In the 18th and 19th centuries, Canada was a colony of Great Britain. For some period of time, the territory was divided into two districts, Upper Canada and Lower Canada, along with the maritime colonies, now provinces. These districts had different ways to issue coins and money to the colonists living there, including providing colonial tokens. Since the British government didn’t supply enough materials for coins to the provinces, banks and private companies started issuing their own substitutes for coins in the form of tokens.
Canadian Coins in the 19th Century
Before the Royal Canadian Mint was founded in 1908, coinage for the territory was handled by Great Britain. Additionally, governments, banks and even private businesses throughout Canada would issue tokens and coins during the 19th century as Canada continued to change and grow with more settlers and colonists. Here are some examples of coinage during this time period.
In the mid-19th century, there was a shortage of materials for issuing coins, such as silver and copper. Because of this, the Mint in London was not providing materials or coinage for most of Canada. Small coins were often in short supply. The Mint gave banks the authority to issue tokens and small coins, such as the halfpenny. One example was the habitant halfpenny, issued by several banks in the 1830s. The coin features an individual in winter gear on one side, the habitant, and heralds and flowers on the other side.
Nova Scotia Tokens
In the early 1800s, Nova Scotia took matters into its own hands and issued its own tokens for residents to use for transactions. In 1814, Nova Scotia issued a thistle token with Britain’s King George IV featured in the design. The tokens were used as currency even though they weren’t officially authorized by Britain’s mint. Because of the coin shortage and the lack of materials for the Mint, the tokens were an accepted currency in this region of Canada.
Prince Edward Island Tokens
Another region of Canada that issued its own tokens was Prince Edward Island. This region issued a Self Government & Free Trade token to make transactions accessible to the people that lived there in the 1800s. The George Davies copper halfpenny featured the issue year and Prince Edward Island on one side and the words “Self Government and Free Trade” on the other side. Other tokens in Prince Edward Island were pressed with the phrases “Ships, Colonies and Commerce” and “Success to the Fisheries.” These tokens were used from 1830 to 1860.
Imitation Colonial Tokens
Tokens were issued throughout Upper and Lower Canada in the 1800s by banks, local governments and private companies. Unfortunately, some unscrupulous individuals took advantage of the wide variety of halfpenny and penny tokens in circulation and created their own imitation tokens. An example imitation token is the imitation Tiffin token from 1812. These tokens were made from brass and passed as legitimate currency.
Because of the lack of regulations for issuing coins and the chaos throughout Upper and Lower Canada with coin shortages, the government started cracking down on unofficial halfpenny tokens and imitation tokens in the late 19th century. In 1870, the Dominion of Canada started issuing coins in five, 10, 25 and 50 cent denominations. Halfpenny tokens and other small coins became obsolete. Today, collectors can enjoy the history behind these rare tokens and other forms of early Canadian currency.
See some examples of the earliest types of coins in Canada from Colonial Acre’s coin catalogue. Each halfpenny token or coin represents a period in Canadian currency history that was unlike any other time.