Dr. Harvey B. Richer’s new Whitman Publishing book, 100 Greatest Canadian Coins and Tokens, premiered this summer at the 2022 convention of the Royal Canadian Numismatic Association in Ottawa. It debuted in the United States a few weeks later at the American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of Money in Chicago. Now the 160-page hardcover coffee-table volume is available from bookstores and hobby shops nationwide, and online. Here, Dr. Richer gives a brief history of Canadian coinage, and recommends some resources for further study.
Long before the arrival of Europeans, the Indigenous population of North America carried out trade using whatever commodities were available: Animal pelts, corn, fish, and beads. With the arrival of Europeans, there was a desire to make this process more formal. Since currency of any sort was generally unavailable, wampum (generally belts of shells) became the most popular medium of exchange in early-seventeenth-century Canada. Animal skins (particularly beaver) later displaced the belts, as did crude copper tokens imported from France and later England. But there was never enough specie of this sort for extensive commerce, so local solutions were devised. In French Canada in the late 1600s, one of the most ingenious of these was “playing-card money”: Cut-up playing cards used as a medium of exchange. This proved to be extremely popular and was employed 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 enormous region was not well provided with coinage for carrying out trade. A veritable United Nations of coinage circulated: British, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Dutch. Making the change from one variety to another was a nightmare, and the valuation of goods in the various media was highly dependent on who was buying and who was selling.
This gave rise to a plethora of private merchant tokens, generally in copper or brass. But success here led to abuse, with the metallic value of these largely one- and half penny tokens declining with time. This eventually led Britain to establish a monetary system in the Province of Canada, which had been formed in 1841 with the merger of the colonies of Upper Canada and Lower Canada (Ontario and Quebec). The British sovereign, the U.S. gold $10 coin (the eagle), and the U.S. and Spanish silver dollars were made legal tender in the Province of Canada.
In 1858 the Province of Canada finally acquired her own coinage, minted in London by the British Royal Mint. This issue consisted of a one-cent coin in copper and five-, ten-, and twenty-cent emissions in silver. In the 1860s, both Nova Scotia (with only copper coins produced for it 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 (the future provinces of Quebec and Ontario) joined with New Brunswick and Nova Scotia in Confederation.
Beginning in 1870, coinage was regularly struck for Canada. The twenty-cent piece was dropped and replaced by a twenty-five-cent coin and a fifty-cent coin introduced in the same year. Manitoba joined Confederation in 1870, British Columbia in 1871, and Prince Edward Island in 1873. Of the latter three, only Prince Edward Island had an official coinage before joining Confederation. British Columbia produced a clandestine gold coinage in 1862, but it was rejected by Britain.
From a coinage perspective, Canada came of age in 1908 when its own mint was established in Ottawa. In the same year it struck its first gold coin, a 1908-dated sovereign with the identical design as the British sovereign. The Canadian coin was distinguished from the British and other Commonwealth sovereigns by the presence of a small “C” mintmark on the reverse.
The first true Canadian gold coins, containing distinctive Canadian symbols, appeared in 1912 and were minted only until 1914. The onset of the First World War limited their production and distribution, and a distinctive Canadian circulating gold coinage was never again produced. Sovereigns continued to be minted until 1919.
In 1935 the first silver dollars were struck, serving a dual purpose as Canada’s first circulating silver crown-sized coin and also its first commemorative coin, celebrating the Silver Jubilee of King George V. The reverse featured the beloved “voyageur” design, which was used until 1987, when the reverse was completely redesigned and a loon became its dominant image.
Advice for Collectors of Canadian Coins and Tokens
If you desire a reference book on Canadian coins, my recommendation is A Guide Book of Canadian Coins and Tokens, by James A. Haxby. This has virtually everything both a casual and a serious collector could desire in terms of history, coinage design, mintages, and pricing. A similarly useful guide is A Charlton Standard Catalogue, Canadian Coins by W.K. Cross. I consulted both works extensively in preparing my latest book, 100 Greatest Canadian Coins and Tokens.
Throughout the 100 Greatest book, I refer to various auction companies, catalogs, grading services, and compilations of Canadian coins. What follows here is a listing of these very useful sources. This is not meant to be a complete compilation but consists of a quick guide to those that were used most frequently in 100 Greatest 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 small pamphlet, with almost every listing accompanied by a rough sketch. Virtually every known Canadian pattern is included here. Out of print.
Breton: P.N. Breton, Illustrated History of Coins and Tokens Relating to Canada (Montreal: P.N. Breton and Company, 1893). A comprehensive catalog of Canadian coins and tokens up to the year of publication. A simple sketch of each entry is included and rarity information provided. Out of print.
Canadian Numismatic Journal: The Canadian Numismatic Journal, the official publication of the Royal Canadian Numismatic Association, is published eight times per year and contains original articles on Canadian and world numismatics. It is free to members.
Charlton: M. Drake, A Charlton Standard Catalogue, Canadian Coins, vol. 1, Numismatic Issues, 74th ed. (Toronto, ON: Charlton Press, 2021). If a collector wants a small but almost-complete reference library on Canadian coins, this and the Haxby book (below) are the ones to put on your shelf. A unique aspect of the Charlton catalogs is that they contain oft-quoted “Charlton Numbers”—a reference to pattern and specimen coins. NS-4 is such an example (NS for Nova Scotia and 4 refers to an 1861 bronze one-cent pattern—this coin is an entry in chapter 2 of 100 Greatest Canadian Coins and Tokens). The Charlton Catalogue also cross-references to Bowman numbers (see above).
Cornerstone: The Cornerstone Collection, 2019, Fixed Price Catalogue 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 wants only a very small but comprehensive library on Canadian coins, this book, together with the Charlton Standard Catalogue (above), are the ones to obtain.
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, British, U.S., and other world coins.
McLachlan: R.W. McLachlan, A Descriptive Catalogue of Coins, Tokens, and Medals Relating to the Dominion of Canada and Newfoundland (Montreal: printed privately for the author, 1886). A very important early compilation. Out of print.
NGC: NGC Population Report. Population statistics for all Canadian coins. Of the highest 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 online resource of inestimable value. Many obscure catalogs can be obtained through this portal.
PCGS: PCGS Population Report. Provides population statistics for all Canadian coins and many tokens. Of the highest 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., Québec City, Québec G1H 2V2, Canada.
Turner: Rob Turner, Dies, and Diadems: 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 Greatest Canadian Coins and Tokens
By Harvey B. Richer; forewords by Kenneth Bressett and Emily S. Damstra.
ISBN 794849830. Hardcover, 10 x 12 inches, 160 pages, full color.
Retail $34.95 U.S.
About Whitman Publishing
Whitman Publishing is the world’s leading producer of numismatic reference books, supplies, and products to display and store coins and paper money. The company’s high-quality books educate readers in the rich, colorful history of American and world coinage and currency, and teach how to build great collections. Archival-quality Whitman folders, albums, cases, and other holders keep collectibles safe and allow them to be shown off to friends and family.
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