By Ron Drzewucki – Modern Coin Wholesale …..
Johnson Matthey is a British multinational chemical company that started out as a well-known and respected precious metals refinery business. Over the course of two hundred years they’ve expanded their business into the industrial and pharmaceutical chemical fields, as well the production of catalytic converters, fuel cells and batteries. In recent decades, the company has made a concerted effort to become an environmentally sustainable company and develop environmentally-friendly technologies.
Percival Norton Johnson, Assayer
In 1817, one Percival Norton Johnson established himself as a gold assayer in London after having learned the family business under his father. Over the next few years, Johnson’s reputation and success attracted a variety of partners to join the business. Finally, in 1851, a stock broker’s son (and apprentice at the business since 1838) by the name of George Matthey became a partner, and the company’s name was changed to Johnson & Matthey.
The next year, Johnson & Matthey became the official assayer and refiner of gold and silver to the Bank of England. You know, totally not a big deal… just the company that makes bullion for the bank at the heart of the most powerful empire in the world.
Johnson retired in 1860 but the company lived on.
Through the rest of the 19th century, Johnson Matthey expanded throughout Great Britain’s domains around the world. Expansion continued all throughout the 20th century, which also saw the company move into different fields, such as fine chemicals and pharmaceuticals. It joined the London Stock Exchange in 1942.
In 1974, Johnson Matthey designed an award-winning catalytic converter for automobiles. This use of chemicals and precious metals to help the environment continues to be a productive line of work for the company to this day.
In the 1960s, Johnson Matthey formed a subsidiary named Johnson Matthey Bankers (JMB), which obtained a seat on the London Gold Fixing (read my previous profiles to learn about the Gold Fixing). By the 1980s, however, JMB had made too many risky and increasingly suspicious loans, so in 1984 the Bank of England itself bought JMB in order to maintain global confidence in the entities making up the London Gold Fixing.
JMB was sold and renamed a couple years later.
Over the last couple decades, the company’s industrial side has worked on developing sustainable fuel cell and battery technologies. Johnson Matthey’s environmental work has actually become one of its main priorities. Case in point: when a subsidiary plant in Salt Lake City was found in violation of the U.S. Clean Water Act, they owned up to the violation, paid a $750,000 fine and agreed to a multi-year probation of sorts working with the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA.
I don’t know what happened, necessarily, but I can only assume that a multinational corporation in this day and age could’ve decided to draw it out in court indefinitely–especially against the much-maligned “government regulation”–or pack up and leave if they wanted. So kudos to them.
Precious Metals and JM Bars
But the refinery, recycling and production of precious metals and bullion has always been one of if not always the main focus of Johnson Matthey over the centuries.
On the bullion side, the company has worked with gold, silver, platinum, palladium, rhodium, iridium and ruthenium. It produced gold and silver bars of 99.9% purity weighing one, 10 and 100 troy ounces. Each bar bears a stamp with the initials “JM” next to a pair of crossed hammers. Also inscribed on each bar is the number of troy ounces and often a serial number. One and 10 ounce bars came wrapped in plastic, while the 100 oz bar did not.
And while JM bars have always been well-respected on the bullion and investment markets, the company stopped producing its own bars in the 1980s. Though certainly this only increased the value of Johnson Matthey’s silver and gold bars.
However, a Dallas-based company began minting bars bearing the company’s insignia in 2012, and limited-edition 10 oz silver bars were minted last year.
Japanese chemical firm Asahi Holdings bought Johnson Matthey’s precious metals division in December 2014 for $186 million. The deal was finalized in March of this year.
So as far as bullion goes, Johnson Matthey and JM bars enjoy a reputation for excellence matched by few in the industry on a global scale. In a couple years, the company will celebrate its 200th anniversary, and I’ll definitely keep an eye out for any new commemorative bullion or precious metal products they might release.
Until then, the company’s gold and silver bullion – last produced on scale over 30 years ago – is always in demand. Investors and collectors alike know the value of JM bars and precious metal products refined and assayed by Johnson Matthey.
UPDATE, 12-7-15: A previous version of the article stated that George Matthey was a stock broker before he became a partner in Johnson Matthey. In fact, it was his father John Matthey who was a stock broker; George himself had been working for the firm for 13 years–starting as an apprentice–when he became a partner. We regret the confusion.