Collectible Canadian tokens and coins were two types of currency used in the 19th-century colonies that became Canada. As such, Maritime coins and colonial tokens represent Canada's rich history, unique culture, and natural beauty.
At Colonial Acres, we offer a diverse array of collector's items that add value to even the most robust collection.
What Is the Difference Between Tokens and Coins?
The main differences between tokens and coins are who issued them and their legal tender status. Coins are issued by the government and have a legal tender status, which means that they can be used as payment for goods and services.
Tokens, on the other hand, can be issued by a government, business, or individual. They were historically used as substitutes for coins, particularly during times of coin shortages or when coins were not available in a particular denomination. Tokens issued by a colonial government are called semi-regal, while those issued by a business or individual are called private tokens. Some are simply anonymous.
Today, tokens are collected as historical artifacts and are often prized for their rarity, design, or historical significance.
Most of the British Maritime colonies suffered coin shortages in the early 19th century, leading to various expedients.
During the War of 1812, the governor of Prince Edward Island decided to punch out Spanish-American silver dollars like doughnuts to create improvised shillings and five-shilling “holey dollars.” The residents promptly made forgeries, so the government withdrew theirs, and the islanders stuck with the fakes.
In the following decades, a variety of privately issued copper tokens appeared bearing slogans like “Ships Colonies & Commerce,” “Success to the Fisheries / Speed the Plough,” or “Self Government and Free Trade.”
In contrast, the Nova Scotia government clamped down on private tokens, then issued large quantities of its own halfpenny and penny tokens without permission from the British government. These bore “a handsome thistle” (fitting for the colony of “New Scotland”) on one side and a profile of either King George IV or Queen Victoria on the other (unfortunately for William IV, he was skipped).
By the 1850s, the Nova Scotia government managed to get permission to make more tokens and released new and beautiful halfpennies and pennies featuring mayflowers.
That said, a number of private or anonymous Nova Scotia tokens do exist, especially from the 1810s. Modern investors may find the various issues bearing the slogan “Pure Copper Preferable to Paper” amusing: lack of confidence in government substitutes for cold, hard metal goes back a ways.
New Brunswick likewise sought to issue its own copper in the 1840s. The British government said no, but somehow the tokens ended up in circulation anyway: halfpennies and pennies bearing a frigate-class warship and Queen Victoria’s effigy. Similar tokens were issued again a decade later – this time with the Crown’s permission.
The Newfoundland government played by the rules and never issued any tokens of its own, though of course various imports and local tokens changed hands, like the Rutherford Brothers halfpennies, with the family’s elegant coat of arms on one side and an odd image of a hanging sheep corpse on the other.
The Maritime Coins: Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island Coins
Farther west, the Province of Canada (comprising modern Ontario and Quebec) issued a series of true coins in multiple denominations in 1858. These coins adhered to a decimal system like that of the United States as opposed to the previous pounds-shillings-pence system inherited from Britain. Nova Scotia and New Brunswick did likewise in 1861 with new bronze coins struck in Britain.
The two provinces’ coins used designs that are almost indistinguishable at a glance, save for the legend. These feature an effigy of Queen Victoria from British coins on one side, and on the other, a crown circled by a wreath of English roses and Nova Scotia mayflowers (incorporated by popular demand). Nova Scotia ordered cents and half-cents, but New Brunswick only cents; naturally, the Royal Mint proceeded to make a large number of New Brunswick half-cents by mistake (most were melted).
New Brunswick also ordered silver 5-, 10-, and 20-cent pieces similar to those of the Province of Canada, with a maple leaf wreath and crown.
Not to be left behind, Prince Edward Island issued bronze decimal cents in 1871. These feature a stand of oak trees symbolizing Britain and her children, the counties of Prince Edward Island.
After Confederation, the provinces adopted a unified currency, so province-specific issues ceased – with one exception. Newfoundland didn’t join the Canadian Union until 1949, so it issued its own coinage, beginning in 1865. As such, Newfoundland coins can be found bearing the effigies of four British monarchs, Queen Victoria and Kings Edward VII, George V and George VI. From 1865 to 1888, Newfoundland even issued a two-dollar coin, predating the Canadian toonie by 131 years. This coin wasn’t bimetallic: better yet, it was made of gold.