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Collecting Canadian Silver Dollars

by Al Doyle for CoinWeek ………

Although the United States and Canada have their national currencies denominated in dollars and cents, that doesn’t mean the friendly neighbors are identical when it comes to issuing coins. Silver dollars are a prime example of how the Canadians do things their own way.

Canada struck its first circulating crown-sized silver pieces in 1935 just as America was closing out a 141-year history of $1 coinage. The concept was discontinued due to a lack of popularity and usage along with vast inventories in U.S. Treasury vaults, so why would such a big coin be issued up north? The Great Depression was also taking place, which means a $1 coin represented a significant chunk of a day’s wages for the average Canadian. Unlike the U.S., the date is located on the reverse.

This is an image of a Canadian silver dollar from 1948.Unlike the U.S., there was no history of special commemorative issues in Canada prior to 1935. George V was celebrating his 25th year as king of England. Since the British monarch occupies the obverse of Canadian coinage, a silver $1 for the king’s silver jubilee did have a certain amount of logic.

It’s an elegant-looking coin with a crowned George V on the obverse. The famed voyageur reverse debuted on this coin. Circulated examples can be had for well under $40. Even though it was a commemorative, all of the 428,707 pieces produced by the Royal Canadian Mint were struck for circulation.

The king’s portrait that was used on Canadian cent, 5-cent silver and nickel, dime, quarter and half dollar since 1911 appeared on the silver $1 in 1936. This became the second one-year type for the Canuck cartwheel, as George V died on January 20, 1936. The mintage was 339,600. High-grade (MS-63 or better) 1935 and 1936-dated pieces turn up with some regularity in third-party holders, and they are popular on both sides of the border.

George VI appeared without a crown on Canadian coinage beginning in 1937. The mintage of 207,306 dropped to 90,304 in 1938 before another circulating commemorative was issued. A lengthy 1939 royal visit by the king led to 1,363,919 silver $1s being struck, which was a huge amount for a nation with a population of 11.3 million. The Parliament building in Ottawa is on the reverse. It’s a very affordable piece in circulated grades.

The glut of commems combined with World War II meant silver dollars weren’t minted again until 1945. The period from the end of the war to 1948 is the place where many collectors focus, as it includes four scarce dates and some varieties.

Just 38,391 pieces were struck in 1945, and it’s within the reach of many middle-class numismatists. The 1946 is the most common date in the quartet (mintage 93,055). It can be had for $35 to $75 in circulated grades. Picking up one 1947-dated silver dollar is sufficient for most collectors, but that won’t do for the person who insists on completeness. The year’s production run includes a mix of 65,595 pieces struck with pointed 7 and blunt 7 dates along with 21,135 coins displaying a small maple leaf to the right of the 7.

The 1948 silver $1 is one of the most sought-after Canadian coins. Just 18,780 were struck, and it’s a four-figure purchase even in lower grades. Altered dates and counterfeits are not uncommon, so stick with certified pieces on this key. Is there a bnchmark of sorts on comparing Canadian mintages with U.S. coinage?

canadian_flagHistorically, Canada’s population has been approximately 10 percent of America’s. Using the 1948 as an example, the mintage would be comparable to a U.S. silver dollar having a figure of 187,780. Usage in circulation, quality of strike and existing hoards also have to be considered, but the 10 to 1 ratio provides some perspective.

Things went from famine to feast in 1949 when a circulating commemorative was issued to honor Newfoundland joining the Canadian confederation. The mintage of 672,218 explains why this piece of silvery art (check John Cabot’s ship on the reverse) is affordable in all but the highest grades.

Cartwheel mintages were on the high side from 1950 to 1952, as nearly 1.1 million were issued. The dates of this period along with the 1955 include a number of “arnprior” varieties with partial or missing water lines on the reverse. These coins were named after Arnprior, Ontario, a small town near Ottawa where the pieces were first seen thanks to a local employer who paid workers in silver $1s as a promotional effort.

Queen Elizabeth first appeared on Canadian coinage in 1953, and she still occupies that position 60 years later. The 1953 mintage of 1,074,578 means it can be obtained for bullion-related prices in MS-60 and circulated grades. Less than a quarter of that number (246,606, 268,105 and 209.092 respectively) were struck in 1954, 1955 and 1956. Even with those relatively low mintages, this trio is priced within the range of budget-minded shoppers. The 1957 (mintage 496,389) is another affordable option.

It was time for another commemorative in 1958, and the PCM cranked out more than 3 million British Columbia centennial silver dollars. This distinctive issue is known for a detailed totem pole on the reverse. It was the beginning of a decade-long flood of Canadian cartwheels. Just over 6 million pieces were created from 1959 to 1962. That was a large number for Canada, but it was just a preview of coming attractions.

Why would the RCM strike 4,179,981 silver bucks in 1963, nearly 7.3 million Charlottestown commemoratives in 1964, 10,768,569 pieces in 1965, just over 9.9 million 1966-dated $1s in 1966 and 6,767,496 Confederation centennial commemoratives in 1967? That is nearly 39 million coins and 23.4 million ounces of silver, as the Canadian version is .800 fine and contains .60 troy ounce of silver as compared to the .900 fine U.S. silver dollar with .7736 ounce of silver.

The silver dollar rush didn’t happen because Canadians traded in their $1 bills and the popular red $2s for big silver disks. Most of what was made in Ottawa went south of the border during one of the great coin bull markets in history.

It wasn’t a time of numismatic smarts and sophistication. Modern BU rolls and proof sets were the objects of a raging speculative fever, and Canadian prooflike sets (comparable to U.S. proof sets) were an ideal product for the times. The addition of a P-L silver dollar meant the Canuck sets contained 1.1 ounce of silver, which made an already attractive product even more appealing. Much of the silver $1 mintage went into collector sets, and numerous business strikes ended up in 20-piece rolls purchased by American speculators.

With no U.S. proof sets available from 1965 to 1967 and the removal of silver from U.S; coinage, Canadian P-L sets became one of the hottest items in American coin shops. Combine more than an ounce of silver with the exoticness of “foreign” coins, and it’s not hard to see why many collectors developed an interest in Canadian dollars.

The 1867-1967 commemorative stands out for the Canada goose in flight on the reverse. The “diving goose” variety is the result of a rotated die, and it’s available in BU and prooflike. It was the last issue of a 33-year series of attractive and very collectible coins, as pure nickel planchets replaced silver in 1968. Whether a collector’s budget is puny or great, there are Canadian silver dollars at every price point.

Al Doyle
Al Doyle
Al Doyle has written about coins for several different publishers, including the columns "$100 and Under" (2013- ) and "Budget Minded" (2022- ) for The Numismatist. Al has also written for the Chicago Tribune newspaper.

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  1. The sentence beginning with “The year’s production run” implies that the Maple Leaf dollars were minted in 1947, which is incorrect. All of the 1947 Maple Leaf denominations were minted in 1948. India had gained independence from UK and “IND: IMP:” (emperor of India) was no longer appropriate for the obverse legends. While waiting for new dies from England, there was great demand for new coins, so the mint decided to use the old dies and add the maple leaf to show that they were not 1947 mintage. Because the 1947 ML dollar shares a very low mintage with the “other” 1948, and because most 1948s were snapped up with little or no circulation, many astute collectors feel that the 1947 ML is actually less common in better grades and is grossly undervalued relative to the 1948.

  2. I have an 1948 Key Date Silver dollar would like the value of this coin the condition is considered a BU coin. I can’t find a value on this. thank you

  3. I have 3 Canadian dollars, and I am looking for the present day value of them, as I have had them for some 30 odd years and intend to pass them on to my grandsons, one is dated 1959, another is dated 1965, and the other looks like a centenary coin dated 1864 at the top and 1964 at the bottom, and has Charlottetown Quebec round it and it has the 4 flowers in the centre.
    I have no intentions of selling these,but would like to know if they are of any value and if so have them put on my house insurance. Thank you.

    A M Ingram.


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