A lifelong passion [Coin News, December 2009, Page 36]
Coin News writes a profile on Brett Hammond of TimeLine Originals
BRETT HAMMOND, the founder of TimeLine, is a man with a passion for history. He talks to JOHN ANDREW
TimeLine is an intriguing name. You will have seen the company's adverts in these pages, but may like to know more about the business and the man behind it. His name is Brett Hammond and I asked him how he was drawn to the numismatic world.
"Growing up in east London in the sixties, I got the collecting bug early on", he told me. "I cannot remember a time when I was not collecting something - fossils, matchbox covers, mineral samples, stamps and coins - anything I could find. Cap badges from British regiments in the First World War were one subject that I explored thoroughly in my adolescent years. For a youngster with limited means, the late sixties were a particularly good time for coin collecting, because the planned changeover to decimalisation in 1971 meant that certain of the £sd coins would vanish. Indeed, the halfpenny was demonetised in August 1969 and the halfcrown in the January of the following year. The 1d and 3d were phased out from the changeover day - February 14th 1971."
"My father, who worked in London's Smithfield market, began setting aside the pre-decimal coinage which was still circulating." Being naturally curious and historically minded even then, Brett became fascinated with the older types of coin and asked family members to help him build his collection. But his interest really took off when he left college.
"I started work in the GPO, as it was then known, and was a technical officer in the world-famous Post Office Tower. For years, I used my lunch breaks to visit all the coin dealers in the City and West End, developing relationships with the owners and picking up tips about what to look for, how to judge the condition, how to spot fakes ... all skills which would stand me in good stead in later years". He continued, "I also began exploring coin collecting as social and political history: especially the early English hammered coinage that circulated from the times of the earliest Anglo-Saxon kings right through to the introduction of milled coinage. Every coin was a tangible link with the past, but it was totally accessible - I could hold in my hands a coin which had been made by a craftsman in the time of Alfred or Stephen or Richard III."
So how did a hobby become a business? "I had been buying and selling in a small way for years," Brett explained. "Using the proceeds from selling a few lower-value coins to buy something a little better. I began to spot trading opportunities, matching supply with demand, and I took full advantage of them. To tell the truth, I loved handling coins and antiquities so much I knew it was what I wanted to do full-time, and I had to find a way to make it happen."
A period of turmoil in his personal life gave him the impetus to change direction. "At that time, only the major names issued illustrated catalogues and most coin dealers had lists of customers and sent out a typed, photocopied list of their stock every month. When photographs were included, they were usually so badly distorted in the photocopying process that they were useless. It seemed to me that there had to be a better way of doing things, and my telecoms experience pointed me towards electronic delivery."
"The internet was a relatively new phenomenon for private individuals back then, but I could see the potential - a shop that is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to customers anywhere in the world." He realised presentation would be the key, so as to compete with the glossy brochures and printed catalogues of the mainstream dealers and auction houses. "In those days, dial-up connections were still normal and image sizes had to be kept low. I decided to invest in a professionally designed website with a working shopping basket system offering credit card payment options."
"Images were pretty murky by today's standards", he admits, "but it was a quantum leap from printed A4 sheets of paper with no pictures at all. Now anyone, anywhere in the world, could browse through our shop, see the pictures and read about the details of condition, mint, moneyer and other relevant information, reserve it and pay for it with just a few mouse clicks. It was a revolution in the way people would shop for coins, stamps, antiquities, anything collectable where visual appeal was paramount."
Brett runs TimeLine from west Essex with a small, enthusiastic team. Has he never been tempted into opening retail business premises? "No, that has never appealed to me. The internet is a better shop window than any physical site, and it's in every home with a phone-line. I attend a few shows and coin fairs where I meet friends and contacts from across the country and I enjoy that side of the business, but running a shop or gallery holds no appeal for me. As a departure, I'll soon be operating TimeLine Auctions with Chris Wren," Brett, revealed. "This will give me more opportunities to meet collectors."
"I still get a tremendous buzz out of handling coins and antiquities" Brett says "and I don"t think that will ever change. It's been a lifelong passion which I am lucky enough to have made my living." Lucky he maybe, but he is also passionate, dedicated and determined too.
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