Dollar Background and the 1911 Pattern

 With the fall of Quebec in 1759, Canada supposedly went on the sterling standard. Actually, she did nothing of the sort and this situation continued over some period of time. in effect, Canada was asked to use money which she did not possess. As in the case of the United States, Canada became accustomed to silver dollars at an early stage of her history, reference in this instance being made to the Spanish milled dollars, or pieces of eight.

For a long and uncomfortable period of time, Canada was forced to resort to a mélange of coins which rather staggers the imagination. Having no proper coinage of her own, she used the coins of Spain, Portugal, the United States, and for small change, a wide variety of tokens that were put out by merchants. Not until 1858 did Canada really control her currency.

Typical Canadian Tokens

It is now quite difficult for us to appreciate the early situation in what is now the Dominion. At one time, so great was the currency confusion, Canada became a veritable land of milk and honey for counterfeiters of every known species and quite possibly of a few previously unnoted.  

One genius of sorts, a Montreal blacksmith, gifted with wit worthy of a better cause, made himself a die for the purpose of turning out copper money. Sad to relate, he did not exactly devote his money to pious usage. When the humor struck him, which quite probably was frequently, he made himself money in sufficient quantity to celebrate various and sundry occasions with a bottle. This situation was possible because want of specie caused copper change to be accepted in bulk.  

Typical "Blacksmiths" Tokens

For rascality of the really inspired sort, the phantom banks beggar anything that it would be possible to imagine. They seem never to have had their counterpart in any other place on the globe.

A few worthy servants of Mammon, betook themselves south of the border and had notes printed in New York. The gentry who engaged in this activity had no charters, no authority to do business, no directors, no shareholders, no officers, and generally speaking, not even an office of any kind. Since nothing was back of this money but imagination, it was indeed currency with a vengeance.


The Bank of Lower Canada never did open — application for Charter was refused in 1808 and 1817 but some notes probably issued in anticipation, were "posted" years later. The Gore Bank of Hamilton did not have a charter but issued notes.

Notes put out by the phantom banks closely resembled those issued by the legitimate and chartered kind. They began their circulation history south of the border since most Canadians would too readily recognize their bogus character. Nevertheless, some Canadians were also taken in.  

"bons" or paper "true bills" one for 3c - one for
7 pence halfpenny - typical of many others.

 Since notes were actually put out of as small a value as 7 1/2 pence; it would not have been at all astonishing to see them put out for a single copper.

By 1812, the people having been cheated and swindled in numerous unmerciful ways, a decided distaste for paper currency of any kind came into existence, a situation that is hardly surprising. The declaration of war on England by the United States in the year mentioned led Sir Isaac Brock to believe that Canada would be invaded. To finance a volunteer army, he brought about an issue of Army Bills which were to be redeemed in Spanish dollars.

These 2 were issued at Quebec $10.00 and $25.00.
Others were issued elsewhere.

Most merchants, considering that they had been defrauded quite often enough, created an uproar over this action. To show their angry disapproval, they ordered on their own account a large supply of copper tokens from Birmingham. The statement, "Pure Copper Preferable to Paper," appeared upon these tokens. Eventual redemption of the Army Bills, $5,000,000 worth, did much to bring paper money back into favor.

Tokens, during a large part of early Canadian history, flourished on a scale now difficult for us to conceive. One of these shows a man beating out grain with a flail, and "No Labour No Bread" is the interesting caption which appears on it. "Good For One Shave" and "Good For One Drink" are captions that appear on other Canadian tokens. Tokens were widely used because there was virtually no such thing as small change.

"No Labor
no Bread"
'Good for
one drink" 
"Good for
1 shave"

There are many such as the last two.

The well known law of Gresham, that bad money will drive good money out of circulation, is the key to many of the difficulties which overcame the earlier Canadian currency. It will be noted through all this troublesome period the esteem in which the Spanish dollars were held. This being true, dollars were never a novelty in Canada. United States silver dollars were in common use.

England seriously considered the possibility of decimal coinage in the 1850-1860 decade and dies and designs for such coins were executed by Leonard Wyon. However, nothing came of it and Eng­land wanted Canada to adopt the pound. Canada saw no sense in doing such a thing because it would have made her commercial relations with the United States incredibly awkward.

The British "Florin" first issued in 1849 -
value two shillings, or "1 /10 of a pound"
as the first step in introducing the
"decimal" system. Nothing was done
but the florin continued in use for years.

Interestingly enough, and in the light of recent events, the same situation appears almost certain to confront England again. South Africa has already declared herself in favor of, the decimal system and will go on it in 1961 with a new unit called the Rand. Australia is giving favorable consideration to the same thing and New Zealand will undoubtedly follow her lead. If all this happens, England is un­likely to wish herself left alone with the pound.

First mention of the possibility of a Canadian dollar came in 1850. The Currency Act was amended at this time to permit the mint­ing of a silver dollar. Nothing came out of this situation because Canada had no serious need of such a coin. Had the need been suf­ficient, the story would have been a very different one.

A Silver dollar was proposed for 1911
 - no action was taken -
 This is a "pattern" of what was submitted.

 In 1910 the matter came up again, this time in a more serious manner. A silver dollar was authorized by the Dominion of Canada Currency Act and a Proclamation duly made for it. Once again no action was taken to mint dollars for circulation. At least 4 patterns were actually struck, 2 now being in the Royal Mint Museum, London, one in the British Museum, London and one, at the time we go to press, in the possession of the London dealer Sealey.  

Fred Bowman states that the picture in the Mint Report is that of an actual coin and of nothing else. When I later made enquiry on the same point I was informed that there was indeed a picture but not of satisfactory sort for photography.

Why was the matter allowed to go without action? It is enough to say that the Proclamation of a coin does not necessarily mean that it will be struck. England has authorized a gold pound that could be struck at any time but there is scant likelihood that such a thing will happen. Canada had no particular need for such a coin and a few officials in authority simply changed their minds without anything being put on record. This seems to be the most reasonable supposition.

A crowned likeness of His Majesty King George V appears on the proposed 1911 dollar and is the-work of Sir Bertram Mackennal. Later on, and in a rather odd way, this particular obverse comes up again. The reverse is the familiar Maple Wreath, a design executed by Leonard Wyon, Chief Engraver of the Royal Mint. It is worthy of note that the Maple Leaf reverse was used on all Canadian silver coins until 1936.

A silver dollar comes up again in 1927 since the Revised Statutes made provision for such a coin in that year. Though not actually put out at that time, the Act did pave the way for the 1935 Voyageur and so something was accomplished.

Canadian mint history is quite unlike that of the United States. Until the year 1908, all coins for Canada were struck in England, either by Heaton of Birmingham or the Royal Mint. During this time, no Canadian coin designers had anything to do with the coinage. In 1908, on January 2nd, the Ottawa Branch of the Royal Mint was set up and it continued until the 30th of November in 1931. The present Royal Canadian Mint began operations on December 1st, 1931, and has continued until the present time.

It should be understood that no coin of new design can be issued, nor any change in one that is in use effected, unless a Proclamation for such has been made. Nor is this the whole story. A Report must always come before a Proclamation which is put out by the Minister of Finance and directed to the attention of the Governor-General. Proclamations are approved by the Governor-General in the name of the King or Queen and the new coin, or a change in one, is then under way. Reports are signed by the Minister of Finance; Proclamations by the Under Secretary of State. Perhaps the most unusual Proclamation was the one which took the Tombacs out of circulation. It is unusual because Proclamations practically always put coins in circulation instead of withdrawing them.


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