Lower Canada tokens were used as currency for a relatively short time, less than 10 years altogether. Nevertheless, they had a significant role to play in Canadian history. The Bouquet Sou was a denomination of tokens that was worth approximately a half-cent. Its design went through several alterations in response to changes in politics and society. Bouquet Sous are readily available today, yet can be worth a lot more than they were in the 1830s when they were in circulation.
History of the Bouquet Sou
Commerce in 19th-century Lower Canada was difficult to carry out because of a lack of coinage in circulation. Most of the coins that were available were foreign coins from countries such as the United States and Mexico. Lower Canada tokens, including the Bouquet Sou, were issued by the Bank of Montreal as a solution to the currency shortage.
Though the Bank of Montreal was the original issuing organization, it didn’t have the ability to mint the coins and outsourced the production to a facility in New York state. Approximately 500,000 Bouquet Sous were issued in July 1835. The first series included a mistake on the coin’s reverse. It was supposed to say, “Un Sou,” designating the value of the coin in French but, perhaps owing to ignorance of the French language on the part of the die-maker, instead said “Un Sous,” combining a singular article with a plural noun. This mistake was corrected in future mintages.
Design of the Bouquet Sou
Throughout its brief existence, the Bouquet Sou went through several design updates. The reason it became known as the Bouquet Sou is that the obverse design featured a cluster of plants tied together with a ribbon. The plants included in the bouquet have symbolic associations with Canada and the different countries from which immigrants came to make their homes here:
- A stalk of wheat, being a major cash crop of Quebec
- A rose, representing England
- A thistle, representing Scotland
- A shamrock, representing Ireland
The bouquet also included a maple leaf, which remains a symbol of Canada to this day. Around the bouquet was an inscription that said “Trade & Agriculture / Lower Canada” in either French or English.
On the reverse, the “Un Sou(s)” inscription is surrounded by a wreath of laurel leaves. For the first series, before the Bank of Montreal had received official permission to issue coins, the reverse read “Bank Token Montreal.” This was later substituted with the name of the bank itself.
Variations in the Design
The Lower Canada Rebellion, an attempt to remove French Canadians from British rule and found a republic modelled after the United States, took place in 1837. A Bouquet Sou with a new design showing sympathy for the cause was issued the same year by a rival bank, La Banque du Peuple. The obverse is the same, but the reverse of the so-called “Rebellion Sou” shows the words “Un Sou” surrounded by a wreath of maple leaves rather than laurel leaves. “La Banque du Peuple,” or the Bank of the People, appears instead of the name of the Bank of Montreal. The design also includes a star and a Phrygian cap, both regarded as emblems of liberty. The Rebellion Sou was redesigned by Joseph Arnault, an engraver based in Montreal, but it is not clear who at the bank ordered it. Eventually, all the directors of the bank came under suspicion.
There were also examples of imitation tokens that resembled the design of the Bouquet Sou but with a weight that was too light for its denomination. These were imported from places such as Birmingham, England, and Belleville, New Jersey, by speculators that would turn a profit because the price to make them was less than what they stood to receive upon redeeming them. Because of all the unofficial imitations, the Bank of Montreal led an effort to supplant them with new Habitant-design tokens in 1837.
Bouquet Sous tells the story of a tumultuous time in Canadian history. Find these and other historic Canadian coins for sale at Colonial Acres.