Dollar Collectors

Of one thing you may be certain: that if you collect Canadian dollars you will have plenty of company. It is the purpose of this chapter to go into some detail and consider the situation. Most of us like to know what our fellows in the same field are doing, what kind of experiences they have had, and information in general. In fact, coin conventions are held for such reasons.

One thing that intrigued me from the beginning of my acquaintance with the dollars centered about the Canadian French and what they did in the way of collecting. An enquiry letter to Philip Spier of Montreal started me on my way in this direction.

French Canadian are in no wise behind the English speaking when it comes to the collecting of coins. The before mentioned assures me that the French buy fully half of the 1,000 coin catalogues or so which he sells annually. Interestingly also, fully half the catalogues he sells go to such persons as taxi drivers, waitresses, cashiers, and other persons who handle money. These people on the fringe of the coin world are forever hopeful of picking up money that may have unusual value and they do us good by occasionally making an interesting or even valuable find

St. Hyacinthe, a town of about 25,000 close to Montreal, has an entirely French coin club with a membership of about 150 which was founded in 1954. It is interesting because it is the only one of its kind. The St. Hyacinthe Numismatic Association should by this time have fully 25 members with complete dollar collections as well as many others who are interested in these coins. The town being no larger than it is, the record is remarkable.

Since the French Canadians make up a large segment of Canadian population, failure on their part to collect would make a great difference in the dollar demand as well as that for other coins. They are a decided help and influence in market demand and therefore we are indebted to them.

In the beginning at least, dollar collectors of the American Union were almost entirely limited to the border states, a situation which is no longer true. As far as I have knowledge, there is no dealer in the Dominion who entirely limits himself to the sale of dollars for it would be impractical. But in the United States dealers are found who do this very thing. They began by specializing in dollars of the Union. But when interest in those of Canada greatly increased, they found it wise to include them.

Another always to be considered factor is concerned with dealers who do not advertise and who are generally unknown except locally. There are a large number of them and more than a few sell the dollars and are enthusiasts in their behalf. For example, Spokane has three dealers, none of whom advertise, and they are all actively interested in the big silver coins. Oddly enough, they sell a surprising number of them to Canadians. This would hardly happen if they were as abundant in the Dominion as they should be.

South Africa and her dollar situation proved far less easy for me to determine. In common with Canada, it is a bilingual country, but with shade sand overtones of an entirely different kind. The Director of the Mint at Pretoria, J. P. Roux, is very helpful to collectors and has done a great deal for South African numismatics. For one thing, he actively promoted the present beautiful proof sets of the Union and has made many friends for South Africa.

Although at first it seemed hopeless, I finally had the good fortune to locate two South African collectors who have good collections of Canadian dollars. Both are citizens of Durban, a city of some 600,000 on the Indian Ocean side. Harry Lund informs me that he has all the proof-like sets. The other collector, the Reverend J. F. Rowlands, is interested in crowns and his collection includes a set of Canadian dollars. Naturally enough, an undetermined number of others with similar interests are in the Union.

English collectors show an active interest in the coins of Canada. As might be expected, England is very cosmopolitan in numismatic tastes probably more so than any other country. An active interest is shown in the proof-like Canadian sets. It is common for English collectors to purchase one set as a specimen and confine the rest of their attention to the single dollars. Spink & Son, the English coin firm, is international in character and is known all over the world.

One thing about England that greatly pleases me is the character of her collectors. They very generally study what they collect and they hold the collections that they put together. Fly by night collecting is abhorrent to them and should he to everyone. Previous attention has been called to the fact that a large number of the 1937 proof sets are probably held by the English and are not in evidence because they are not for sale.

The dollars are worthily represented in New Zealand by E. J. Arlow, the Honourable Secretary of the Royal Numismatic Society of New Zealand, a resident of Wellington, a very active promoted of numismatics and an excellent student of coins. He has a complete dollar collection which was recently completed and is interested in all the other denominations. I am assured by him that the collectors of his country show a strong interest in the coins of Canada. The Society represented by him as Honourable Secretary is international in nature for it has many members outside of New Zealand.

Australia is represented for us by Sydney V. Hagley of Beaumont, a person mentioned previously in connection with the 1937 proof sets. Sydney Hagley has a collection of coins international in character and a very considerable knowledge of numismatics. He has done some excellent writing on numismatic subjects which has been read with pleasure by many. As in the case of New Zealand, Australians are interested in Canadian coinage. We may be sure that the dollar collection of Sydney Hagley has emulators in the land down under. Australia has one peculiar tie to the coins of very early Canada worthy of note.

Prince Edward Island distributed at one time what has come to be known as the "holey" dollar. Spanish pieces of eight had their centres punched out and the resulting pieces were used as shillings. They were hoarded by a merchant who tried to send them to London on a ship which ended up on the bottom of the ocean.


Holy Dollar

 The very same thing happened in the early history of Australia with the difference that no ship was involved and the coins are a great scarcity as in the case of Prince Edward Island.

From what has been given, it is apparent that the dollar collectors comprise both a numerous and far flung fraternity, a situation which naturally causes an increase of interest. Every collector who has the pieces brings attention to them, otherwise he would certainly be an odd sort, and therefore the coins get wide publicity.

Crown popularity does more than can be imagined to help the cause of Canadian dollars. Big silver coins fascinate as the smaller ones never do and they make an impressive showing when put together. It is true to say that the dollars have most illustrious company, a company to which they give an added lustre. For example, the Spanish pieces of eight, the Maria Theresa thalers, the United States silver dollars, the various crowns, and a host of others. I have merely named a few of the better known.

Big silver coins attract many who are not collectors at all and their history in this respect is of ancient lineage.  

Metallurgically Speaking  

Note has been made of the fact that the dollars are generally, although not always, slightly higher in silver content than the other coins. You may be sure that it is not done by design. If it could be contrived, all coins would be exactly at the 800 standard and it would constitute a technical triumph. Metallurgical men at the Mint have looked into this matter with considerable curiosity.

Silver fillets for coinage cannot be turned out that are exact and of unvarying uniformity. Careful tests always show a difference in the centre and the outside and conclusions have been reached from this fact. Something like, or in the nature of, exact atom control would make possible a fixed and uniform pattern, but nothing of this kind is at this time possible. We speak of pure gold and silver, but chemically speaking, there are no such things. The value of pi, carried to 8 decimal places, is 3.14159265 and has been carried to 50 by a German mathematician who had time on his hands. We can get closer to the point but never to the final point. The point of an absolutely pure metal is always approached but never reached. The perfect alloy has yet to he produced.

By Canadian law, silver dollars are legal tender to the number of 10, a problem unlikely to come up in the life of the average citizen. More than a few of us will gladly accept them in almost any number. While on the subject, it may be of interest to know that a coin called in is not legal tender. Therefore the Tombacs have lost their legal value.

We all hear talk about coins being hoarded and there is no doubt that it is done. What would be reasonable of the dollars in this respect? At the end of 1959 the total number of minted dollars was 11,056,407. This figure gives us something very solid to go on.

Is it possible to suppose that collectors could even begin to monopolize this number of coins? It is an obvious absurdity; a thing to be given no serious consideration. Souvenir hunters hold more of them than do the collectors, and the great majority of souvenir coins would never be wanted for a collection. At least, I have yet to see any that I would want. Unfortunately, this is not quite the whole story.

We must grant that it would be entirely possible to monopolize the dollars of a very short mintage year such as 1948. If so, then it would almost certainly have to he done by collectors or speculators and not by those who want souvenirs. Those who hold the souvenirs pay no attention to dates of any kind and it is unusual for them to know the value of any given dollar. This does not mean that 1948's are not held as souvenirs; very probably a few are. It will readily be seen that the situation is complicated and impossible as far as any answer goes.

There seems to be at least a few who are of the belief that the dollars are largely put out to please collectors. It is true enough that the Mint appears to have entertained this belief about the dollar of 1935, a belief which certainly turned out to be a mistaken one. The commemorative halves of the United States were put out strictly for collectors and the figures show it. I can assure you that the Canadian dollar figures, in general at least, are nothing like them.

The dollars that the Mint puts out for collectors are the proof-likes. Though even those who want souvenirs are perfectly free to buy them, only I think they rarely do so. The total figure of proof-like dollars for 1958 is 33,237 a figure very much like those for the commemorative halves of the United States.

There is every reason to suppose that a good million of the dollars are in the United States. If we suppose that one-tenth of the first figure are collectors coins and the others souvenirs, then there would he 100,000 of the first and 900,000 of the second. Speculation of this kind is almost entirely fruitless and yet we always wonder about such things.

Mutilated coins both anger and offend all of us. It is against the law in all countries and yet we never hear of prosecutions. One Mint Report, that of 1958, shows the return of 16,337 mutilated steel nickels. What induces people to coin mutilation is a great mystery.

Few citizens seem to know, or perhaps to care, that the coins they use nearly every day are the property of the Government and are put out as a public convenience. Ownership of coins in fee simple is certainly possible, as Greek and Roman coins for example, but they represent a very different situation. If the Government did not own them it would hardly have the right to call coins in at will and on other occasions to declare them not legal tender.

As far as I know, international law, which is merely usage and custom, has nothing to do with the mutilation of coins by the citizen of another country. Yet good sense and decency forbids the doing of such a thing.

If we wish to be very technical, we can say that the citizen who has a collection of coins issued by his own country, currently in use, or acceptable, and residing in it, still cannot claim ownership and could be punished for mutilation. Of course, no collector would be silly enough to be guilty of such an action.

Canadian coins, including the dollar, stand up well in circulation because of their 800 alloy. An alloy of 500 seems to be about the lowest to have any practical usage. The Bermuda crowns recently put out are only half silver but as they will never be circulated it is hard to say what they would be like if subjected to much year. The older Canadian alloy of .925 did not produce coins of the best wearing quality.  

American dollars, as compared to Canadian, are somewhat larger, but not greatly so. The American counterpart weighs 412.5 grains, is 1.5 inches in diameter, has a weight tolerance of 6 grains, and is the issuance of the commemoratives. Precedent having been set for them, these coins are favored for the purpose. With the abandonment of the dollar, the United States made use of halves for commemorative purposes. Further, precedent was set for them by the Columbian Half of 1892 and 1893. But nobody supposes that Canada will ever use anything but the dollar. So far, one has been put out every five years, the twenty dollar issue years being considered. Provinces have twice furnished the occasion, but any of many others can be used.

Dollar collectors have a certain thing and need not concern themselves too much about the future. If Canada should suddenly decide to discontinue them, the coins would immediately become greatly enhanced in value; or if their mintage is continued, which may he taken very nearly for a surety, no loss can be suffered on this point. So it makes no difference how they go, the holder of the pieces can scarcely lose out. Of few things indeed is a situation of this kind true. We may therefore afford ourselves the luxury of good cheer.

By an odd freak of fate, the two provincial commemoratives are devoted to provinces of the extreme east and west. To balance things in the event of another province being honored, I would respectfully suggest Saskatchewan or Manitoba as they are very nearly in the middle of the Dominion. However, if such a thing did happen, no one would be more astonished than the writer.

One thing that plagued the Mint for a long time was the tellurium content of the silver. Although the amount would seem infinitesimal, being only 0.011 per cent, it yet made the silver so brittle that it could be used only for casting and was a complete loss in the way of coinage. Upon investigating the tellurium content, an interesting discovery was made.

Before reduction, refinery silver showed a 0.011 tellurium content, as already given. After reduction, far from showing any loss, it went higher yet, the figure then going to 0.019 per cent. It was then found out that the refractory element was picked up from the cast iron plates used in the reduction and thus the silver was actually made worse. When this condition was finally corrected, the tellurium fell to 0.003 per cent and the hitherto unusable silver became available for coinage. Research on the problem began in 1947 and was successfully concluded in 1948. In the last named year, very nearly three quarters of a million ounces of silver was made fit for use.

According to the 1947 Mint Report, coins from the new silver came out in that year. No indication is given as to the source of the silver used for coinage before this time, but there is nothing to show that any was purchased from an outside agency.

Few counterfeit coins seem to turn up, but when they do, the half dollar appears to be one of the favorites. No one has yet tried to counterfeit the dollar. Nor are there any known cases in which alterations have been attempted.

A final word on mutilations. Canadian law states that no coin shall be redeemed which has been obviously and deliberately defaced. The most notorious case which involves the dollars comes within the pale of this law.  


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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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