The Franklin Mint

International Directory of Company Histories, Volume 69 (1998) by Ed Dinger

The Franklin Mint

U.S. Route 1 Franklin Center, Pennsylvania 19091 U.S.A. Telephone: (610) 459-6000 Fax: (610) 459-6880 Web site: http://www.franklinmint.com

Wholly Owned Subsidiary of Roll International Corporation Incorporated: 1964 as General Numismatics Corporation NAIC: 327112 Vitreous China, Fine Earthenware and Other Pottery Product Manufacturing; 339911 Jewelry (Including Precious Metal) Manufacturing; 339914 Costume Jewelry and Novelty Manufacturing

The Franklin Mint is a subsidiary of Roll International Corporation, owned by Stewart and Lynda Resnick, and based in Franklin Center, Pennsylvania, a Philadelphia suburb. Although it portrays itself as a company devoted to producing quality one-of-a-kind art objects, to many The Franklin Mint is little more than a mass purveyor of kitsch. Nevertheless, the company is a pioneer of the collectibles industry, starting with coins, which the company minted itself, and branching out to include such items as limited edition paintings and books, commemorative plates, figurines, celebrity likeness dolls, jewelry, seasonal giftware, and die-cast model airplanes and automobiles. But as the collectibles industry has faltered with the rise of the Internet and the emergence of Ebay, The Franklin Mint has steadily lost business, forcing a major restructuring. The company now concentrates on its die-cast automobile and airplane models and Harley-Davidson motorcycle branded items, although it continues to offer dolls, jewelry, and a variety of gift items.

Company Founder: 1940s Whiz Kid Entrepreneur

The Franklin Mint was founded by Joseph M. Segel, a legendary entrepreneur, who launched a number of businesses in his career, including the QVC television shopping channel. He was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1931. When he was 13 he started a printing business and in 1947, at the age of 16, he entered the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business to major in accounting. As an underaged graduate student he also taught marketing classes at Wharton, while earning money on the side by selling promotional items, such as postcards with messages written in invisible ink. The recipient had to dip the card in water in order to reveal the message. It was a brilliant marketing gimmick, inducing the target to invest time by creating a desire to read the promotion. Because it was difficult to find a company to make the postcards, Segel compiled a list of suppliers as well as promotional products. In 1950 he published the Advertising Specialty Directory and launched a company he called the Advertising Specialty Institute. He ran the business until selling it in the early 1960s.

Segel's inspiration for creating The Franklin Mint was the result of the cross-pollination of two events. On March 25, 1964, the U.S. Treasury ceased to sell silver dollars, a decision that led to long lines of people at the Treasury building eager to buy the remaining silver dollars, and packs of photographers taking pictures of them for the newspapers and magazines, including Time , which published a photograph that caught Segel's attention. He was already very much aware that as silver coins became scarce there was a growing number of people interested in collecting them. He sensed a business opportunity, which would come to fruition after another event took place that received widespread media attention that year: the funeral of General Douglas MacArthur. As Segel explained to Direct Marketing in 1988, "My idea was to issue a series of solid sterling silver medals, a little larger than the silver dollar, of the highest quality of limited edition and each designed by a different famous sculptor." The first coin was to commemorate General MacArthur.

Starting a Private Mint in the Mid-1960s

Segel sold his initial "coins" for $6.50, and although the Society members were satisfied with the quality, he was far from pleased. He had promised to produce proof-quality coins, but such coins featured a reflective background and a satin or frosted finish on the area in relief. Even the U.S. mint had difficulty in striking such quality coins, making them a rarity that collectors call a "gem proof" or "frosted proof." To complicate the matter, Segel wanted to strike larger coins, the size of a British crown, but they required stronger dies to withstand the required pressure. Unfortunately, tougher dies led to reduced surface quality. Segel tried two different companies, but neither could meet his high standards. That is when he decided to start his own private mint. He approached Gilroy Roberts, the chief sculptor-engraver of the U.S. Mint, who was about to retire, and convinced him to join him in the venture. Roberts agreed, and in late 1964 they established General Numismatics Corporation, with Segel serving as president and Roberts as chairman. Roberts soon solved the problem in producing large proof-quality coins by employing different alloys in the die. The business changed its name to The Franklin Mint in 1965, and what started with a $10,000 investment now earned $10,000 in profits each month. Segel took The Franklin Mint public in 1965 and completed a $4 million initial offering of stock. Although scoffed at in the beginning, the private mint soon had experts from around the world paying visits to learn how it produced such quality proofs.

 

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