The Design History of Canadian Coinage
By Calista Lynn
Even as cash and coinage approaches obsoletion, people around the world are still collecting coins. Combining text, and sculptural illustration, it is a marvel of graphic design that is often over looked in our day-to-day.
Canada’s first coins were the “Gloriam Regni” silver coins that were brought to all of the French colonies in the Americas around 1670 (Willey). It isn’t until 200 years later in the 20th century when we began seeing coins that resemble the ones we are familiar with today (The Royal Canadian Mint). In 1931, Canada established the Royal Canadian Mint to take the place of the Ottawa branch of the Royal Mint (The Royal Canadian Mint). Canada began putting pictorial designs on all of their coinage six years later (Willey). Those designs were the basis of the ones we see today with the one major replacement of George VI with the portrait of Elizabeth II (Willey). Even later still, Canada didn’t introduce the loonie until 1987 and the toonie in 1996 (The Royal Canadian Mint).
Designing coin faces which are rounds and no more than 3 centimetres in diameter can be quite difficult. Each coin carefully balances the circular composition with carved images and necessary text. Canadian coins have featured a variety of artists from Alex Colville to those not officially working as artists (such as in the Royal Canadian Mint’s “Create a Centsation” coin design contest) (The Royal Canadian Mint). With innovations in minting technology, coins have been able to show incredible amounts of detail–some collector coins featuring colour and even holographic elements (Willey). Consideration has also been given in the design for those with limited sight (CNIB). Each coin is a unique size with different edges (CNIB). Variations include geometric sides as well as ridged and smooth borders (CNIB). There is a reason why people pay thousands of dollars for a coin that isn’t supposed to represent more than a couple dollars. Coinage is not only a representation of our history but also a celebration of the now with Canada’s ever growing series of collector coins. Coin design should not only be revered as beautiful pieces of art, but also a master in technical design and a reflection of our ever evolving technology.
“1 Cent 1937.” Coins and Canada, Coins and Canada, www.coinsandcanada.com/coins-prices.php?coin=1-cent-1937.
“1 Cent 2004.” Coins and Canada, Coins and Canada, www.coinsandcanada.com/coins-prices.php?coin=1-cent-2004&years=.
“BR 502, Gloriam Regni 5 Sols, 1670A (Paris).” ICollector.com Online Auctions, www.icollector.com/BR-502-Gloriam-Regni-5-sols-1670A-Paris_i22120489.
Canadian National Institute for the Blind. Identifying Canadian Coins with Low Vision or Blindness. Youtube, 23 May 2014, youtu.be/hg8an3CZgGw.
“Royal Canadian Mint Currency Timeline.” The Royal Canadian Mint, The Royal Canadian Mint, www.mint.ca/store/mint/learn/history-timeline-4000020.
Willey, R.C. “Coins and Tokens.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, The Canadian Encyclopedia, 29 July 2013, www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/coins-and-tokens.