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The "Emperor" of Canadian Currency

Originally published -- The Wayback Times Winter Issue 153 Jan/Feb/Mar 2023 Volume 28


he 1911 silver dollar is arguably the most rare and iconic piece of Canadian currency. It is because of this rarity that it is, in collectible currency circles, considered the “Emperor” of Canadian coins. This is not a coin that you will find jiggling around in your pocket change, but rather an item of historical significance that is part of the fabric of Canada. To add to the iconic value, only three of them were ever made: one made from lead and two made from silver. They are coins that most numismatic collectors can only dream of possessing.


Some history: the first Canadian coins were actually made nine years before Confederation in 1858. This was an effort made to replace a system of coinage that was different from province to province. People of the day often used British, American or provincial coins and tokens that often made transactions difficult, since the coinage differed depending on location. In 1858, all Canadian coins were produced by the Royal Mint in London, England, and were commissioned by the Province of Canada. Original Canadian coinage in 1858 only included the one, five, ten, and twenty cent pieces. After the 1858 production in England, the government of Canada eventually determined that a 25-cent coin would replace the original 1858 twenty cent piece. (Figure A)


Figure A

Shortly after 1867, the new Canadian government requested a 50-cent piece be added to the Canadian currency, it too was to be made in England. As such, between the years of 1870 and 1934, Canadian currency consisted of the 1, 5, 10, 25 and 50 cent pieces. It was only in 1935 when the first Canadian silver dollar was struck for circulation issue.


In 1908 the Royal Canadian Mint officially opened in Ottawa and began to produce circulation currency on Canadian soil (however, the dies used to strike Canadian currency continued to be produced in London). Shortly thereafter, the Canadian silver dollar was contemplated for production in 1910. Of course, deciding to strike a dollar coin is not a simple matter and there are logistics that have to be considered behind the scenes. At that time, the Royal Canadian Mint in Ottawa did not have sufficient equipment in order to strike dollar coins. Much of the equipment needed to be ordered from Europe and as a result there were production delays. (Source: Bank of Canada Museum)


Ultimately, the production of the 1911 silver dollar was scrapped with the election of a new Canadian government. Fortunately, for interest's sake and historical appeal, the Royal Mint in London had already proceeded with the die production and three trial strikes that exist today.

As with any new coin that enters circulation, there are trial strikes (called patterns) that are produced in order to streamline the production process and ensure a successful production of circulation currency. The Royal Mint in London took on the initiative and struck the three 1911 Canadian dollars; two in silver and one in lead.


Fortunately all three trial strikes produced by the Royal Mint in London in 1911 have survived to date. All three of these pattern strikes now reside in the National Currency Collection in Ottawa. Each has taken a different path to Ottawa in the years between 1911 and present day.


The first silver pattern coin (Figure A) was given to the National Currency Collection on loan from the Royal Mint in London. It has been on loan since 1976 and has held a location of prominence in the museum since that time.



Figure B 1911 Silver Pattern

Pattern coin, George V, 1 dollar, 1911, Canada.

© Royal Mint Museum/Bank of Canada Museum, NCC 1976.149.1


The second silver pattern coin (Figure C) has a more interesting past with several theories put forward about how it eventually left the Royal Mint in the 1920s. These stories range from the coin being owned by Egyptian royalty to the Deputy Royal Mint master in London. (Source: Bank of Canada Museum) Regardless, it was not until the 1960’s when the coin surfaced again and was offered for auction. Between the 1960’s and present day, it has changed hands several times amongst several high end collectors. However, it was eventually purchased by a Numismatic dealer and offered to the Bank of Canada Museum in 2018. It has always been a highly sought after item, being the only one of its kind available for purchase.





Figure C – Pattern coin, George V, 1 dollar,

1911, Canada. © Bank of Canada Museum, NCC 2021.24.1



Figure D – Lead pattern coin, George V, 1 dollar, 1911,

Canada. © Bank of Canada Museum,

NCC 1977.196.1


The final pattern coin struck by the Royal Mint was made of lead (Figure D). This coin was struck in London and shipped to Canada in 1911 according to the Bank of Canada Museum. This item ended up being lost in government offices until it was located and returned to the Bank of Canada Museum in 1977. It now remains permanently in the Bank of Canada Currency Collection for all to enjoy.


This coin is without a doubt the most rare item in Canadian Numismatics. It is remarkable that all three have now been accounted for and sit in their rightful place for all to appreciate. Given their rarity, this coin is considered “The Emperor” of Canadian coins. For more information on the history of these three ultra rare treasures, please visit: www.bankofcanadamuseum.ca


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