“I also thought about the significance of trade between the Midlands and North America and the historical relationship between us. Whilst idling, I was watching an American show which often uncovered American historical artefacts and that’s when I saw the coin – the Washington Eagle Cent.
“The guy behind the counter who was examining the coin mentioned that it had never been legal tender and that it was rare but he would have to get an expert opinion. The expert, to paraphrase, said that it had been made and shipped over by an ‘enterprising bunch of Brummies’.
“They had designed and made the coin and another smaller one in Birmingham when they heard that the newly independent America was looking to produce its own coinage.
“They had also used their distribution and supply network in America to get samples to Senators and Congressmen and one finally landed up with President Washington rejecting the coin as being too regal and that he wanted a national mint.
“However, when I heard this I was struck that if there was ever a story of entrepreneurialism which depicted the history of our trade relationship here in the Midlands with North America then this was a great example.
“We then set about trying to reproduce a limited edition as special gifts for our North American friends in Chicago but, could not pull it off in time. However, with us securing the 2018 Conference we thought it was a great time to do it as a unique reminder of our special relationship.”
Pawn Stars is shown on History, and produced by Leftfield Pictures. The series is filmed in Las Vegas featuring the daily activities at the world famous gold and silver Pawn Shop, a 24-hour family business opened in 1989 and operated by patriarch Richard "Old Man" Harrison.
With 3D computer-aided-design (CAD) imaging, the University’s School of Jewellery reproduced the Large Eagle Washington Cent coin to hand out to event attendees, exemplifying how Birmingham is often referred to as ‘the workshop of the world’ with a long history of leading trade and market innovation.
Four hundred editions of the coin have been produced and the very first specimen is set to be delivered to US President Trump. The second edition was presented to Ambassador Johnson at tonight’s dinner.
Following CAD imaging of the original coin and importing images into ArtCam software to enhance shapes, a master pattern was created and used to create a mould using high temperature rubber. The coins were then cast in pewter by the AE Williams family, who are based in Digbeth and have been making the alloy since 1779.
Historically, A.E. Williams has produced traditional domestic pewter ware, but more recently has also produced pieces for palaces and stately homes, as well as for television productions including BBC’s Poldark and HBO’s Game of Thrones.
The original Large Eagle Washington Cent was one of two coins commissioned in 1791 by Birmingham firm W and Alexander Walker. Designed by one of the world’s finest engravers at the time, John Gregory Hancock, the federal coins – with the bust of President George Washington on the obverse and an American eagle on the reverse – were produced at Obadiah Westwood’s mint in the city.
Although both the Small and Large Eagle Washington Cent coins were well made, they never became a circulated currency after Washington favoured a national mint to control coin production.