Members of a Birmingham family active in the Jewellery Quarter gold trade since 1760 are hoping to raise £25 million when they float their Liberian gold-mining offshoot this month.
Independent experts have vouched that Hockley-based exploration firm Hummingbird Resources, part of the historic bullion firm Stephen Betts Group, is sitting on potential gold resources which could be worth more than $1 billion in the West African country.
The firm is the biggest holder of licences in untapped areas of the jungle in eastern Liberia, part of a geological zone which makes up one of the richest gold mining areas in the world. It is now planning to list on AIM to raise capital for further exploration on December 10, and the flotation is set to value the firm at at least £77 million.
Hummingbird Resources was founded in 2005 when Stephen Betts, through his gold industry contacts, was approached by Liberian politicians to sell gold mining licences.
His son Daniel, a former management consultant who is now Hummingbird’s managing director, said when they started out they intended to sell the licences on to big mining firms – but nobody was interested because of the political situation in the country which was recovering from civil war.
“I phoned up a few and they all thought we were mad,” he said. “So we raised a bit of seed capital, got a geologist and did it ourselves.
“We started at absolutely ground zero – we built 100 km of roads, three field camps, took 25,000 samples and for some of those samples you have to walk 12 hours through the jungle.
“We’ve drilled our most advanced project where we’ve got a resource of over $1 billion of gold so it’s pretty exciting really.”
Hummingbird Resources has assembled an experienced board, including chairman Ian Cockerill, ex-chief executive of Anglo Coal and Gold Fields, as well as Hummingbird Resources’ co-founder Matthew Idiens, who is also a director of AIM-listed VANE Minerals. The Betts family traces its trading history in Birmingham back for nine generations and two and a half centuries to the founding of the family firm by Alexander Betts in 1760. Nowadays it is a large group, with Stephen Betts & Sons carrying on the original activities of smelting and refining precious metals, whereas Betts Metal Sales supplies precious metal to the jewellery trade.
Mr Betts said the company’s inexperience in gold exploration when it first took on the mining licences five years ago ended up working in its favour.
“When we started the civil war had just ended and Liberia was a basket case,” he said.
“But it’s rated the most improved country in Africa in some league tables, and the fact that the gold price has gone from $300 to $1400 dollars is lucky – there are lots of things that are conspiring in our favour.
“We just got out there and did the work.
“The Birimian Shield is the second biggest gold producing region on the planet and the only bit never to have been explored is this area in eastern Liberia, as it wasn’t explored during the war.
“It just took some mad people to go and explore it. From being in gold for 250 years to doing this I don’t think anyone from the Quarter has ever done it.”