1856 isn’t necessarily a notable year. In March, the British Empire’s Crimean War ended and the Treaty of Paris was signed. Dallas, Texas was incorporated as a city. The Second Opium War began in China. And in a little territory on the Atlantic coast of what would become Canada, a small token, or coin, was minted with the blessing of the British government. The 1856 Nova Scotia Mayflower Token is often considered one of the most beautiful coins ever designed. Here’s some history about this Canadian half penny.
A Brief History of Currency in Nova Scotia
The modern economy runs on a uniform currency. We take money for granted, but before the Royal Canadian Mint was born, Indigenous Peoples used beaver pelts or wampum as money. The French settled in Nova Scotia before the British, but neither country had an official policy on currency in the new territory. It wasn’t until 1814 that Nova Scotia issued regular coinage. It was the first colony to do so. Even though the early coins bore the portrait of the British King, the coins were not sanctioned by the British government. Private companies issued many tokens between 1814 and 1856. Many of these tokens were counterfeited and some collectors look for counterfeit tokens as part of their Canadian coin collection.
The First Government-Approved Coin in Nova Scotia
The ½-penny token issued in 1856 had regal status. This coin is made from bronze. The obverse of the coin features a portrait of Queen Victoria. Leonard Charles Wyon, a British engraver noted for engraving the dies for the gold and silver Golden Jubilee coins for the Queen, is the engraver.
The reverse of the coin features a bouquet of mayflowers, which is why the coin has the nickname Mayflower. The mayflower plant, also known as trailing arbutus, is thought to have been the first plant the Pilgrims saw after surviving the harsh winter for which they were unprepared. The mayflower is the provincial flower of Nova Scotia. The detail of the bouquet was expertly captured by John Thompson, the botanist who designed the engraving.
Token Collecting Has Its Own Challenges
Canada may not have the same heritage as European or Asian countries that have history going back thousands of years. Compared to some countries, Canada is a baby. While we may not be able to trace the ancient money used in Canada, beaver pelts and wampum, some people have found tokens from the 1800s. The thing to remember is that tokens are scarce. In some cases, there weren’t many of them minted.
Besides rarity, tokens can be difficult to pin down to a time and place. Not all of the tokens have been categorized. The private issues are collectible but vary by location and year. Hudson’s Bay Co., Molson’s and Thomas Church are just a few of the private issuers of tokens. Collectors who find these tokens can learn a lot about the history and economy of Canada before Confederation.
Collecting Coins To Show Your Love of Canada
The Mayflower Token is a beautiful coin that is over 150 years old, but it is an affordable coin to add to a collection that celebrates Canada. There are many other bank tokens from Nova Scotia and other provinces that are available to showcase Canada’s history and economy before Confederation. Considering the lack of technology for minting coins during this time in history, the detailed designs are even that much more stunning. If you’re looking for Canadian coins for sale, Colonial Acres has a wide variety of coins across many years. Shop our selection of bank tokens.