Junk box gems: a penny token from Canada


12 January 2019
In our regular examination of a mystery coin, we look at a penny token from Canada and reveal more about its background

This piece tells you that it is a penny token of the Bank of Upper Canada, dated 1852, and reminds you that Canada used mainly sterling coinage at that date - it introduced its dollar/cent currency in 1857, though Newfoundland did not join the confederacy until 1949.

Canada was a recently settled and rather lawless place at this time.

In 1849 local rioters burned down the parliament house in Montreal (Lower Canada or Quebec). Aggrieved at this, parliament moved to Toronto in Upper Canada (Ontario), and authorised the main bank there to issue these tokens, in place of the ‘sou’ tokens which had been made by the Bank of Montreal, as there were not enough British coins for their needs.

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Most books on Canadian coinage describe the vertical object under the crown on the reverse as a tomahawk. However, the design was taken from the seal of Upper Canada, in the absence of an official coat of arms, and the warrant of 28 March 1792 shows that it’s a calumet or pipe of peace - indeed it should have smoke coming out of it!

The very sharp-eyed will see that the Union flag, at the upper right, lacks the Saint Patrick’s cross.

This was correct when the seal was granted, as Ireland did not join the union until 1801, and the seal was not changed, though it was rather an anachronism in 1852!