Canada's Rarest Coins
This article discusses history and provenance of the rarest Canadian coins available to the collector market
Note: With the exception of the 1911 silver dollar photos, all other images are courtesy of Heritage Auctions.
The 1911 Pattern Dollar (known examples: 2 Silver, 1 Lead, 2 uniface electrotype replicas, 1 complete electrotype replica)
The 1911 Canadian Silver Dollar is considered to be the Holy Grail of Canadian coins. While three coins exist, only one lives in the outside world, available for collectors. For years it held the record for the world's most valuable coin, and a good part of its appeal is the fact that so many aspects of this story are still unknown or unproven.
The general public had no idea these pattern coins existed until 1960, when London coin dealer B. A. Seaby announced the purchase of a 1911 dollar "from an undisclosed source". The lead coin was discovered in 1977 when the Canadian Department of Supply and Services was in the process of destroying old documents in the East Block of the Parliament Building. It was found on a shelf inside a unmarked brown paper package. It is unknown how the lead coin made its way to Canada.
The generally accepted story of these pattern coins begins in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada:
Early in 1910, members of Parliament from British Columbia asked Canada's Minister of Finance for authority to add a one dollar coin to the list of Canadian currency. A law was passed on May 4th, 1910 which authorized this addition to the Canadian Currency Act. The coin was to be 36mm in diameter, weigh 360 grains, and be comprised of 92.5% fine silver and 7.5% copper. This dollar pattern had the highest concentration of silver of all Canadian dollar coins. The dollar coins from 1935 to 1967 were made of 80% silver and 20% copper.
Although there are no records which state who placed the original order, design work began sometime in 1910.
For the obverse design it was decided to use an enlarged version of the effigy of King George V which appears on all regular issue George V Canadian coins. The most striking difference between this obverse and the ones used on the other 1911 coins is the addition of "DEI GRA" to the legend. This means the dollar pattern is the only 1911 Canadian coin which was not "Godless".
The reverse design was created by W.H.J. Blackmore, who was the chief engraver at the Royal Mint in London, England. The design was patterned after Leonard C. Wyon's "Victorian Leaves" reverse design. The new design provided a wider rim and better clarification of overall detail.
Dies for the coin were most likely not produced at the Royal Mint in London until early 1911, and were used to strike three (known) coins: One in pure lead, and two in .925 fine silver. These three specimens were made not as an actual coin for circulation but as pattern (prototype) coins - produced for the purpose of evaluating a proposed coin design.
According to Royal Mint records, a pair of matrices and two pairs of punches were sent to Ottawa on Oct 19, 1911.
Dr. J. Bonar, Deputy Master at the Royal Canadian Mint in Ottawa, acknowledged receipt of the shipment on Nov 3, 1911.
Two events occurred which strongly support the plan to begin production of these coins. The Ottawa Branch of the Royal Mint purchased and received a special heavy duty coin press from Taylor & Challen of Birmingham, England in 1910. This model of press was designed for the specific purpose of striking silver dollar sized coins. In addition, when the cases for the 1911 specimen coin sets were ordered, they were manufactured with a dollar sized recess.
It is unknown why the government decided to shelve it's plan to produce one dollar coins. There is a lot of speculation, however there is no documented evidence.
At some point the matrices and punches were returned to the Royal Mint in London.
A little like the 1933 penny, no record was made of exactly how many were produced but two silver coins and one lead coin are definitely known and the coins have over the years generated an extensive literature. The specimen in the Bank of Canada's National Currency Collection, on long-term loan from the Royal Mint Museum since the mid 1970s, was loaned as a gesture of good will. What has been less clear, until now, is the provenance of the other silver specimen of the coin in private hands.
A copy of William Hocking's catalogue of the Museum collection, annotated by Hocking himself, was acquired for the Royal Mint Museum and it reveals that before 1914 two specimens of the 1911 dollar came into the Museum. One is now in the Bank of Canada's National Currency Collection and the route by which the other specimen eventually found its way onto the market would appear to be by having been de-accessioned direct from the Royal Mint Museum.
The current popular theory is that Sir William Grey Ellison-Macartney (Deputy Master at the Royal Mint from 1903 to 1913) somehow leaked or formally de-accessioned one of the two coins into the public. He is believed to be the only person who would have had access to this coin. Precisely when, how and why this was done remains unclear, but according to the Royal Mint Museum any thought of the involvement of Ellison-Macartney is "extremely unlikely".
Images of the 1911 Silver Pattern Dollar in the Bank of Canada's National Currency Collection (see note below):
Images of the 1911 Lead Pattern Dollar in the Bank of Canada's National Currency Collection (see note below):
Images of the 1911 Silver Pattern Dollar in the collector market:
Note:The extremely high resolution images of the coins on loan from The Royal Mint Museum, and permission to display them here, were acquired directly from the Royal Mint. Do not reproduce these images without written consent from the Royal Mint.
The Electrotype ReplicasElectrotype replica coins were produced for display purposes in museums, the Royal Mint and wherever a rare and valuable coin was to be on display. This process was common throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.
An Electrotype Replica coin is made by taking a negative impression of one side of the coin in a soft medium.
The negative impression is then electroplated, creating a thin positive shell.
Once you have both thin shells, one of two processes happens:
1. Obverse and reverse shells are joined together to create the electrotype copy.
2. In some cases the obverse and reverse are NOT mated to each other, leaving the opposite side blank. This produces two "Uniface" coins.
Most electrotypes of the Royal Mint were made by Charles Ready (who worked for the British Museum) from 1880 to 1900, but his sons Charles and Augustus Ready carried on after that.
The electrotype specimen in these photos is a complete copy of the 1911 silver dollar designed by Sir Edgar Bertram Mackennal.
It measures 35 mm in diameter; weighs 24.7 grams and is composed of 73 per cent copper and 27 per cent silver with "traces" of base metals. Note this electrotype replica is heavier than the original silver pattern dollars, which are 23.3 grams each.
The Bank of Canada has electrotypes of the obverse and reverse but they are "uniface specimens" weighing 13.91 and 18.37 grams, respectively.
This complete electrotype has an antique finish unlike the shiny Bank of Canada uniface specimens and contains subtle design differences in the maple leaves and the King's crown. This is the only (currently known) complete 1911 Canadian silver dollar electrotype, and is available to the collecting community.
Images of the 1911 Electrotype Replica Silver Pattern Dollar in the collector market:
The 1936 dot Coins
The story of how they came into being involved King Edward VIII's sudden abdication in late 1936 which saw George VI ascend to the throne.
That event caused a major problem for the Royal Canadian Mint because they didn't have any dies with the new king's effigy on them to strike the 1937 coinage.
Their solution was to produce a small number of 1936 coins with a tiny raised "dot" just below the date to denote that they were struck in 1937.
Only 3 denominations were ever struck with the "dot": 25-cents, 10-cents and 1-cent pieces. With the exceptions listed below all other 1936 Canadian coin dot specimens were melted by the mint after the receipt of the updated 1937 George VI dies.
The 1936 dot One Cent (known examples: 3)
The 1936 "dot" 1-cent coin is the rarest of them all with only 3 mint state examples known to exist. One example sold at a 2010 coin auction for over $400,000
1936 dot 10-cent (known examples: 5)
1936 dot 25-cent (known examples: ?)
Alhough the exact number is unknown, when compared to the one and ten cent coins there was a much larger number of twenty-five cent coins released to the public.
The 2007 Million Dollar Coin (known examples: 5)
In 2007 the Royal Canadian Mint produced the world's first million dollar coin. The 100 kg, .99999 pure gold bullion coin with a $1 million face value was originally conceived as a unique showpiece to promote the Mint's new line of 99999 pure 1 oz Gold Maple Leaf bullion coins. The coins were manufactured at the Mint's Ottawa facility. While it carries a legal tender face value equivalent to one million Canadian dollars, the piece does not see any general circulation due to its high melt value and considerable size (According to Captain Obvious this sentence qualifies as the understatement of the century).
The effigy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on the obverse side is a work by celebrated Canadian portrait artist Susanna Blunt.
The reverse features an elegant hand-polished maple leaf design by Royal Canadian Mint artist and engraver Stan Witten.
After several interested buyers came forward, the Mint decided to make a very limited quantity available for sale. To date, five of these majestic gold bullion coins, weighing 3,215 troy ounces each. Queen Elizabeth II bought one of these coins.
In October 2007, the Million Dollar Coin was certified by Guinness World Records to be the world's largest gold coin, and it held that distinction until 2011, when the Australian Mint knocked it off its perch when they produced their version of a Million Dollar coin.
The reverse features an elegant, hand-polished maple leaf design by Royal Canadian Mint artist and senior engraver Stan Witten, and the obverse bears the effigy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II by celebrated Canadian portrait artist Susanna Blunt.
Why did the Royal Canadian Mint make the world's purest and largest gold bullion coin? Because they can.
Face value: $1,000,000
Composition: 99.999% fine gold
Diameter: 500mm (1.64 feet)
Thickness: 30mm (1.18 inches)
Weight (in troy oz.): 3,215
Weight (kg): 100
Weight (lbs): 220
You can watch a promotional video about this coin here
The 1969 Large Date 10-cent (known examples: 16)
The old 1953-1968 reverse die had been used to produce the first few 1969 ten cent coins, with the new date engraved using the same typeface and size as the previous years.
VERY early in the production process it was discovered that the old dies had deteriorated significantly, so production was halted until a new reverse die could be manufactured.
It is unknown exactly how many of the "Large Date" coins made their way into the public, but only 16 known examples exist in collections.
A great story about one of the first examples found was written by Jeremy Day (New World Coin & Stamp Co. Ltd. in North Vancouver, B.C.) and published in the CN Journal V29-N09 in October 1984. Click here to read it.
To determine the difference between the Large Date and Regular Date versions, Click here.
The 1921 50-cent (known examples: less than 75)
Called the "King of Canadian coins", the 1921 50 cent coin is another classic Canadian rarity.
The Charlton Catalog of Canadian Coins lists the original mintage of this coin at 206,398, but almost all of them were melted down because of low demand for 50 cent coins.
As a result, only a handful of these coins exist and many believe that they came from specimen sets and business strikes that were sold to visitors at the mint in 1921.
The 1906 small crown 25-cent (known examples: less than 100)
The 1906 small crown 25 cent coin is the rarest Canadian quarter. It is believed that only 1 die was used to strike no more than a hundred examples before being replaced with the large crown die.
Most of the known examples are low-grade circulated examples that are almost completely rubbed off. There are only a handful of examples that grade above a "Very Good" condition.
The 1921 5-cent (known examples: less than 400)
If the 1921 50 cent piece is the "King of Canadian coins" then the 1921 5 cent piece is the "Prince of Canadian" coins.
In 1921 the RCM was looking to introduce a new 5 cent coin made of nickel for the 1922 coinage. In preparation for its launch, the mint melted down its entire inventory of silver 5 cent coins, nearly all of which were 1921s.
As was the case with the 1921 50 cent coin, all surviving examples are believed to have come from specimen sets and business strikes that were sold to visitors at the mint in 1921.
The 1947 Maple Leaf Silver Dollar (known examples: 1000?)
The 1947 Maple Leaf Silver Dollar shares its history with the 1948 silver dollar. The story behind these coins has to do with India's independence in 1947. The obverse of Canadian coins has always featured the effigy of the reigning monarch with their name and royal title in a Latin inscription. Part of their royal title included the designation "ET IND IMP" (And Emperor of India). After India's independance this needed to be removed from the dies to strike the 1948 coins.
As the RCM awaited new dies to strike the 1948 coins, they used the 1947 dies to fulfill existing demand.
The mint placed a tiny maple leaf next to the date on the coins to signify that they were struck in 1948. The listed mintage for these coins is 21,135 but it is also a rare silver dollar.
The 1948 Canadian Silver Dollar (known examples: 1000?)
By the time the mint received the new dies with "ET IND IMP" removed (See the explanation above), they were only able to produce a small quantity. Its listed mintage was 18,780 but only a few have survived.
Because of the extremely low production and survival rate, this is known as the "King of Canadian Silver Dollars".