Canadian Gold Coins 1865-1919

At no time in Canada’s history has gold formed a significant portion of the coins actually circulating.  Nonetheless, there were brief periods that saw the use of gold pieces as a circulating medium, and the various types associated with this nation form a fascinating historical heritage.

In the years before Canada became a confederation in 1867, there was scattered use of various gold coins, these having found their way to North America from Great Britain, France, Portugal and Spain.  British types included the guinea, valued at 21 shillings, and the half guinea, equal to 10 shillings, six pence.  More common were the sovereign of  20 shillings, equal to one pound, and the half sovereign.  The two latter types remained common into the 20th Century, though their use was largely limited to banking institutions.  French gold coins of the Bourbon Dynasty, known appropriately as louis d’or, were imported into French Canada.  As with the British pieces, how much these actually circulated is debatable. Portuguese gold coins included the “joe,” valued at 12,800 reis, the half joe, and the moidore, worth 4,000 reis.  Perhaps the most widely used gold coin in early Canada was the eight-escudos piece of Spain and its colonies, popularly called a “doubloon.”  Its fractions, the four escudos and two escudos pieces, were less common, yet they still played a role.  Finally, gold coins of the United States of America were imported to serve as backing for currency and as a bullion reserve.  These included the eagle, valued at 10 dollars, as well as the half eagle and double eagle.

The first gold coins struck for use in what is now the Dominion of Canada were a series of two-dollar gold pieces produced for Newfoundland.  This odd denomination was selected for the simple reason that gold dollars were thought to be too small and were thus subject to being lost.  The dies for this coin type were by Leonard C. Wyon of the Royal Mint in London, England.  The obverse of the two-dollar piece features a bust of Victoria, the name NEWFOUNDLAND and the abbreviated legend D. G. REG., meaning “By the grace of God, Queen.”   Its reverse includes the date of coining and the value, specified in three ways:  2 DOLLARS, TWO HUNDRED CENTS and ONE HUNDRED PENCE.

Dates for the two-dollar piece include 1865, 1870, 1872, 1880, 1881, 1882, 1885 and 1888.  As neither Canada nor Newfoundland then had a mint, all of these coins were produced in England.  Most were struck at the Royal Mint and are unmarked.  The sole exception is the 1882 issue, which was coined by the private minting firm of Ralph Heaton and Sons in Birmingham and bears a tiny ‘H’ mintmark below its date.  The number struck for each issue was small, with the 1880 coins being particularly scarce.

A branch of the Royal Mint was opened in Ottawa, Ontario in 1908.  The gold sovereigns coined there from 1908 through 1919 feature a portrait of the reigning British monarch and the abbreviated legends D: G: BRITT: OMN: REX F: D: IND: IMP:, which translate into “By the grace of God, King of all the Britons, Defender of the Faith, Emperor of India.”  The portrait of King Edward VII is by G. W. de Saulles, that of George V by E. B. Mackennal. The common reverse for both types was originally prepared by Benedetto Pistrucci in 1816 and shows the figure of Saint George astride his horse, slaying a dragon.  All Canadian-made sovereigns bear a small letter ‘C’ on the base below this scene.  It denotes that they are products of the Ottawa branch.  Since only those coins intended for use overseas carried such a mintmark, this has led to generations of debate over whether these are Canadian or British coins. Whatever the case, most collectors of Canada’s coinage desire to own at least one of each type (Edward VII, 1908-10, and George V, 1911-19).  The 1913-C and 1914-C sovereigns are scarce, while those dated 1908-C and 1916-C are quite rare.

The first gold coins minted for domestic use and bearing Canadian imagery debuted in 1912 and were coined in 1913 and 1914, as well.  These are the five-dollar and 10-dollar pieces derived from pattern strikings made in 1911.  The common obverse for both coins was designed by E. B. Mackennal and features a portrait of King George V, accompanied by his standard titles.  Their common reverse is uniquely Canadian, as it features the old-style national arms superimposed over two boughs of maple.  Above this is the name CANADA, while the date of coinage is below.  The value, either FIVE DOLLARS or TEN DOLLARS, appears below the date.  This reverse design is by W. H. J. Blakemore.

The standards for these coins conform nearly perfectly to their counterparts from the USA, and it was originally planned to include the additional American denominations of $2.50 and $20.  Ultimately, of course, only the five and 10-dollar coins were minted.  Since these were intended for domestic use, they do not bear the ‘C’ mintmark found on Canadian sovereigns.  None of the six issues (three each of the five and 10-dollar pieces) is particularly rare in lower grades, though the coins dated 1914 are decidedly scarcer than the first two dates.

The onset of World War I in 1914 prompted Canada to suspend gold payments, a prohibition which remained in effect until 1926.  This effectively brought an end to circulating gold coinage in this country.  A few pattern strikings of similar designs but with an updated coat-of-arms were struck in bronze bearing the date 1928, but nothing further came of this proposed renewal.  In 1967, Canada produced a gold 20-dollar piece commemorating the centennial of the Confederation, and this has led to a series of non-circulating gold coins minted specifically for collectors in denominations of 100, 175 and 200 dollars.  In addition, Canada’s popular series of gold bullion coins, called Maple Leafs, has been among the world’s most successful bullion programs.

SPECIFICATIONS:

Newfoundland Two Dollars:

Diameter: 17.98 millimeters

Weight: 3.33 grams

Composition: .917 gold, .083 copper

Edge: Reeded

Net Weight: .100 ounce pure gold

 

Canada Sovereign:

Diameter: 22.05 millimeters

Weight: 7.99 grams

Composition: .917 gold, .083 copper

Edge: Reeded

Net Weight: .236 ounce pure gold

 

Canada Five Dollars:

Diameter: 21.59 millimeters

Weight: 8.36 grams

Composition: .900 gold, .100 copper

Edge: Reeded

Net Weight: .242 ounce pure gold

 

Canada Ten Dollars:

Diameter: 26.92 millimeters

Weight: 16.72 grams

Composition: .900 gold, .100 copper

Edge: Reeded

Net Weight: .484 ounce pure gold

From the NGC Photo Proof Series. Copyright © 2001 The Numismatic Guaranty Corporation.  All rights reserved.