By Ron Drzewucki – Modern Coin Wholesale….
The Royal Canadian Mint puts out some of the purest gold and silver bullion coins on the global market, but how much does the average American collector know about Canada and Canadian coins?
So as part of my mini-series on U.S. and World bullion coins, I thought I’d look into our humble neighbor to the north. In many respects, the Canadians have been years ahead of the United States when it comes to numismatic innovation. Therefore, anyone interested in seeing where the U.S. Mint is headed in the future should take a gander at the history of Canadian money–specifically, the history and output of the Royal Canadian Mint.
“Gander”. Canadian Geese. See what I did there?
Alright, alright… on with the blog!
Above all else, the Royal Canadian Mint (hereafter referred to as “the Mint”) is responsible for Canada’s circulating coinage. Right now, that means it makes five-cent nickels, dimes, quarters, half dollars, dollar coins and two-dollar coins. The dollar coin is nicknamed the “loonie” because of the loon portrayed on the reverse, and the two-dollar coin is nicknamed the “toonie”.
Speaking of reverses, all of what we in the U.S. might consider a coin’s distinguishing design motifs are found on the reverse of Canadian coins because a portrait of Her Majesty the Queen (Queen Elizabeth II) is on the obverse. The current portrait was designed by Canadian artist Susanna Blunt and notably lacks a crown.
Also notable is the fact that the Mint doesn’t manufacture one-cent “pennies”. Monday, May 4 was the three-year anniversary of the last penny struck for circulation in Canada. While there are significant numbers of pennies still in the wild (where they continue to be legal tender), Canadian businesses have adapted their pricing to the new “penny-less” system.
Oddly, the Canadian Economy has yet to fall apart. Don’t they know that no longer minting the penny means certain doom?
Besides Canada’s circulating coinage, the Mint also produces circulating-quality coinage for other nations. Over the decades, these have included New Zealand, Iceland, Thailand, Yemen, Venezuela, and Cuba, among others.
They also produce “numismatic”, or “collector” coins (I’ve always been amused by those terms; it’s like saying “economic money”, or “military army”). Recent (as in the last few years) favorites include glow-in-the-dark dinosaurs and the popular white-tailed deer series and sports fishing coins. Why, just yesterday, the Mint released several special colorized products featuring the Warner Bros. Looney Tunes characters we all know and love.
And last but not least, the Mint produces the world-renown gold and silver bullion Maple Leaf coins. As iconic around the world as the Krugerrand, the Panda or the Philharmonic, Maple Leafs can stand their own against any bullion product currently on the market. As of today, gold Maple Leafs are made in 1 oz., 1/2 oz., 1/4 oz., 1/10 oz., 1/20 oz. and 1 gram denominations (value being determined by the market price of gold) and consist of .9999 fine gold. There are many different versions of the Silver Maple Leaf, but the main version consists of 1 oz. of .9999 fine silver.
The Royal Mint in London was responsible for Canadian coinage until 1908, when the Ottawa branch of the British Royal Mint finally began minting coins in 1908. The facility had been built in 1901 after a lengthy planning phase that had begun in the 1890s, as the need for a local source of coinage became unavoidable.
Canadian independence from Great Britain also played a part in establishing the Mint, though it’s safe to say that Canada’s path to nationhood was a lot less straightforward than that of the United States.
While the drama of nationhood played itself out in the East, a different yet very familiar one played itself out in the West. Gold was discovered in the Klondike, part of the vast Yukon Territory, sparking a Gold Rush that lasted from 1897 to 1899. Equally familiar to students of American numismatic history, the sheer volume of unrefined gold placed great pressure on the Mint to refine it. The first Mint refinery was built in 1911.
The Ottawa Mint itself wasn’t administratively independent of London until 1931, when it was renamed the Royal Canadian Mint. Shortly afterwards, a new refinery was built in 1936. It still produces refined gold for Canada and the rest of the world, and in 1999 it was the first mint in the world to achieve .99999 fine gold bullion coins.
The Royal Canadian Mint became a Crown Corporation in 1969, which means it was no longer a part of the Finance Department and had to fend for itself, budgetarily.
(Like I said, years ahead of the United States.)
And for a time, one mint was enough. But as demand for business-strike coinage slowly but surely increased during the economic miracle that was the post war 20th century (at least in the West), the Mint found itself having to outsource dime production to the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia. Eventually, the federal government in Ottawa acknowledged that the Mint might need to expand. The decision process took almost 20 years, but thanks to the need to appease the province of Manitoba after an Ottawa-based political row, a new branch mint was opened in Winnipeg in 1976. Ever since then, Ottawa handles the circulating coinage while Winnipeg produces all the rest–NIFC (Not Intended for Circulation), bullion and foreign coins included.
The first Gold Maple Leaf was introduced in 1979. At the time, the only international competition was the South African Krugerrand. Because many Western nations sanctioned and boycotted South Africa due to its policy of apartheid, the global bullion market was Canada’s for the taking.
Silver Maple Leafs were introduced in 1988, two years after American Silver Eagles hit the market.
I’ll give a quick survey of the Royal Canadian Mint’s output since then in the next installment.