By Ian Brimble
Canadian circulation currency dates back to the mid-1800s. Prior to this, individuals used foreign coins as part of their monetary system. Dating back as early as the French regime in the 1600s, French coins have been utilized as part of trade in North America. In a similar way, coins of Great Britain were also utilized during the colonial period in North America during the late 1700s through to the late 1800s. Coins from both France and England were widely circulated in what is now eastern Canada. Both nations widely circulated copper and silver coins and there were even some gold examples to be found.
In the case of the French, the gold coin in circulation was called the gold Louis or the “Louis D’or,” representing Louis the 14th of France.
The British gold coins that were circulated in Canada were more varied and in greater abundance. These include denominations of half guinea, guinea, half sovereign and sovereign. It is estimated that the most widely circulated of this group were the sovereigns of George III, George IV, (pictured below) William IV and Victoria.
It is with little doubt that the use of these gold coins ultimately influenced some of the Canadian currency that was yet to come. The government of Canada would eventually produce gold coins as well. However, one provincial government took the initiative to strike gold $2 coins in advance of the federal government of Canada doing so.
Shortly before Confederation in 1867 the colonial government of Newfoundland (which would not join Canada until 1949) decided to produce its own $2 gold coin. This coin is approximately the same diameter as a modern-day Canadian 10 cent coin. It was ordered by the government of Newfoundland but eventually was produced by two mints in England: the London Mint and the Heaton Mint (coins struck at this mint are denoted with an “H” below the date). The 2-dollar Newfoundland coin was first struck in 1865 and subsequently in 1870, 1872, 1880, 1881, 1882, 1885 and finally in 1888. It is estimated that the total number of Newfoundland gold coins struck was less than 100,000, and it is not known how many of these coins have survived to date. They are certainly popular amongst Canadian gold coin collectors.
As with any collectible currency, there are rarities that exist. It is estimated there are only 2,500 coins struck with the date 1880, making it the rarity in the grouping of eight coins.
The next grouping of gold coins produced for Canada is tied directly with our historical connections to Britain. During the early 1900s the Ottawa mint was often required to produce gold sovereigns to be shipped back to Britain. These sovereigns were indicated with a “C” mint mark above the date to denote that they were produced in Canada at the Ottawa Mint. The Ottawa Mint produced these “Canadian” sovereigns for the following years: 1908, 1909, 1910, 1911, 1913, 1914, 1916, 1917, 1918 and 1919. This series of 10 coins are also highly sought after by Canadian gold coin collectors and, here too, there are rarities. Most notably is the
1916c sovereign of which little more than 6000 were produced. It is believed that fewer than 50 remain today. As a result of this, it is considered to be exceedingly rare and most are valued in excess of $25,000.
The final group of Canadian gold coins were produced between 1912 and 1914 in both 5 and 10 dollar denominations. These coins were produced in Ottawa in the newly opened mint facility (opened in 1908). It is believed that this currency may have been produced for a longer period of time had it not been for the beginning of the first world war. In 1914, the government of Canada adopted new legislation to restrict movement of gold and as a result the final circulation gold coins in Canada were produced later that year. Unlike other Canadian gold coins, these do not have a particular rarity that is more highly coveted than the others. However, they are still highly sought after by collectors.
In the years since their issue the 5 and 10 dollar coins have slowly been turned in by Canadians and a total of 245,000 of these coins were being stored by the Treasury by the year 2010. The Bank of Canada ultimately decided to reissue many of these coins to the coin collecting public and thirty thousand of the nicest coins were sold by the Royal Canadian Mint.
It should be noted that the coins discussed above certainly do not represent a complete list of the gold circulation currency used in Canada. Many other gold coins were used in Canada including numerous denominations of American gold coins. However, the list above does reflect the vast majority of circulating gold coins in Canada. They are, and continue to be an important part of our history and are highly sought after collectible items.