By Michael Joffre
As you go through your old change, it is possible, though unlikely you will stumble upon a 50-cent coin. What used to be an important part of daily commerce is now relegated to history, and the cabinets of coin collectors.
Back in 1870, when the relatively new Dominion of Canada planned its first coinage issue, the 50-cent coin was included as the largest denomination (25c, 10c, 5c being the others). Minted in sterling silver and weighing over 11 grams, it was impressive in size. The obverse featured a crowned image of Queen Victoria. Considering that the value back in the late 1800’s of 50 cents would have had the purchasing power of around $30-$50 today, it was a coin that was frequently used. This is proven by the surviving examples, which are almost always worn flat.
In 1902, the coin changed to bear the crowned portrait of King Edward VII, and then again in 1911 with that of King George V. The front of the coin remained the same for 66 years (1870-1936), with the simple legend “50 Cents Canada”, the date with a crown, and maple leaves tied with a bow.
In 1937, King George VI created a major redesign of all Canadian coinage. Unlike his predecessors, he had his portrait uncrowned. The other side was changed to a coat of arms with two lions, one with the Union Jack, and the other with a flag bearing the Fleur-de-lis. This reverse design with little modification continues to this day.
As of 1968, Canadian coins were no longer made of silver, and much of the coinage in circulation from the 1940’s to the 1960’s was hoarded. Even today, more than 46 years later, it is quite easy to find these coins.
Since the use of these coins declined dramatically in the 1970s and 1980s, by 2002, the mint decided to no longer produce them for general circulation. It would be unusual to find one in change, and certainly would not be recognized by most cashiers today. Fortunately for collectors, the 50-cent piece is still minted each year and available in rolls at the Mint Boutique in Ottawa.
Michael Joffre is an avid Numismatist, and President of Carsley Whetstone & Company Inc., a Montreal coin dealer with a history dating back to 1928. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, www.carsleys.com, or 514-289-9761