I'd like to ask of you, dear reader. a paragraph for an opinion.
I have before me
an Egyptian 5 qirsh of 1937. It is Unc. It is housed in a 2x2 cardboard & mylar flip, the
kind that you staple together on three sides. The reverse is perfect. The obverse has two
black spots near the rim, one at 12 o'clock, the other at 9 o'clock. These two black spots
come from the coin having sat in a box next to a dime sized coin in a similar holder, the
staples of which were resting against my 5 qirsh. This happens a lot with that kind of
holder. That's why I prefer paper envelopes. Those iron contact stains don't always come
out. So please, if you have to use the things, get a stapler that lays out a flat contour
staple. Will whoever has such a stapler please write and let me know, to help us
retain the quality that remains. (Thanks.)
The later Canadian coinage exists in such large quantity, and there is such a
relatively large home collector base, that market trends are possibly the major point of
interest in the series. This is one of the countries for which you can get preprinted
albums for virtually the entire set. And you can fill the books too. Among the
Confederation coins there are only a small handful of totally unobtainable pieces.
Unless, that is, you require your date sets in MS-63. In that case you've set up
your hobby-for-life. While top quality coins have recently begun disappearing into slabs,
lower grades are ubiquitous slow sellers. I don't know any general world dealer who
doesn't accumulate lots of Canadian coins without ever trying. And of course the normal
dealer in Canada maintains extensive home inventory at whatever market level that
dealer works in. Buy them by the roll or by the bag.
There was numismatic life, of course, before Confederation. It is among these
earlier coins and tokens that the interesting wrinkles are to be found. Let's start, as usual,
as far back as we can.
The European historians say of the Native Americans that they crossed over from
Asia by the land bridge that is now the Bering Sea. This would be perhaps 25,000 years
ago. The Native Americans, of course, say they've always been here. In terms of money
there is not much to talk about until the European invasion. What the Europeans found
when they arrived was a well developed non-monetary trade system spanning the entire
continent, with itinerant merchants, families specialized in trade, regional fairs. Favorite
items everywhere were flint and obsidian nodules, metal, shells, medicinal herbs, sacred
objects of various kinds. In the east there circulated the strings of white and purple
clamshell beads which we now call wampum. In the central regions items such as bear
claws and elk teeth were popular. In the far west the Pacific Coast Peoples traded mats
(later blankets), abalone and dentalium shells, and copper items of various shapes.
All of these Native American quasi-monies are very scarce today. Back in the
'30s-50s, when the great numismatist Howard D. Gibbs was assembling his unequalled
collection, the American "primitive monies" could be collected. Elk teeth and bear claws
and wampum could be acquired on the Reservations. I remember a trip "out west" with
my parents in maybe 1961. Old Navajo blankets that cost $3000.00 today were $25.00
then. Gibbs even had in his collection a large Northwest coast copper, basically an
impossible item today. Nowadays all old Native American antiquities are treasured
cultural artifacts. Bear claws are illegal most places. The old items have all been
collected, and a large percentage of new finds are illegally obtained from graves and
archeological sites.. There is still a market, but it is very expensive, and much of it is
The arrival of the Europeans skewed the local economies in a number of ways.
First off, they brought iron tools and woven cloth, which immediately became the top of
the line trade goods. They also brought trade beads, (including, in the case of the French,
imitation wampum). Finally, and most disturbing to the natives, were the unholy trinity
of horses, guns, and liquor. Basically the only things the Europeans wanted from the
North American Natives at the time was land for settlement and animal pelts, particularly
of the beaver. Favorite trade items were axes, guns, blankets, liquor. Eighteenth century
versions of these items are rare museum pieces, though nineteenth and early twentieth
century examples can occasionally be obtained. And, for more money than they're worth,
one can buy brand new Hudson's Bay Company blankets in the original pattern with the
stripes indicating the number and type of fur being traded.
Europeans employed trade goods only in their business with the Natives. Among
themselves they also used real money, just as they did back in Europe. Though directives
came from home concerning what kind of coinage was permitted to be used in the
colonies, in practice the colonists employed whatever was at hand. Copper circulated
according to ad hoc agreement. Silver and gold went by weight. In the seventeenth
through nineteenth centuries Spanish colonial coinage supplied the bulk of precious
metal needs in North America. The specie was subject to a strong tendency to flow out
of the colonies back to the home country in payment for all the luxuries which were not
manufactured in the colonies, things like nails, books, wine, silk gowns for the ladies of
the Governor's family, and guns. The result of this drain of specie was a chronic coin
shortage lasting through most of three centuries, alleviated by various token and
emergency issues. The situation was not resolved until the Confederation.
The mechanisms of European conquest in the sixteenth through eighteenth
centuries were basically the same. The home government would grant the right to
operate overseas to syndicates of wealthy private parties, who would then go over to the
"New World" and set to work. Stipulations were always laid down by the governments:
that such and such percentage of receipts go to the state, that this and that service be
performed on behalf of the state by the syndicates, that the native inhabitants of the new
lands be treated with due consideration, and so forth. In practice the syndicates would
cut as many corners as possible, cheating the crown when they could get away with it, the
colonists according to the terms of the contract, and the Natives in every conceivable
way. Interest rates ran in the 20-50% range, so the colonial enterprises had to be ruthless
about cost-containment and quick turnover.
The French government did not operate that way. The government did not grant
charters. It commissioned it's own agents and ran everything in its colonies directly.. By
virtue of this tighter control the French colonial regimes of the period gave slightly more
equitable treatment to the Natives than those of the British, Spanish, or Portuguese..
Mass emigration from France to the New World occurred a bit earlier than that from
Britain to its more southerly coastal colonies. The French established a string of
settlements from Quebec to New Orleans, intending to flank the British and isolate them
on the coast. Quebec City was founded in 1608, and was a good sized town when Boston
was a tiny hamlet.
Coinage for the French colonies began in 1670. The coins in question are silver 5
and 15 sols and a copper, all of the Paris mint. The silvers have standard French types
(King's bust / arms) and reverse inscription "Gloria Regni Tui Decenti, the copper states
that it is a "Double de la Merique Francaise." The 1670 coins are very rare. Pine tree
shillings are common compared with these. I have no idea what one might cost.
A pair of copper coins of 6 and 12 deniers denominations was struck at Perpignan
in 1717 for the "Colonies." These too are very rare. A third colonial issue of 9 denier
coppers was struck in 1721 and 1722. These can be found with difficulty. A series of
billon marques (= 2 sous = 24 deniers) and halves, intended for the colonies, was struck
at various French mints from 1738 through 1760. The later devolution of the marque is
the well-known and common "stampee" of the Caribbean. These earlier marques are not
so easy to find. The colonial series continued with a copper 12 deniers in 1767, etc., but
these later coins were not used in Canada, as the British by then had taken all of it away.
Typical grade for seventeenth and eighteenth century French colonials is aG.
More interesting than the standard French coins are the multitude of counting
jetons issued for use on counting boards to figure sums in the old French money.
Remember now: 1440 copper deniers = 480 copper liards = 120 silver/billon/or copper
sols (or sous) = 6 silver livres =1 silver ecu, and 4 ecus more or less = a gold Louis. Such
a system obviously required a counting board. The jetons were used to mark places.
They were issued by every royal and noble house and various commercial operations.
There are thousands of types of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, struck in
copper, bronze, brass, billon, silver, and gold. Most are more or less the size of the
copper sol. I mention these because certain Royal jetons have themes pertaining to the
American colonies: Native Americans, beavers, etc. While garden variety copper jetons
in VG-F can be had for $10.00 or so, and collections of hundreds can be fairly easily
formed, finding any piece in particular is always a long term chore.
The final numismatic series of French Canada was the 75 year run of emergency
paper money made from playing cards. Imagine 75 years of emergency! These notes
were plentiful at the time, but almost all were redeemed, and today are hardly ever
available to collectors.
The British had no grand design for their colonies. All they wanted to do was
make money back home in England. In eighteenth century England almost everything
was privatized, and as a result very little was done that didn't make an immediate private
profit. By the late eighteenth century they were barely striking coin for home use, and
simply let the colonies solve their local currency problems on their own.
Spanish silver was the coin of the realm in the British Empire, supplemented by
local copper tokens. In the chaotic years of the early nineteenth century local conditions
occasionally required the mutilation of Spanish silver to keep it nearby. These mutilated
coins are called "cut and countermarked" now, eagerly collected despite their being
extensively counterfeited both at the time of their circulation and later for sale to us
coin-nuts. The Canadian contributions to the cut and counterstamped series are the
Prince Edward Island holey dollar and accompanying center plug (which we do not, as
for the similar Australian piece, call a "dump"). I don't think there's much to choose for
rarity between the Canadian and the Australian versions, but the Aussies are pegged
about 8x higher.
The home government attempted to make a general utility currency for the
colonies in 1820-22, issuing silver coins with anchor motif. We list these now in the
catalogs under "British West Indies." These coins circulated in Canada to some extent,
but did not replace Spanish coins.
The first half of the nineteenth century was the golden age of tokens in British
North America. Hundreds of types of private issue tokens are known for the period.
Many were struck in Britain, many more were manufactured in the New World, both
British and Independent. Many of the privates are reasonably available.
During this period the territories which are now provinces were separate British
colonies. These were: Lower Canada (now Quebec), Upper Canada (now Ontario), New
Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland. Private tokens are
known from each, and each followed a progression from private to official tokens, to
official coinage, before joining the Confederation.
This was the first colony to outlaw private tokens. Official halfpenny tokens were
issued in 1823 and 1824 in small enough numbers that they were heavily counterfeited
immediately. Among the counterfeits are the celebrated 1382 blundered date tokens, rare
and popular items. A penny token was issued in 1824, and there were further issues of
both denominations in 1840, 1843, and 1856. All of these official tokens are easy to find
in nice circulated, but are very scarce in Unc.
The Nova Scotia decimal coins are easy to obtain and slow to sell. Even the low
mintage 1› of 1862 is available. As usual for the time, nice Uncs are rare.
The former Lower Canada is now the Province of Quebec. Most of the private
tokens in Quebec were light weight, with many counterfeits circulating along with the
genuine pieces. As commerce became more regular the banks instituted a policy of
accepting the privates by weight only. Any system of official discounting engenders
great discontent in the discountee, and to address this discomfort in the populace the
largest banks petitioned for the right to strike their own tokens. The first authorized issue
was the undated, incorrectly denominated, bouquet type "Un Sous" issued anonymously
by the Bank of Montreal in 1835. These tokens were a wonderful success, and were
released in great quantity. The following year the bank issued another token in its own
name, again with incorrect denomination. Both of these are quite common in circulated.
AUs are occasionally found. Other banks imitated the BOM pieces, also various
entrepreneurs. The imitations all have the denomination correctly styled in the singular.
None of the imitations are as common as the Bank of Montreal prototypes, but most can
The bouquet sous were succeeded by the "habitant" tokens of the Insurrection
year 1837. These pennies and halves were issued by City Bank, Bank of Montreal, and
Banque du Peuple. They're not as common as bouquet sous... The habitant on the
obverse was associated in the mind of the Francophone public with Georges Papineau,
key figure in the rebellion. One can gauge their popularity and the inadequate quantity
released by the normal wear of surviving specimens. Most are banged up G. High grades
are distinctly not around.
When the insurrection was crushed (thereby becoming a "rebellion") Papineau
escaped to the USA. It was thought that it simply wouldn't do to have money circulating
with the arch-rebel's portrait, never mind that it really wasn't him. Bank of Montreal
planned to replace the well loved habitant tokens with pieces showing the lovely "side
view" portrait of the bank. The tokens ordered, struck, and paid for, the manager decided
he didn't like them, wouldn't let them circulate, and the few surviving specimens are now
infrequent auction items.
The same three banks which cooperated on the Habitant tokens essayed another
collaboration starting in 1842 with the "front view" tokens. These pennies and halves
were popular and were issued in large quantities. They are much more common than
bouquet sous, and are available in gratifyingly high grades.
The Habitant type was revived by the Quebec Bank in 1852. These are not rare,
but are not particularly common either.
In 1849, the wave of revolution that had swept over Europe the year before broke
over Montreal, then the capitol of Canada, and the British colonial administrators
removed their offices to Toronto. The right to issue tokens was thereupon granted to the
Bank of Upper Canada. This entity issued the "St. George" pennies and halves which are
far and away the most common of all Canadian tokens. These are the easiest token types
to find in red Unc. They continued to be issued until 1857.
Coinage pattern resembled that of Nova Scotia. Penny and halfpenny tokens were
issued by the colonial government in 1843 and 1852. They're about as common as the
Nova Scotia issues. Average grade is F. Decimal coinage began in 1861. The bronze
cents are common, «› are scarce. New Brunswick silver coins are also scarce. The 1864
10› is the most often encountered, VG is a normal grade.
PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND
After the recall of the Holey dollars a number of copper and brass tokens
circulated. The standard halfpenny was very light here. A few of the PEI tokens are
common. The 1› "Fisheries and Agriculture" piece of 1855 is very common. So too is
the 1871 official 1›, though high grades are rare.
These are the 1› of 1858 and '59, and the 5, 10 and 20› of 1858 struck for Upper
and Lower Canada before the Confederation. They employ the same types as the later
Confederation coins, and are collected as part of that series. They really aren't, being the
issue of the colonial government. All of the 1858 coins are a bit expensive, though not
really scarce. Their premium prices are less due to lack of availability than to their
popular (though erroneous) status as "first coins." The 1859 coins are common, with
scarce but obtainable minor varieties.
No official tokens were issued by the Newfoundland government. The most
notable feature of most of the Newfoundland decimals is their extremely low mintage.
Despite this they are surprisingly common as types, albeit in low grades only for the
earlier issues. George VI's coins are the only ones readily available in high grade.
For some reason Newfoundland coins lack the aura of desirability which makes a
series popular. Over the years dealers have mused over this fact, wondering why it's so. I
certainly don't know. All I can say is it's true: Newfoundland coins are sleepers, one and
all. In my opinion this applies equally to the 19th century large cents (normal grade F).
to early silver (normal grade G), to the funny gold 2 dollars (average grade F), to the
silver 5 and 10› of George VI (readily available in recent years in Unc).
The event which eventually resulted in the modern nation of Canada occurred in
1867. This was the Act of Confederation. The first Union was between "Canada," Nova
Scotia, and New Brunswick. Union was not universally popular. New Brunswick had to
be bullied into joining. The act provided for later entry by other Provinces. Manitoba
was admitted in 1871. Newfoundland was the last to join in 1949.
The coins are well known, with values well established. I have a copy of
Charlton's Standard Catalogue of Canadian Coins Tokens and Paper Money for 1963.
Price comparison with the 1991 SCWC shows essentially no change in the entire series in
the circulated grades. In Unc the prices are generally double today. If "BU" in 1963 is
roughly MS-63 today then prices at this level are 4-6 times higher today. No hoards have
come to light, nor have any fads arisen to inflate particular issues.
Extremely rare or unavailable coins in the Confederation series are the 1936-dot
1›, 1921 silver 5›, and 1921 50›. Rare and expensive dates are the 5›, 10›, 25›, the 50›
dated 1875-H, the 5› and 10› of 1884, the 10› of 1889, and the 50› of 1870, 1888,
1890-H, and 1905, and the 1948 dollar. Most of these coins cost three figures, abd for
that kind of money people think about things. I have a cast counterfeit of the 1870 50›.
There are also the numerous and well known varieties, such as the "Arnprior" dollars,
etc., some of which are expensive, but all of which are available.
The gold sovereigns of 1908-1919 and the 5 and 10 dollars of 1912-14 are all
readily available, save of course for the 1916 sovereign. As is normal for circulating gold
coins, true choice Uncs are hard to find, XF-AU is the "normal" grade.
Among the commemoratives it should be noted that silver dollars of the 80s are
usually harder to find than the early large size dollars. All of the large ones can be
bought by the roll, and usually sell at a discount from SCWC prices in grades lower than
"gem." The newer ones tend to be one-at-a-time coins. The Olympic series of 1975-76
are common and trade at a discount. 1985 Olympic coins are harder to find. The $100
gold series is popular. Only the large size 1976 Olympic piece is "common," in that it's
the one most likely found in the case at the show. Any Canadian dealer can get you all of
them, of course.
Canada has been making official sets since 1858. The early sets are very rare and
expensive. Later ones are easily collectible. In the '70s the mint went hog wild, putting
out several different sets each year. Set collecting is less popular than collecting of
individual coins. Dealers tend to disapprove of them because they're too big and bulky. I
know several who usually take the coins out and throw the cases away. For these
reasons, many cased sets are scarcer than they might at first appear to be. No matter,
there's not much of a market.
Canada is also one of the leading producers of official round bullion ingots in
silver, gold, and platinum. The Maple leafs are popular all over the world. Several
countries have tried and failed at bullion coins. Canada has definitely succeeded.
When you think about the price comparison between 1963 and now it might seem
that Canadian coins have remained static for 27 years. Actually, when you factor for
inflation, prices have declined in circulated grades. Only the top quality pieces (and the
gold, of course) have held their value. I can't say whether this is good or bad, only that