By Louis Golino for Coin Week
Ola Borgejordet is the founder and owner of Royal Scandinavian Mint (http://www.rsmint.com), a Salt Lake City, Utah company that specializes in modern world coins from almost 50 countries. It is the official North American representative for the Mints of Norway, Finland, Denmark, Sweden, and Iceland.
RSM carries the full range of modern European issues like the 2 euro coins and silver and gold commemoratives from eurozone countries as well as coins from the Commonwealth countries, non-European Union countries in Europe, and the rest of the world.
Collectors of American coins who are not very familiar with modern world issues, or who have mainly seen bullion coins such as the Canadian Maple Leafs and Chinese Pandas, may not be aware of how many interesting coins are issued overseas. Many of them use innovative minting techniques such as color pad printing and have a level of artistic excellence that is quite impressive. A lot of these coins are miniature works of art. Some of them have very low mintages as well and are hard to find.
I recently had the chance to interview Mr. Borgejordet , who was kind enough to provide detailed responses to my questions about his company, modern world coins, and the market for world coins in the U.S.
1.) I know that prior to establishing RSM you worked for the Norwegian Mint in the export section I believe.
“After working in advertising (copywriter), software development for Word Perfect (localization specialist), and transportation services for DHL (marketing communications manager), I was offered a job as Export Manager for the (then) Royal Norwegian Mint (now Mint of Norway) in 1996. Like most mints in the 1990's, the Mint of Norway was faced with shrinking production of coins for the local market and excess production capacity that needed to be filled.”
“My job was basically to fill the down periods in domestic production with overseas orders. There are approximately 220 countries in the world and only 80 or so have their own mint, so the job was to travel around the world and meet with government officials, and then participate in international tenders. It was a tough job for a small mint competing not only with the British, Canadian and French mints, but also with medium sized ones such as Finland, Holland, Spain etc. After four years traveling the world in a suitcase, I had had enough and was ready to move on.”
2.) What led you to create RSM?
“The impetus for starting RSM was to find a job where I could utilize all of the contacts and knowledge that I had gained from working for the Mint of Norway. In those days Royal Norwegian Mint also represented the Royal Mints of Sweden and Denmark in the export markets - thereby the name Royal Scandinavian Mint - so a deal was struck where RSM serviced customers in North America on behalf of the Mint of Norway. The company was started on May 5, 2000.”
“Before I started RSM I also actually was paid and hired by the Salt Lake Olympic Committee to develop an Olympic coin program for Salt Lake 2002, which was never implemented. Warned by the excesses of the Atlanta 1996 coin program, the politicians were scared to death of anything that could be traced back to their voting, so they went really safe and predictable instead of with my plan. I am still certain that my plan was better.”
3.) Are you a coin collector as well as a dealer?
“I am not a traditional coin collector, but my father was very active and had a good collection of both Swedish and Norwegian coins that must have influenced me some way or another. After his passing, I now have the Swedish collection (my brother has the Norwegian coins) and I have slowly started to develop it further. I thoroughly enjoy and keep some modern coins that appeal to me, most of which have spectacular designs. I guess in short that I enjoy modern coins as works of art instead of payment mechanisms or part of a series. Knowing the technical side of coin production it always fascinates me when I see a coin that is both beautifully designed and simultaneously very difficult to manufacture.”
4.) I know from being a satisfied customer of your company for years that you work hard to build good relations with your customers and provide very useful information on upcoming releases. How would you summarize your business philosophy?
“I guess the short version is that RSM should be a company that we ourselves would like to do business with. Because of this, we focus on the collector and don't do hard sell promotions where we promise great return on investment, we seek to offer the most complete range of modern coins, we strive to be the most affordable supplier in the market by cutting costs and keeping things small, and we offer no-questions-asked returns and price matching within 30 days of purchase. We try to present our offers in as objective light as possible, with as much available information as we can find.”
“This doesn't mean that we will not advise our customers to strike fast if it is at all warranted. Sometimes this is just good advice. We are also a risk-averse company that chooses to grow slowly and maintain a solid customer base instead of always chasing new customers through expensive promotions.”
5.) Your company is clearly a major retailer of world coins. Are you the largest world coin dealer in North America? How would you say RSM differs from Talisman and Downies, which would appear to be your main competitors. Do you have a lot of customers outside of North America?
“Well, there are very few North American dealers that actually offer the same range of coins as RSM nowadays. Eurocollections used to, but since their sale to Downie's, and subsequent move to Australia, their focus has changed a lot. I am not in touch with the other dealers much, so I don't know how we stack up size-wise, but I have a hard time thinking that we are even in the top 10 when it comes to size in North America. But remember that RSM is the only company that solely does modern coins, whereas the other dealers also do older issues, ancients, auctions etc. In addition, RSM does 95% of its marketing online, compared to the other dealers that focus more on catalogs and mail order. We have a much more narrow focus as a part of keeping it simple and small. Currently approximately 20% of our shipments go to other countries, with the main export markets now being China, South Korea and Japan.”
6.) How do you see the market for world coins in North America? Would you say demand is strong for European and world issues in the U.S.?
"In the late 1990's, a survey estimated that 50,000 US collectors would be interested in buying one or more international coins per year. At that time the US Mint had maybe 2 million people on its mailing list, so there would be about 3% of US collectors that we can consider our potential market. Because of the introduction of the euro, this number might have increased slightly but has clearly fallen off from 2002 till today. There will always be a segment of the US collector base that will want to collect foreign coins. However, this segment is not very likely to increase because of the rise in the price of coins due to precious metals and expensive foreign currencies. The younger collectors are being left out because they can't afford to start or complete their collections, and older collector's are certainly not reproducing themselves - in fact, just the opposite."
"Coins that focus on a country's history and that can be linked to US history will always be in demand. But they must also have great designs. We have seen many good coin issues falter because their designs do not appeal to the US collector, or they are not specific enough to the theme or topic of the issue. There is also a recent trend that really well-designed coins sell better than others, even if the country of issue is not in the eurozone, and that eurozone countries sometimes don't sell because the designs are poor. I guess it means that the consumer is getting pickier with increases in price, which I think is a good thing. The mints should listen and focus more on coin design."
This interview will be continued in part two, which covers issues such as whether "hot coins" will hold their value over time, coins that have especially appealing designs, and other topics.
Louis Golino is a coin collector and numismatic writer, whose articles on coins have appeared in Coin World, Numismatic News, and a number of different coin web sites. His column for Coin Week, “The Coin Analyst,” covers U.S. and world coins and precious metals. He collects U.S. and European coins and is a member of the ANA, PCGS, NGC, and CAC. He has also worked for the U.S. Library of Congress and has been a syndicated columnist and news analyst on international affairs for a wide variety of newspapers and web sites.