Living in the 1800s would be quite the experience for modern-day people. On a daily basis, you would face zero modern conveniences, lots of manual labour, and exposure to the elements. Life for merchants, farmers, bankers, and traders was also tricky, in that there was no set monetary standard for buying and selling. People would barter, coin their own money, or use any number of national, tribal, and international currencies to try and buy goods.
The Upper Canada Bank Token was an attempted solution to this problem. An English explorer named John McTaggart adventured for three years in Canada and came up against it. He was also around for Canada’s attempts at mintage and circulation, including the Canadian half penny. Keep scrolling to learn about his adventures and his insight into what currency was like in Canada at the time. Afterward, consider browsing the Upper Canada Bank Tokens that Colonial has in stock.
John McTaggart: A Man With a Plan
When John McTaggart boarded his sailing vessel from England in the summer of 1826, he had a clear goal: supervise the construction of the Rideau Canal (now in South Ottawa city). During this three-year experience, he kept a meticulous journal of his experiences. Some of his adventures include painstakingly clearing through hardwood forest, measuring the lay of the land, interacting with the local Indigenous peoples, and negotiating with other explorers.
Encounter With an American Businessman
On one occasion, McTaggart met an American who had come across the border by horse and sleigh, possessing a large amount of auburn-coloured banknotes. The American took McTaggart for a ride on his sleigh to the Columbian Hotel, where he walked alongside and charmed McTaggart, ultimately pressing a number of the banknotes into his hand.
McTaggart quoted him as saying, “Take these, my boy. I guess you’ll never want money as long as these are in your pocket.” To which McTaggart replied, “No, no, sir. That big dam you’re building must not have a blind gauger.” A gauger was needed to accurately measure the flow of the river. McTaggart was concerned that the American money was essentially a bribe that would cause untrue measurements and misrepresent the value of the dam to its investors.
Canadian Currency During the 1800s
McTaggart documented other types of currency as well. He mentions “Yankee half-dollars,” which were delivered in boxes from Montreal for paying the labourers on the canal. These half-dollars were preferable to vouchers (similar to modern-day cheques). McTaggart noticed that the vouchers were very inefficient because they required so many signatures, and were quickly lost or damaged. Thus was the need established for coin currency in the form of silver tokens engraved with eagles or stars to verify their authenticity.
Upper Canada Bank Tokens and the Canadian Half Penny
In the year of 1849 rioting mobs due to political unrest caused the capital to move from the city of Montreal to the city of Toronto. During this time the Bank of Upper Canada had received permission to mint copper coins, and half penny and penny tokens were the result.
The obverse of the halfpenny bears an image of the legend of Saint George and the Dragon motif. The legend was first recorded in the 11th century and tells of Saint George travelling through Libya and arriving in a city called Silene. A fierce dragon had been causing panic there and because there were no more sheep to offer the dragon the Kings daughter was chosen to be sacrificed by the people. No one was willing to take her place and George saved her by killing the dragon with his lance. The King was so grateful he offered him many rewards but George refused and gave them all to the poor.
The token is also encircled by the legend BANK OF UPPER CANADA and the date. The St. George motif was designed by Benedetto Pistrucci for the British sovereign of 1817, it is about the size of a Canadian silver dollar and is part of the National Currency Collection, Bank of Canada.
Check out the Canadian Half Penny at Colonial Acres Coins
Keep a piece of history with you by purchasing from Colonial Acres. Consider buying a set of eight famous bank tokens from the time John McTaggart lived. Ranging in years of origin from 1814 to 1857, this is a rare set of collectors’ coins that have seen up to 200 years of history.
The Canadian Half Penny is also available with sets of Canadian Provincial Tokens that include selections from the Lower Canada City Bank, the Bank of Montreal, and Nova Scotia. Imagine yourself handling and seeing a coin that has changed hands through as many as seven generations of Canadians.
We have been in business since 1991, having started at flea markets and coin shows. We have proudly been growing our family business ever since. Contact us today to learn about our exciting and rare collectible coins.