Canadian Silver Coins 1858-1968

A series of laws enacted during the 1850s established a monetary unit for the Province of Canada which was based on the gold dollar of the United States of America. Like that of the USA, Canada’s dollar was divided into 100 cents. The coins actually struck for the Province of Canada beginning in 1858 included silver pieces valued at five cents, ten cents and twenty cents. The fifty-cent piece did not appear until 1870, by which time the issuing authority was now the Dominion of Canada. Perhaps acknowledging that the American silver dollar did not circulate to any great extent, Canada declined to issue this denomination until 1935.

The silver coinage of 1858 bears on its obverse a laureate portrait of Queen Victoria (1837-1901) surrounded by her royal title in Latin. The word CANADA appears below her bust. On the reverse, two maple boughs surround the date and value, while the cross of St. Edward appears above. Both sides were engraved by L. C. Wyon. The first issue dated 1858 consisted of 500,000 five-cent pieces, 1,250,000 ten-cent pieces and 750,000 twenty-cent pieces, all struck at the Royal Mint in London, England. The twenty-cent piece was devised to match the currency value of one shilling in Halifax, Nova Scotia. In creating this oddity, however, the government failed to take into account the widespread circulation in Canada of quarter dollars minted by the USA. The twenty-cent pieces proved unpopular and were withdrawn from circulation and melted after 1870, when Canada introduced a replacement coin valued at twenty-five cents.

No more silver coins were struck for the Province of Canada after 1858. When additional coins were needed in 1870, these were of a slightly different style, perhaps reflecting Canada’s change in status to a Confederation of provinces in 1867. The laureate bust of Victoria was replaced by a diademed portrait of more mature profile. All other elements remained essentially the same, though with a slightly different treatment. Once again, the die work was by L. C. Wyon. In addition to replacing the twenty-cent piece with one valued at twenty-five cents, the coinage of 1870 introduced the handsome fifty-cent piece of matching design.

The four silver coins were issued with some regularity through the end of Victoria’s reign, though there were periodic lapses, most noticeably during the late 1870s. The privately owned Heaton Mint in Birmingham, England was frequently called on to supplement the Royal Mint’s output, and its tiny mintmark H appears below the wreath bow for several dates.

When her eldest son succeeded Victoria as King Edward VII in 1901, his crowned portrait replaced hers the following year. This was engraved by G. W. De Saulles, who altered the existing reverse type slightly to include the word CANADA. This was moved there from its previous location on the obverse. The crown of St. Edward was replaced by the Imperial State crown. A second, slightly modified reverse was phased in from 1906 to 1910. This is believed to have been the work of W. H. J. Blakemore, and it features somewhat broader leaves.  This was a time of general prosperity in Canada, and the minting of all four silver denominations was quite heavy. Some of the pieces dated 1902 and 1903 were produced by the Heaton Mint and bear its H mintmark. This was the last time that this facility produced coins for Canada.

Sir E. B. MacKennal was commissioned to prepare the crowned portrait of George V, who succeeded his late father in 1910. The reverse type continued with Blakemore’s modified design from the Edwardian coinage, though the reverse of the ten-cent piece was further modified in 1913. The most notable issue raised with George V’s coins, however, was the absence of the words DEI GRATIA (by the Grace of God) from his titles on the obverse. Omitted from the first pieces issued in 1911, this oversight was quickly rectified with the coins of 1912 and subsequent years.

The silver coinage of George V was extensive and quite steady through the end of his reign in 1936. The sole exception was during the 1920s, when a redundancy caused by large mintages during the World War I years brought further production to a halt until late in the decade. For the tiny five-cent piece, however, this resumption never occurred. Considered inconvenient and obsolete, it was replaced by a pure nickel coin of similar size and thickness to the American copper-nickel five-cent piece. The last of the silver coins were minted in 1921, but most of this date and many of those dated 1919-20 were never released. Instead, they were consigned to the melting pot. The other denominations remained, but after 1920 they were coined at a lower fineness, reflecting the dangerously high price of silver during and after World War I.

The coinage of George VI (1936-52) was similar to that of his late father in most respects, yet the monarch’s portrait was bareheaded for the first and only time. This bust was the work of T. H. Paget. An entirely new reverse type by Emanuel Hahn was adopted for the dime, and it depicts a schooner under sail; this boat is believed to have been modeled after the famous Canadian racer Bluenose. The quarter’s reverse, also by Hahn, shows the head of a male caribou. A simplified version of Canada’s coat of arms was selected for the reverse of the half dollar, and this was prepared by George Kruger-Gray.

One of the monarch’s titles, ET IND:IMP: (and Emperor of India), was dropped after 1947, reflecting that nation’s newly won independence. The production of coins during this reign was extensive and continual, and this trend continued under George’s eldest daughter, Elizabeth II (1953 to date). Her laureate bust was created by Mary Gillick. The reverse types of George VI continued into this reign, though the reverse of the half dollar was revised in 1959 to display the complete Canadian arms. A new portrait of the queen by Arnold Machin debuted in 1965, and each of the various denominations bore distinctive commemorative reverses by Alex Colville for the centenary of the Confederation in 1967. The dime portrays a  mackerel and the quarter dollar a bobcat, while the half dollar features a howling wolf.

The rising price of silver spelled doom for its use in circulating coinage after the mid 1960s. The dimes and quarters dated 1967 were produced in both the normal .800 fine silver and in a reduced .500 silver. The latter continued into 1968 for these two coins, but a non-silver composition was phased in that year. The production of silver halves ended abruptly with the centenary issue of 1967, and later pieces were of nickel. Thus ended Canada’s rich history of circulating silver coins.

SPECIFICATIONS:

FIVE CENTS:

Diameter: 15.494 millimeters

Weight: 1.167 grams

Composition: .925 Silver, .075 Copper (1858-1919)

Composition: .800 Silver, .200 Copper (1920-21)

Edge: Reeded

 

TEN CENTS:

Diameter: 18.034 millimeters

Weight: 2.33 grams

Composition: .925 Silver, .075 Copper (1858-1919)

Composition: .800 Silver, .200 Copper (1920-67)

Composition: .500 Silver, .500 Copper (1967-68)

Edge: Reeded

 

TWENTY CENTS:

Diameter: 23.27 millimeters

Weight: 4.67 grams

Composition: .925 Silver, .075 Copper

Edge: Reeded

 

TWENTY-FIVE CENTS:

Diameter: 23.62 millimeters (1870-1953)

Diameter: 23.88 millimeters (1953-)

Weight: 5.81 grams

Composition: .925 Silver, .075 Copper (1870-1919)

Composition: .800 Silver, .200 Copper (1920-67)

Composition: .500 Silver, .500 Copper (1967-68)

Edge: Reeded

 

FIFTY CENTS:

Diameter: 29.72 millimeters

Weight: 11.62 grams (1870-1919)

Weight: 11.66 grams (1920-1967)

Composition: .925 Silver, .075 Copper (1870-1919)

Composition: .800 Silver, .200 Copper (1920-67)

Edge: Reeded

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