Coin Travel: The evolution of currency

By Michael Joffre

In a world where credit and debit cards have replaced cash transactions and currency is plastic and has holograms on it, we do not often think about the forms currency had in the past.

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One day I brought home a $1 and $2 bill to show our 7-year-old son. He looked dumbfounded at these. The only “paper money” he’d ever seen started at $5. The obvious question was “Daddy, if there were $1 and $2 bills, were there $3, $4, $6, and $7 bills too?” To his amazement, my answer was, “Yes! And even a fractional bill as well.”

What makes sense in terms of forms of currency changes with time. Inflation, exchange rates, convenience and other factors play into the choices as to which amounts are issued.

Back in the 1900’s, the paper money in Canadian circulation at the time, you would have found a 25-cent bill (sometimes referred to as a shinplaster), $1, $2, and $4 bill. Banks would issue $5 bills and up, and even some lower denominations such as the aforementioned $3. Most interesting of these was the Molson Bank (same family as the beer barons) of the 1870s, which issued the $6 and $7 bills. Lower-valued government bills, and bills from dozens of banks were exchanged concurrently. A $10 bill from the Bank of Montreal or a $20 bill from the Bank of Nova
Scotia was considered a normal part of the money supply.

Michael Joffre is President of Carsley Whetstone & Company, a collector, and researcher.

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