Dollars of the First Series (1935-1939)  

By virtue of a Report dated April 5th, 1939, and issued by the authority of the Honourable C. A. Dunning, Minister of Finance, the dollar of 1935 was recommended to the Governor-General and shortly after authorized by a Proclamation. By an odd coincidence, the first dollars of Canada came into existence in the same year that those of the United States came to an end.

First of the Voyageurs, the 1935 was struck to honor the twenty-fifth anniversary of the reign of His Majesty King George V. The obverse of this coin was executed by Percy Metcalfe, an eminent English artist, notable for excellent work in this field. Further fine examples of his work are evidenced in the Irish coinage. His initials do not appear on the coin. Strangely enough, neither is his name to be found in the 1935 Mint Report.

Note may be made of the fact that the head of His Majesty is crowned. It was debated before the time of issue as to whether it should be crowned or uncrowned and a decision was finally made in favor of the former. After all, an important occasion in the life of His Majesty was being celebrated and a crowned head certainly added dignity to the coin. Most of us are glad enough that it turned out this way because an increase of regal color was given to the Canadian dollar series.

Also to be noted is the choice of a dollar as the anniversary coin. It needs no argument to show that a dollar is a nobler coin than the fifty-cent piece and that it allows a greater freedom of effort for the designer. Precedent was also set for the future use of the dollar as a commemorative coin.  

Parliament Bldg. "Caribou" quarter "Ship" dime

Emanuel Hahn, a Canadian artist, designed the Voyageur reverse which is now standard for Canadian dollars and his initials appear on the left hand side. Although he later designed other coins for Canada, the Parliamentary reverse, the caribou quarter and the schooner dime, the 1935 reverse has the honor of being his first work in this field.

Needless to say, the Voyageur design is very apt, it shows imagination and a keen appreciation of the romantic element of the Canadian past. As more than a few of the voyageurs were French, we may he allowed to suppose that the depicted figure on the left is that of a Frenchman. Since the Indians and the French very commonly worked together, an Indian is also depicted. The Northern Lights, an islet with a stunted tree, and a canoe, combine to make an appealing design of a poetic nature. It is, in my opinion, one of the most effective coin designs ever conceived. Proof of this is seen in the fact that many people who have little enough of artistry in their souls are still impressed by it. This is the greatest tribute that an artist can have: that he can manage to impress those not too well gifted with imagination.

Despite the fact that it was an anniversary, the first issue of 428,120 pieces was a modest one and a larger output might have been expected. The 1935 dollars were given special care in that they were counted by hand and packed in cartons of 20 each to avoid friction in transit. Mint Reports do not indicate whether any other dollar issues were handled in the same way.

First issued early in May, there was a steady demand for the coins until the end of the year. It was not expected that these dollars would ever form part of the general circulation. The Mint had the idea that most of them would be placed in collections or else he retained as souvenirs. Something of the sort did occur although not at all on the scale that had been imagined, they finally did enter into circulation on a small scale.

Master dies for the dollars were prepared in the Royal Mint and the mean millesimal fineness of 799.30 puts them below the quarters and dimes of the year. In fact, the 1935 dollar ranks fourteenth in, the whole series and the only one below it is the dollar of 1957. Since none were issued in 1935, a figure for the fifty-cent pieces is not given, but they are practically always at the bottom of the list. Variants of the 1935 dollars do not apparently exist.  

1936 Dollar  

With the arrival of 1936 it became necessary to change the obverse design inasmuch as it would be incongruous to continue to celebrate an anniversary which had come and gone. Fortunately for the Mint, the unused obverse design of Sir Bertram Mackennal was at hand and it was used. The 1936 obverse was the one that had been intended for the 1911 dollar and it had been sent by London to Ottawa. Making use of it was very good sense for it saved a great deal of time and work. At some time after its 1936 use this die was destroyed as well as the reverse which went with it. The initials of Sir Bertram appear on the obverse of his design.

Although a second crowned image was used, it was in this case a matter of pure chance and nobody objected to it. Had His Majesty lived long enough, a third dollar for him would most certainly have shown an uncrowned head. Earlier in the history of the British Commonwealth of Nations, the English coins alone showed the reigning monarch without a crown. To denote equality among the nations of the British Commonwealth, an uncrowned monarch is common to them all. A crown is used for small places under the Crown such as Fiji and Bermuda. Perhaps one way of putting it would be this: that all are under the Crown, but not all in exactly the same way.

A curious episode in the history of the dollars now arrives. Upon the death of his father, the Prince of Wales (now the Duke of Windsor) became King Edward VIII. By tradition strong as any law, the succeeding British King or Queen faces on the coins in the opposite direction of his or her predecessor. For reasons hest known to himself, Edward VIII set his face against the tradition and was determined to break it. What good this could possibly have accomplished must forever remain a mystery. In sober truth, it could occasion little more than annoyance and distress, but protests were of no avail and he had his way.

One bizarre story, quite probably untrue, is to the effect that Edward VIII believed that he would appear to disadvantage facing the right because of the way he parted his hair. Although this tale should not be taken too seriously, it must be admitted that it is somewhat in keeping with his known character. Seaby's are the authority for the statement that he fancied his left profile to be better than his right. Should either story be given credence, I prefer the one given by Seaby's.

Henry Paget, a well known English coin designer, was commissioned to execute the new obverse and he did so in one which shows Edward VIII facing left. It is not known how far all the new master dies were brought toward completion, but assuredly it is well known that his sudden abdication made all of them useless. Any Canadian coin dies that were finished by the Royal Mint went to Ottawa and very probably have been destroyed since they could serve no purpose.

Nevertheless, some slight use was made of the new dies. For one thing, a few three penny pieces of Edward VIII were struck in England and it is likely that practically all of them are in the hands of English collectors. According to Spink & Son, they were quite expensive since they sold for nearly $1,000 each. One Canadian five-cent piece, no doubt spurious, and also seen by Spink & Son, shows Edward VIII facing left.

A lady who is well known to the Royal Canadian Mint, and who is also interested in coins and coin design, is supposed to have in her possession a Canadian Edward VIII dollar, struck for her as a favor for services rendered in times past. This being true, very evidently the master die for this coin was completed. A dollar of this kind is unique in the same manner as the 1911, provided that it does exist.  

1937 Dollar  

His Majesty George VI raised no objection to the tradition that was scorned by Edward VIII, and his obverse, also executed by Henry Paget, shows him facing left. Therefore by implication, if in no other way, Edward VIII must be imagined facing, quite as he was supposed to do, and he is thus given negative recognition.

Many things about Canadian dollar coinage are puzzling and not easy to explain. For example, we would naturally suppose that the first year of the reign of His Majesty George VI would see an increased number of dollars minted, but the 1937 issue of 241,002 falls far short of the two previous years. We can only explain this by supposing that demand was not what it should have been, this being the basis upon which the dollars are issued. The proof-like sets that were put out in this year will be discussed in another chapter.

One distinction of the 1937 dollar is the fact that it is the first of the series to have a fourth place ranking in millesimal fineness. The 799.98 fineness of the 1936 gave it the honor of being first to head the list even though it ranks only fifth of the dollar series. Oddly enough, the 799.76 fineness of the 1937 gives it ninth rank and ties it with the 1946 which stood first in its year. A fineness of 800.30 gave the half dollar of 1937 the merit of being the only coin other than the dollars to top the 800 mark, something it was not destined to do again. As a general rule, the half dollar is at the bottom of the list.


1938 Dollar  

 With but 90,304 minted, the 1938 dollar experienced even less demand than was true of the 1937. But as far as the collector is concerned, the dollar of this year has two particular things about it which command attention. To begin with, its millesimal fineness of 800.40 gives it a rating above all the other dollars and above all the other coins from 1935 on, it therefore has number one rank.

The other distinction that it is able to boast is most unusual. According to the 1938 Mint Report, only 3 obverses and 1 reverse were employed in striking these dollars. This makes an average of 30,101 pieces for the obverses and 90,304 for the single reverse. This is more than a little amazing inasmuch as chromium plated dies were not used and were a thing of the future. We are further informed that 48 obverses and 6 reverses were made for use. The 1957 average seems high with a figure of 55,154 per die and indeed it is. It is the reverse record for the 1938 which seems so remarkable. However, there is no mistake about the figures for they are plainly enough given in the mint reports. With the exception of two instances, 1957 and 1958, most die averages per pair are far below anything like a 30,000 figure.


1939 Dollar  

One dollar that has a very interesting history and background is the 1939 Parliament, issued to celebrate the visit to Canada of His Majesty King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. As previously stated, the reverse of this coin was executed by Emanuel Hahn although his initials do not appear on it. Since 1,363,816 were minted, it has the second highest number of the dollar series. The popularity of this coin fell short of expectations. For the first and only time in the history of Canadian coinage, 12,000 Dominion post offices were utilized in an effort to see that it obtained a fair distribution. To attain the desired end, the Royal Canadian Mint gave the postal system 369,500 dollars and 296,932 of them were sold. The remainder of 72,568 was returned to the Mint in the same year. Further than this, 15,000 were returned to the Mint in 1940, something that has never happened in the case of any other dollar issue. We can only conclude from this that the 1939 dollar was not nearly as popular as it might have been.

Presentation dollars gain mention for the first and only time in the 1939 Mint Report. Their Majesties the King and Queen were given two proof Commemorative 1939 dollars in beautiful cases designed by Canadian craftsmen and the same courtesy was extended Princess Elizabeth and her sister Princess Margaret. A total of 6 presentation proof dollars were given in the manner described. Struck under double pressure, and with much more of the detail brought out by sharper relief, the coins would naturally be handsome pieces. The Latin inscription "Fide Suorum Regnat" may be translated to the effect that the King reigns on the loyalty of his people. The Centre Block and Peace Tower of the Parliament Buildings are depicted on the coin.

Noted at once by all collectors is the fact that dollars of the first series (1935 to 1939) have a dull finish quite unlike those of the second (1945 and after). It was my first impression that they were sandblasted, but the Mint is authority for the statement that such is not the case. Instead, use was made of unpolished dies and this accounts for the difference in appearance.


Another thing to be kept in mind is the lack of variants in the first series although there is one oddity that is peculiar to these dollars. The short horizontal line that is above the water lines will frequently be found to be very nearly missing. It seems never entirely to disappear since traces can almost invariably be detected. This characteristic, as far as I am aware, is not to be seen in second series dollars.


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