A brief history of Canada’s coinage, and some advice for collectors

A brief history of Canada’s coinage, and some advice for collectors

100 Largest Canadian Coins and Tokens, by Dr. Harvey B. Richer, is available now. Move the mouse pointer to zoom.

dr Harvey B. Richer’s New Whitman Publishing Book, 100 Largest Canadian Coins and Tokens, premiered this summer at the Royal Canadian Numismatic Association’s 2022 Convention in Ottawa. It debuted in the United States a few weeks later at the American Numismatic Association’s World’s Fair of Money in Chicago. Now the 160-page hardcover illustrated book is available in bookstores and hobby shops nationwide, as well as online. Here is Dr. Richer provides a brief history of Canadian coinage and recommends some resources for further study.

dr Richer is Professor of Physics and Astronomy at the University of British Columbia and also a published numismatist.

Long before the arrival of the Europeans, the indigenous peoples of North America traded every available commodity: animal skins, corn, fish, and pearls. With the arrival of Europeans, a desire arose to make this process more formal. With currency of any kind generally unavailable, wampum (commonly a belt made of shells) became the most popular medium of exchange in early 17th-century Canada. Animal skins (particularly beavers) later supplanted belts, as did crude copper coins imported from France and later England. But there were never enough species of this species for widespread trade, so local solutions were developed. In French Canada in the late 16th century, one of the most ingenious of these was “playing card money”: cut up playing cards used as a medium of exchange. This proved extremely popular and was used in one form or another for almost a hundred years.

By 1763, Britain controlled a vast territory in North America, stretching from what is now the Maritime Provinces to the eastern edge of the prairies. This vast region was not well endowed with coins for trade. A veritable United Nations coinage was in circulation: British, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Dutch. Switching from one variety to another was a nightmare, and the valuation of goods in the various media depended heavily on who was buying and who was selling.

100 Largest Canadian Coins and Tokens contains some surprising and unusual coins, such as French playing cards.

This led to an abundance of private trademarks, generally made of copper or brass. But success here led to abuse, with the metallic value of these mostly one-and-a-half cent tokens declining over time. This eventually led to Britain establishing a currency system in the Province of Canada, formed in 1841 by the merger of the colonies of Upper Canada and Lower Canada (Ontario and Quebec). The British sovereign, the US $10 gold coin (the eagle), and the US and Spanish silver dollars became legal tender in the province of Canada.

Finally, in 1858, the Province of Canada acquired its own coinage, minted in London by Britain’s Royal Mint. This issue consisted of a one cent coin in copper and five, ten and twenty cent issues in silver. By the 1860s, both Nova Scotia (for which only copper coins were produced in England) and New Brunswick (both copper and silver coins) had their own distinctive coinage. In 1867, the Dominion of Canada was established when the province of Canada (future provinces of Quebec and Ontario) joined with New Brunswick and Nova Scotia in a confederation.

Coins for Canada were minted regularly from 1870 onwards. The 20 cent piece was dropped and replaced with a 25 cent coin and a 50 cent coin introduced the same year. Manitoba joined the Confederacy in 1870, British Columbia in 1871, and Prince Edward Island in 1873. Of the last three, only Prince Edward Island had official mint before joining the Confederacy. British Columbia produced a secret gold coin in 1862, but it was rejected by Britain.

The province of Canada, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, British Columbia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and the Dominion of Canada are all represented in the top 100.

From a coinage perspective, Canada came of age in 1908 when Ottawa established its own mint. In the same year she minted her first gold coin, a sovereign dated 1908 with an identical design to the British sovereign. The Canadian Mint was distinguished from British and other Commonwealth sovereigns by the presence of a small “C” mintmark on the reverse.

The first genuine Canadian gold coins with distinctive Canadian symbols appeared in 1912 and were minted only until 1914. The onset of World War I limited their production and circulation, and no more distinctive Canadian gold coin was ever made in circulation. Sovereigns were minted until 1919.

In 1935 the first silver dollars were minted, serving a dual purpose as Canada’s first crown-sized circulating silver coin and also as the first commemorative coin to celebrate King George V’s Silver Jubilee the back was completely redesigned and a loon became its dominant image.

Kenneth Bressett, editor emeritus of the Guide to United States Coinsand Emily S. Damstra, a prolific designer of modern Canadian coinage, both wrote forewords to 100 Greatest Canadian Coins and Tokens.

Advice for collectors of Canadian coins and tokens

If you want a reference book on Canadian coins, this is my recommendation A Guide to Canadian Coins and Tokens, by James A. Haxby. This has practically everything both a casual and serious collector could want in terms of history, coin design, mintage and prices. A similarly useful guide is A Charlton Standard Catalogue, Canadian Coins by WK Cross. In preparing my latest book, I consulted both works extensively, 100 Largest Canadian Coins and Tokens.

During the 100 greatest In the book I refer to various auction companies, catalogues, grading services and compilations of Canadian coins. What follows is a listing of these very useful resources. This is not intended to be a complete compilation, but rather a quick guide to those that have been used the most 100 Largest Canadian Coins and Tokens.

Geoff Bell Auctions: 1141 Main Street, Moncton, New Brunswick E1C 1H8, Canada.

Bowers and Merena: Auctions by Bowers and Merena, Inc., Box 1224, Wolfboro, NH 03894 (no longer in business).

Bowman: Fred Bowman, Canadian Patterns (Ottawa: Canadian Numismatic Association, 1957). There are 43 entries in this little booklet, with almost every listing accompanied by a rough sketch. Virtually every known Canadian pattern is included here. out of stock

Breton: PN Breton, Illustrated History of Coins and Tokens Relating to Canada (Montreal: PN Breton and Company, 1893). A comprehensive catalog of Canadian coins and tokens by year of issue. A simple sketch of each entry is included, and rarity information is provided. out of stock

Canadian Numismatic Journal: The official publication of the Royal Canadian Numismatic Association, the Canadian Numismatic Journal is published eight times a year and contains original articles on Canadian and world numismatics. It’s free for members.

Charlton: M. Drake, A Charlton Standard Catalogue, Canadian Coins, vol. 1, Numismatic Editions, 74th ed. (Toronto, ON: Charlton Press, 2021). If a collector wants a small but almost complete reference library on Canadian coins, put this and the Haxby book (below) on your shelf. A unique aspect of the Charlton catalogs is that they include the often cited “Charlton numbers” – a reference to pattern and pattern coins. NS-4 is one such example (NS for Nova Scotia and 4 refers to an 1861 bronze one-cent specimen – this coin is an entry in Chapter 2 of 100 Largest Canadian Coins and Tokens). The Charlton catalog also cross-references Bowman numbers (see above).

Cornerstone: The Cornerstone Collection, 2019, Fixed Price Catalog from Proof Positive Coins, Box 369, 404 Shore Road, Baddeck, Nova Scotia B0E 1B0, Canada.

Haxby: James A. Haxby, A Guide Book of Canadian Coins and Tokens, 1st ed. (Atlanta: Whitman Publishing, 2012). If a collector just wants a very small but comprehensive library of Canadian coins, this book, along with the Charlton Standard Catalog (above), is the right choice.

Heaton Mint: James O. Sweeny, A Numismatic History of the Birmingham Mint (Birmingham: The Birmingham Mint Ltd., 1981).

Heritage: Heritage Auctions, 2801 W. Airport Freeway, Dallas, Texas 75261-4127.

ICCS: International Coin Certification Service, 2010 Yonge Street, Suite 202, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4S 1Z9. A Canadian coin and token certification company that grades and authenticates Canadian, UK, US and other coins from around the world.

McLachlan: RW McLachlan, A Descriptive Catalog of Coins, Tokens, and Medals Relating to the Dominion of Canada and Newfoundland (Montreal: privately printed for the author, 1886). A very important early compilation. out of stock

NGC: NGC Population Report. Vital statistics for all Canadian coins. Of paramount importance in deciding the rarity and value of coins and tokens.

Newman Portal: Newman Numismatic Portal (funded by the Eric P. Newman Numismatic Education Society), Washington University, St. Louis, MO. An invaluable online resource. Many obscure catalogs can be obtained through this portal.

PCGS: PCGS Population Report. Provides vital statistics for all Canadian coins and many tokens. Of paramount importance in deciding the rarity and value of coins and tokens.

Richer: Harvey B. Richer, The Gold Coins of Newfoundland (Portugal Cove–St Philip’s, NL: Boulder Publications, 2017).

Stack’s Bowers: Stack’s Bowers Rare Coin Galleries, 470 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10022.

TCNC: The Canadian Numismatic Company, 5220 1re Av., Quebec City, Quebec G1H 2V2, Canada.

Turner: Rob Turner, Dies and Tiaras: A Die Tracker’s Guide to the Victorian Cents of Canada (2009).

Turner: Rob Turner, Past, and Nearly Perfect: The Patterns, Trial, Proof, and Specimen Large Cents of Canada (Markham, ON: Royal Canadian Numismatic Association, 2020).

100 largest Canadian coins and brands

By Harvey B. Richer; Forewords by Kenneth Bressett and Emily S. Damstra.

ISBN 794849830. Hardcover, 10 x 12 inches, 160 pages, colored.

Retail $34.95

About Whitman Publishing

Whitman Publishing is the world’s leading manufacturer of numismatic reference books, accessories and products for the presentation and storage of coins and paper money. The company’s quality books educate readers about the rich, colorful history of American and world coinage and currency, and how to build great collections. Archival-quality Whitman folders, albums, cases and other holders keep collectibles safe and easy to show off to friends and family.

Whitman Publishing is the official supplier of the American Numismatic Association. As a benefit of ANA membership, members can borrow money 100 Largest Canadian Coins and Tokens (and other Whitman books) free from the Association’s Dwight N. Manley Numismatic Library and also receive a 10% discount on all Whitman purchases. See www.money.org for details.

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