Dollar Variants

Perhaps more than any other coin, the Arnprior turned out to he a source of grief to the Royal Canadian Mint. It is my guess that a good mule load or so of letters reached the Mint which were enquiries about the Arnprior dollar. Things of this sort can be quite enough to try the patience of a saint. In any event, the Mint officials properly enough denied that there was any such thing and this is quite true. What some people evidently had in mind was a dollar which was entirely different from any of the others, and for longer than I now care to think about, my own state of information was in need of repair and I was greatly puzzled.

We are all well aware that the Mint never intends to turn out anything but perfect coins. But we are also aware that this is an ideal and by no manner of means always a fact. Whatever sins may be attributed to the Mint, want of proper care in trying to turn out good coins is not one of them. As a matter of sober fact, the Mint does unusually well and few indeed are the freak coins which pass inspection and manage to get in circulation. By way of contrast we might consider the United States Mint.

One coin that has attracted more attention than it probably is worth is the double shift Lincoln cent. This piece should never have passed inspection and I am rather amazed that it did. Mind you, I am not complaining about the Mint, I am merely stating what I think to be the truth. It is enough to say that the double shift Lincoln cent has plenty of company. Why? The only reason that I can see centres about the fact that it is impossible to turn money out by the endless bushel and not have things of this sort happen. The United States has freak coins enough to make the actual collecting of them possible to those who find them of interest, I have yet to hear of anybody trying to do it with Canadian coins. If such there be, then it is my firm belief that collectors of them have a task on their hands to get more than a corporal's guard. I can honestly say that I have never seen a freak Canadian coin although I am well aware that they do exist.

For example, an Illinois collector of Canadian dollars, informs me that he has a Parliament which lacks a graining on its edge. How it got past inspection is a small mystery for you may be assured that such things do not happen very often. Canadian inspection would appear to be highly efficient. And it is no blot on the Mint escutcheon that the Arnprior escaped notice. This should be understood from the beginning.

 Arnprior is a small town of 5,000 or so in the province of Ontario not too far from Ottawa. Its principal business centres about Playtex Ltd., a corporation which manufacturers girdles, brassieres, gloves and wear for children. Therefore, since it is largely the bread and butter of Arnprior, it is naturally of considerable interest to its citizens.

Charles G. O'Neill, President of Playtex, decided to pay his employees a Christmas bonus in silver dollars. And he informs me that he wanted to do so as a means of impressing the town with the importance of Playtex in the economy of the place. He found himself in trouble because he was 2,000 dollars short of the number that would be required.

Taking stock of his situation, he enquired of the Mint as to whether or not the needed coins could be minted, and he was properly informed that the mint had no authority to do such a thing. Therefore he received exactly the answer which we would expect. Indeed, had the Mint been foolish enough to do such a thing the responsible officials would have found themselves in rather a rare sort of stew. There is no reason to suppose that the request had precedent of any kind. However, the Mint refusal did not end the matter.

Next to be approached was Minister of Finance, The Hon. W. E. Harris. Oddly enough, he was agreeable to the proposal and gave the necessary authorization, quite probably to the astonishment of the Mint Master. Thus it was that on December 10th, 1955, the Mint filled a special order for Playtex by minting 2,000 silver dollars.

1955 Arnprior Dollar - Enlarged Sections

Technically speaking, an Arnprior is a defective coin because it has only one and a half water lines on the right hand side and there should be three. The top line is present and half of the second. Had this situation been noted, we must suppose that other dies would have been used. It is hardly remarkable that it was not noticed because it requires sharp vision to see the defect and the majority of us have to use a glass.

Very evidently the last pair of dies that were in use when the regular coinage was finished found employment on the Arnpriors, and the same reverse die was already turning them out before the Playtex order was filled. It thus arises that we have an estimated 5,000 of them. Further, a small number were struck in proof-like condition and they are the only ones which can be distinguished from the others. Since the dies average was 14,338 all of the coins could easily be struck by a single pair of dies and this appears to be the case.

Nothing is truer than the old saying that familiarity breeds contempt. If the dollars were ever a novelty in Arnprior, they ceased to be immediately upon payment of the bonus. Tradesmen found themselves doing business with silver dollars in previously unheard of degree. As you are not supposed to look a gift horse in the mouth, neither did the Playtex employees take time out to scrutinize their dollars, and even had any difference been noticed what would it have meant to them? Absolutely nothing. This is no reflection upon anybody, it would be most ridiculous to suppose that Arnprior was well staffed with coin collectors.

One thing to be kept in mind is the fact that the 2,000 special order dollars were hopelessly mixed with others that were normal. And the vast majority of the dollars were spent as rapidly as they were paid out. Gifts for Christmas, bills to meet, and possibly even small amounts of liquid cheer did their bit in taking care of the coins. A few were no doubt saved for souvenirs, but not necessarily Arnpriors, and in any event, most of the workers were in no position to do anything but make use of the money.

We are informed that cash registers in the town were literally jammed with the dollars and that in some cases they actually broke down. Possibly, if so, the merchant with a broken down register might be pardoned for viewing the flood of silver with mixed emotions. It is a fact that many people truly dislike big silver coins because they look upon them as too heavy and inconvenient.

Consider the case with silver dollars in the West of the United States. At one time they were reasonably popular and widely used, today they spend most of their time in the banks and their status has become little better than that of museum pieces. Montana and Nevada are almost the only states in the Union where silver dollars are preferred to paper, a fact instantly noticed by visitors from other states. I think the attitude of many Canadian citizens toward silver dollars very much the same as in the United States.

Arnprior happened to have an outstanding collector in the person of the Reverend Douglas Woodhouse, therefore the Arnprior variant was noticed as soon as it made its appearance. He informs me that he personally handled more than 1,000 of them and at one time had an opportunity to buy 1,500 dollars hut let the chance go. He did buy 500 and sold them for prices ranging from $2.50 to $10.00. This proves, if proof should be needed, that very few of the dollars were held by anybody, and that they made their way promptly enough to the banks. And it would seem further to prove that silver dollars as a medium of exchange are not as popular as they might be.

Mention has been made of the fact that a few Arnpriors are found in the proof-like sets. My first estimate of the number was a cautious one and I thought there might be fifty. Jack Griffin has seen enough of these coins to convince him that 200 is closer to the truth and no doubt he is right.

For good or evil, more probably the former, the name of Arnprior is firmly attached to any variant of similar nature and is readily understood by all collectors of Canadian dollars . It will be noted that the variation always occurs on the right hand side and not on the left. Why this should be true is unknown to me, but there is a reason of some kind. Possibly the water lines on the left are better and more deeply etched than those on the right.

As with many human affairs, the novelty of the bonus soon wore off. Playtex paid a similar bonus in 1956 and then discontinued it. It may be observed that bonus payments in the dollars has found use in other parts of Canada.

News about the variant was slow in becoming generally known, and as previously noted, the use of the word "Arnprior" was for a time the source of trouble. Discovery of it caused many collectors to look diligently for more in other issues and they were now and then rewarded with success. We have a clearer idea about the actual number of the original Arnprior than is true of any other variant.

Very recently some faked Arnpriors have appeared upon the numismatic scene. It had been my hope that nothing of this kind would happen, a hope which has failed to materialize. As far as now known the alterations have been confined to the dollars of 1955.

Where alterations are involved, some of the water lines on the normal dollars are cleverly removed with a buffer wheel and are not too easily detected. In other cases, when not too well done, work of this kind will readily show up under a good glass.

1950 Water line 

1957 One water line

My attention was first called to the 1950 variant by R. A. Leonard, a dealer of Seattle, Washington. He managed to get a few of these coins from a source in British Columbia, probably Vancouver. They were discovered by a bank teller and all of them had been circulated in some degrees. Greatly to his chagrin, a startling lack of interest was shown in them and they went at a very low rate. This incident occurred some time ago and would not he likely to happen today with the increase of interest being what it is. These coins have a single line to the right and their possible number is nothing that can be determined.

Hardly to be wondered at are the 1957 variants with one line to the right. The coins are to be seen in several conditions and those with three good water lines are not as common as they might be. They were noticed almost as soon as they came out, and in common with the 1950, anything like determination of the number is impossible. Had the Mint made more use of dies, there is every reason to suppose that there would have been no variants. Striking 55,154 dollars from a single pair of dies is a calculated risk and it is unlikely that anything similar will be attempted again. The Mint may have been behind on work and rushed for time. As a general rule, plenty of dies are always at hand and a small number go without use.

Date space variants are a story of entirely different kind and few indeed are the collectors who are found in this field. For one thing, getting all these variants requires the examination of not merely a few, but of such multitude as to give all but the hardiest pause. Therefore it will readily be seen that anything of this nature is out of the question for the vast majority of us.

Jack Griffin and the Reverend Woodhouse are two of the best known collectors of date space variants and the former has compiled a list of them which is frankly appalling. The list kindly given me by Jack Griffin is included in this work and will be of interest to the more curiously inclined. Going into this field on any scale requires a good outlay of time and energy as well as the patience of Job. Most of us are well enough pleased with a good set of the regular dollars, plus one or two of the water line variants, especially the regular Arnprior.

We are indebted to the extreme specialists for the reason that they go into die details in full and thus give us a much better idea of the variants that are possible. Only a few have the time and patience for such exacting work, work that requires endless comparisons.

Earlier in this work I made the statement that there were no variants in dollars of the first series. My reference was to those of the water line type and this is true. It is not true as far as the date space type is concerned.

One strange thing that should be noticed is the remarkable uniformity that is shown by the four commemoratives. They do not have variants of any kind and this makes a situation that is very easy to remember. Of course, with the exception of the 1935, the water line possibility is ruled out and only date spaces become possible. But the commemoratives are all notable for their higher numbers and it would be expected that they would have at least a few. Voyageurs are then the dollars which show the variations. Anybody who can explain this situation will deserve the thanks of all who collect the dollars.


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The entire contents of "Canadian Silver Dollars" are ęCopyright 1961. Permission is granted to non-profit organizations and to individuals for their personal use, to copy any of the material contained herein, on the condition that such copies are not to be sold or otherwise used for profit, and that Patrick Glassford is shown as the source of such information or material.
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