By Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez for CoinWeek….
I love United States coins, but I must tip my proverbial toque to Canadian coins, too. While few coin designs compare to works of art such as the Augustus Saint-Gaudens gold $20 double eagle or Adolph A. Weinman’s Walking Liberty half dollar, there are still many exquisite numismatic treasures from our neighbors to the north.
Surely, most American numismatists love Morgan silver dollars, Mercury dimes, Lincoln cents, and other classics. But what about large, hefty Canadian silver dollars depicting a flying goose or the northern lights on the reverse? Historic wartime five-cent coins made of tombac when Canada was rationing nickel for the World War II effort? Or even Canadian pennies, which are no longer produced?
In addition to these circulating coins, which I discussed in Part 1, the Royal Canadian Mint has also issued a wide array of non-circulating coins that appeal to numismatists throughout the United States and around the world. These special-issue Canadian coins are the pieces I will focus on here.
Maple Leaf Canadian Bullion Coins
Among all non-circulating Canadian coins, perhaps the most popular are the Maple Leaf bullion coins. Production began in 1979. Today, Maple Leaf coins are offered in 1/25th-, 1/20th-, 1/10th-, 1/4-, 1/2-, and 1-ounce sizes. In 1988, the gold Maple Leafs were followed up with the introduction of 1-ounce silver Maple Leafs and an array of platinum Maple Leaf coins, which in turn lead to the 1-ounce palladium bullion coins first offered in 2015.
Canadian Maple Leaf coins compete with American Eagle coins and represent some of the most widely traded bullion coins in the world. In terms of the international market, they are particularly popular among U.S. investors and collectors who want some numismatic variety in their bullion holdings. Maple Leafs are available for roughly similar premiums over spot as compared to American Eagle coins, so in the case of choosing Canadian versus U.S. bullion coins, it’s really a matter of personal preference.
Much like Silver Eagles, silver Maple Leafs have a spillover effect in the market, where coin collectors assemble complete date sets in albums. Since the silver Maple Leaf series was introduced in 1988, collectors would need to buy two fewer Maple Leafs than American Silver Eagles to complete an entire date set, as the popular U.S. series started two years earlier in 1986.
In addition to the business-strike (or “bullion”) Maple Leafs, the Royal Canadian Mint offers proof versions of its bullion coins specifically for coin collectors. These proof coins, of course, have a substantial premium over their intrinsic bullion values and are certainly better suited to numismatists than precious metals investors.
Commemorative Coins Galore
While the United States Treasury was reluctant to support the production of commemorative coins during the 1960s, ‘70s and the earliest part of the ‘80s, Canada was regularly producing both circulating and non-circulating commemorative coins during those years. In fact, a multi-year battle ensued between numismatists, Congress, the U.S. Treasury, and the U.S. Mint simply to produce our nation’s 1976-dated Bicentennial coins. While financial abuses stemming from the 1930s and ‘50s U.S. commemorative coin programs long discouraged American officials from approving further commemoratives, there were few such issues to speak of relating to Canada’s commemorative coin programs.
Canada has produced a plethora of circulating commemorative coins over the years, but the number of issues struck primarily for the numismatic collector is outstanding. Counting proof and specimen versions of all denominations, the number of Canada’s special-issue commemorative coins soars into the triple digits.
While the nation issued a handful of different proof commemorative silver dollars from 1935 through 1967, Canada began unveiling an ever-growing array of special issue coins beginning in the early ‘70s. That’s when the Royal Canadian Mint issued 36-millimeter diameter commemorative 50-percent silver dollars for numismatists when 32-millimeter nickel-based dollar coins were already the rule.
These large-size, special-issue silver dollars include the 1871-1971 British Columbia centennial silver dollar, the 1981 Transcontinental Railroad commemorative silver dollar, and the 1882-1982 Regina, Canada centennial silver dollar, all of which retail for $12 to $15 in Mint State and proof grades. Long after the small-sized golden $1 Loonie coin entered circulation in 1987, Canada continued striking large-sized silver dollars.
Later editions were struck in a 92.5 percent silver composition and honor an array of subjects, including stagecoach service (1992), Stanley Cup hockey (1993), the Hudson Bay Company (1995), and Queen Elizabeth II’s golden jubilee (2002). These pieces retail for $25 to $40 in proof grades.
Canada also issued an array of silver commemoratives ranging in face value from $5 to $20. These coins measure between 38 millimeters and an impressive 45 millimeters, and they commemorate a variety of topics (though most dedicate field space to various Olympic sports and historic figures in Canadian aviation history). Virtually all of these pieces can be bought for under $60 each given current bullion values.
Not to be forgotten are Canada’s gold commemorative coins, which range in denomination from $100 to $500 and honor an incredible array of people, landmarks, and events. From French explorer Jacques Cartier to antique cars, Canada’s $100 denomination gold coins offer plenty for the topical collector and are generally available for less than $1,000.
Canadian gold commemorative coins with face values of $150 and greater are notable for their tiny mintage figures. In fact, most of the $200 issues were made in small batches of 10,000 pieces or less. The $300, $350, and $500 coins generally boast scarce mintage figures of less than 2,000 each.
Superheroes, Disney, and Holograms – O My!
The folks at the Royal Canadian Mint have no shortage of stunning numismatic tricks up their sleeves. Not only was the nation among the world’s first to issue mint-issued colorized coins, but Canada has also brought holographic coins into the numismatic mainstream.
The hologram coins are made with a combination of various finishes, reliefs, and holographic images to achieve the breakthrough effect. Most of these coins are made from silver and depict nature scenes and social themes; many of these coins can be bought from coin dealers or directly from the Royal Canadian Mint for roughly $60 to $85 each (in U.S. dollars).
Some Canadian hologram coins are somewhat more expensive, such as the 5-ounce silver hologram coin featuring a beautiful maple leaf for $400. For coin collectors who have a few more bucks to spend, you might consider the one-kilogram pure gold hologram coin, featuring a stunning maple leaf design. It features an incredible $2,500 face value, and an even more jaw-dropping limited mintage of just 10–yes, 10–pieces. What’s the price for this 1,000-gram, 101.6-millimeter-wide gem? Try $53,337. The Royal Canadian Mint only accepts phone orders for this issue, and they will even throw in a handsome wooden presentation box.
If a five-figure hologram coin is out of your budget, perhaps some fanciful pieces featuring famous cartoon and comic book heroes might be more feasible for your pocket book.
A Bugs Bunny $20 face value pure silver coin that presently sells for $15.46 (current U.S. price) is one of the most popular and affordable versions of these whimsical 2015-dated Canadian coins. There are other silver, gold, and colorized coins in the Looney Tunes series, with prices starting at about $39 each for matte proof 1/2-ounce silver coins up to $147 for 2-ounce silver colorized coins showcasing other characters from the enduring Warner Brothers’ franchise (Sylvester, Tweety Bird, Daffy Duck, etc.). For financially well-heeled Looney Tunes fans, there is a Looney Tunes gold kilo coin featuring an ensemble of characters and an anvil-dropping price of $53,337. That’s all, folks.
Well, not quite all… Superman fans can buy a “$20 for $20” silver coin featuring the Man of Steel – remember, that’s currently $15.46 for U.S. buyers. The Royal Canadian Mint has partnered with DC Entertainment, home of several iconic comic book superheroes, to bring numismatists a series of gold, silver, and cupro-nickel Superman coins. Four colorized, 1/2-ounce silver coins in a Superman series each presently sell for $42.48.
Proof Sets & Proof-Like Sets
While Canadian Superman coins and holograms have become all the rage in modern coin collecting, there’s something to be said for the classics, too.
Long before Canadian coins pushed the numismatic envelope of conventional minting techniques, there were the proof sets and proof like sets of the Great White North. It’s safe to say that, aside from U.S. proof sets and uncirculated sets, the Royal Canadian Mint’s coin sets have long been among the most popular government-packaged numismatic products available.
Canadian proof-like sets were first packaged in 1953 and initially sold for $2.20. With a current value of $2,000, that first Canadian proof-like set is now worth nearly 1,000 times its original retail price, though most proof-like sets are much more affordable.
The 1967 Confederation Centennial proof-like set, which includes six circulating wildlife-themed designs, is perhaps the single most popular Canadian proof-like set. Pre-1968 Canadian proof-like sets, which include the 80-percent silver dime, quarter, half dollar, and silver dollar, contain nearly 1.1 ounces of precious metal and currently sell for about $30 and up.
Proof-like sets made from 1968 through the early 1990s are downright dirt cheap and usually cost less than $10, with several sets obtainable for under $5. More recent proof-like sets are generally pricier as they were produced in smaller quantities and in some cases include special commemorative issues.
Diehard Canadian coin collectors may also opt for specimen sets. Somewhat akin in quality to United States proof coins, Canadian specimen coins were first produced in 1858. Most specimen sets up through the 1960s run into the thousands of dollars today, mainly due to their extraordinarily low mintages early on (as low as dozens or mere handfuls). Specimen sets made since the 1970s are more affordable, with several ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s specimen sets available for less than $15 each.
The first official sets containing entirely proof coins were packaged in 1981. Note the caveat above – “entirely” proof. Canadian coin sets minted from 1971 through 1980 as “proof sets” actually contained coins that were closer to specimen quality than proof.
Canadian proof sets often go by the handle “double dollar” sets, as they traditionally contain the set of regularly circulating coinage (cent through dollar), plus a silver commemorative dollar corresponding to a given year. For example, the 1981 Canadian proof set contains proof issues of that year’s six circulating coins plus the 1981 Transcontinental Railroad proof silver dollar. In essence, these proof sets are most comparable in quality and packaging to United States prestige proof sets.
Prices for Canadian proof sets are all over the board, ranging as low as $30 for some of the 1980s and ‘90s sets to more than $100 for scarcer sets.
Exploring More Canadian Coins
This two-part series really just scratches the surface of what the realm of Canadian coins has to offer.
There are also the special gold-plated 3-cent silver coins issued in 2001 to honor the 150th anniversary of the Canadian postal service.
In 2008, the Royal Canadian Mint marked its centennial by striking commemorative proof coins bearing a 1908-2008 dual date and obverse and reverse designs from the Edward VII period. It should be noted that from 1858 through 1907, most of the coins struck for circulation in Canada were actually made at the Royal Mint in London; the Ottawa branch of the Royal Canadian Mint opened on January 2, 1908.
In the last 11 decades, the Royal Canadian Mint has produced an incredible array of coins and certainly has plenty to offer to all types of coin collectors. In fact, the Royal Canadian Mint has produced a greater array of coins and collectible series in the past few years than ever before. So many, in fact, that it would be infeasible to even begin describing each of them in detail here, though hopefully this series has provided a satisfactory appetizer to the numismatic feast that awaits those who embrace Canadian coins.