Today, Helen Maringer from Shire Post Mint has graciously spent her time to give us an interview. The Shire Post Mint has a Kickstarter on making Mistborn coins, and it's been funded eight times over now. It ends on October 28th. The latest stretch goal would mean you get free clips blackened with ash. Check it out! If you'd like to know more, you can also look at our original article showing off all the coins.
Thank you to Helen and Shire Post Mint for doing this, and making awesome coins!
What made you want to make fantasy coins in the first place as your business?
Tom Maringer was a coin and stamp collector as a kid, so he always had an affinity for world coins. He traveled with his parents as a kid, mainly through Europe, and he often said that looking at and feeling the coins in his pocket was the best way he could “ground himself” and really feel that sense of place while in the midst of all these new experiences. Later, when he read The Lord of the Rings the first time, there was a line about silver Pennies when the Hobbits bought Bill the Pony. He wanted to know what those pennies looked like and that feeling never really went away. In the 70’s and 80’s, Tom worked as a blacksmith making custom knives and swords. He mentioned once to a friend that he’d like to make coins someday and within a few hours he was in possession of an old (1700s-1800s) screw press used for making coins. After lots of trial and error, he made a silver Penny to finally know what it looked and felt like. It could have stopped there, but when he posted a photo online to show some friends, there was an overwhelming response to the coin. Shortly after in 2003, he was put in contact with George R.R. Martin and began making coins for Westeros and Essos, including The Iron Coin of the Faceless Man, of course. At this point, Shire Post Mint was still a weekend hobby for Tom. It wasn’t until the massive success of HBO’s Game of Thrones that website traffic and orders picked up and Tom made the decision to develop the mint as his full time business. Since then, the business has developed coins from more licenses including The Lord of the Rings which is close to Tom’s heart. Shire Post Mint now has 7 employees, 4 of whom are in the Maringer family. So we’re still a small company, but huge compared to how it started.
How was it working with Brandon and his team on these coins?
They’re great to work with. They had specific ideas about how these coins would look and feel from the beginning. While that sounds like it would make the process more difficult, it actually simplified it. We have a lot of flexibility in our shop in terms of what type of coins we can make, so clear direction leads to a more satisfying coin at the end.
What got you interested in doing Mistborn coins in particular?
It’s a perfect partnership for us! Any time there are coins in fictional books, we start thinking of how we could make them a reality. Brandon created the coins in Mistborn to function as weapons and a method of transit on top of the standard function as currency. This is a really unique treatment of coins and we love that. From working with George R.R. Martin’s work, we know that any time a coin is specifically mentioned, there is a lot more interest and excitement compared to a really cool coin that just happens to exist. Plus the metal-based Allomancy of Mistborn is close to our hearts. Tom’s dad is a metallurgist and Tom himself has a degree in Geology and has worked in the mining industry, so everyone here at the mint grew up being a metal nerd.
We see a lot of subtle differences in the Era 1 vs Era 2 coins such as weathering, wear and tear, and more irregularities in the Era 1 coins compared to the more modern, uniform quality of Era 2. What was it like to explore two points in history from the same world?
In short: it was really cool. In our past coins, we incorporated a lot of nods to the history and styles of coinage through time, sometimes changing styles within worlds to highlight those differences. This is the first project where those differences have been so clear. I think this project has also been one of the best uses of our unique shop in terms of exploring those small differences and bringing them out in the metal. We brought out those differences in a few ways: engraving, minting, and patina. Woody Maringer, our engraver, used different engraving styles to translate Isaac and Ben’s artwork into the steel of the coin die. On the Era 1 coins, he left the Steel Alphabet symbols a little rougher. The copper symbol on the clip is the best example of these engraving differences: on the Era 1 Clip, the symbol isn’t smooth, it’s more like if you carved a symbol into wood with scissors. On the Era 2 Clip, however, the surface of the metal above the symbol is perfectly smooth since metalworking would be much more refined by Era 2. You can also see that the Era 1 copper symbol is engraved with the design raised up from the metal while the Era 2 copper symbol is sunk into the metal (incuse). Incuse designs are more complicated to engrave and they aren’t commonly seen in very old currency.
After those designs were engraved in tool steel, they were hardened via a specific baking process and mounted into one of our antique presses. Normally, we run most of our coins on our main production press from the 1800’s but we just got a new (well, new to us) press restored that we were also able to use for this project. It’s a 110 ton knuckle press that was one of 6 presses used to make Quarters in the Denver Mint in the 1930’s! This means that were able to broadstrike the Era 1 coins on the old press and collar strike the Era 2 coins on the new press. Broadstriking is how all ancient coins were made. It’s essentially just two designs striking the metal with nothing on the sides to regulate the coin’s size or alignment. This could be done with a coin press, a drop press, a hammer, etc. Collar striking is how all modern coins are made. With this method, a metal ring is added around the coin blank and when the coin is struck, flat or ridged sides of the coin are created where the metal squishes into the collar. The collar also allows for automated feeding and faster production as all broadstruck coins have to be placed into the press by hand. Shire Post Mint has been broadstriking coins for over 15 years and no one has ever lost a finger! Hooray! As far as I know, we are the only working mint that is broadstriking our coins. It’s extra work per coin but it means we can have a lot more flexibility and authenticity in the coins we make. So the Era 1 coins have rounded edges from the metal squishing outwards via broadstriking and the Era 2 coins have those nice clean sides via collar striking. On the Era 2 Boxings we gave them an intermittent ridged edge, which is new for us! After the coins are minted they come out bright and shiny, like a fresh penny. Since that’s not the feeling that Brandon wanted, we age them with our special technique to bring out the design, darken the metal, and smooth down any sharp edges. We age the Era 1 coins to a more extreme degree since those coins have been around for (possibly) hundreds of years compared to the ones from Elendel. So, basically, we put in a lot of subtle differences that help separate these two eras in a tangible way, even if they are hard to notice.
Did your approach to working on the Mistborn coins differ from how you have handled developing coins from other worlds? How was the process similar and how was it different from past projects?
The biggest difference is how involved Team Sanderson was. Before designs were made, we sent them a big bag of coins that we had made in the past with varying levels of wear and patina. From those references, they were able to determine out exactly what size, thickness, and weight each coin should be. The two Boxings actually use the same blank meaning that they are exactly the same weight, but because they are minted using a different technique, they are different in thickness and diameter. The Clips are very different. The Era 1 Clip is thin and wide while the Era 2 Clip is ultra-thick, twice as heavy, and narrower. I think this choice especially relates to the idea of bounty that exists in Era 2, that the new Clip would use much more metal than the previous one. On the art, we usually create our designs in house for a variety of reasons: we know how to design for coins, we do our own research, we often design for coins and understand that specific process, it takes less time, or no one else wants to do it. With this project, the art was created by Isaac Stewart and Ben McSweeney who have both created lots of art in the Cosmere universe before. So overall there were more intentional choices since there had been so much thought about what the coins look and feel like before we got to the final products.
If resources weren’t an issue, what object would you most like to create from the Mistborn universe?
For me, the glass daggers. Tom made knives and swords before he started making coins. It would feel like a cool throwback to that part of his career, though obsidian would be a totally different beast to worked with compared to steel.
Coins are fairly prominent in the Mistborn world (especially in the first trilogy); did their prominence change how you went about creating them? Did it make it easier or more difficult?
Easier, absolutely. Most of the coins we make are not known objects in the books, we imagine they would look like. When designing those, we have to make lots of creative decisions based on lore, characters, world resources, and throwbacks to real world analog coins. With Mistborn, it was so much simpler, so we could focus on the really subtle details and making those shine.
The Kickstarter filled up fast, so there is obviously a lot of interest in this project. What do you think is so appealing about objects like these coins to fans?
I’ve thought a lot about this lately. We didn’t expect the campaign to take off quite this much, though I knew there was going to be a positive response after judging my own excitement about these coins. My new favorite Shire Post Mint coin is the Era 1 Boxing. We’ve made over 200 amazing coins, so I don’t say that lightly. The engraving of Kredik Shaw is truly a masterpiece and it feels so satisfying to hold.
The Era 1 boxing. I agree, it's just amazing.
Some reasons are:
1) The coins are in the books! I think fans have been imagining these coins for years whether they realized or not. We’ve learned over the years that a coin is specifically mentioned, fans are going to pay attention and be more interested (like Vin and Kelsier’s flattened Clip for example – lots of fans have asked for this).
2) It’s an immersive and expansive collectible. This is different than a referential collectible like a shirt or a mug. It comes from the world and expands it instead of simply referencing it and using art you’ve already seen.
3) Everybody knows and loves coins. Coins are one of the few objects that transcend language, culture, and geography. There is so much meaning and information wrapped up in every coin like who or what is depicted, the art styles, the weight and feel, what the metal is, etc. Most people that I talk to had a coin collection at some point in their life.
4) Cosmere fans in general. You’d think that since we make stuff for big fandoms like A Game of Thrones and The Lord of the Rings that we are used to ravenous fans. In a way we are, but fans have never engaged with us and given such positive feedback before. Brandon’s worlds and the fans around them are truly something special.
Where did the idea with sending some coins to space come from?
We’ve done one previous space flight with Earth to Sky Calculus, with ten Iron Coins of the Faceless Man. It’s a really cool organization that uses these sponsored balloon flights to do research with students to measure solar radiation levels in the upper atmosphere. They recently flew 11 different weather balloons across the US to document the moon’s shadow on Earth during the recent solar eclipse. So they were on my mind while building the Kickstarter and a lightbulb just kinda clicked. Then Dylan said level could be called the Cosmerenaut and we were like “we gotta do it.” After that, we were able to bring Wyrmwood Gaming into the project to create the fantastic Bolivian Rosewood display boxes and Brandon was able to sign the certificates of authenticity amidst all of his upcoming Oathbreaker release duties. It all just worked perfectly.
Would you be interested in teaming up with a glass smelter to create Rosharan currency?
YES. We have ideas about what those would look and feel like, but finding the right smelters for the job is going to be tough since we’re picky. Recommendations are welcome
Edited by Chaos