CANADIAN SILVER DOLLARS

Dollars in Circulation

 If I believed that Canadian dollars did not circulate, that they performed no economic service of any kind, then my interest in them would vanish to a rapid zero. Happily, I am not obliged to believe any such thing because the situation is not of this kind. It assuredly is true that they have a very limited circulation, but it is not the fault of the dollars.

One thing that seems to be generally well known is the craze for souvenirs which seems to afflict many people of the United States. Even those who live in the American Union find it puzzling at times and no one can really explain it. A few years ago the battleship Missouri was put on display and the public invited aboard to see what it was like. The officers and men of it, being wise in their generation, removed everything that it was thought possible to pick up and carry off. Guards were on hand to prevent the illegitimate picking up of things. And what happened?

It was most amazing. Despite all exercise of care, any number of small objects were found missing; objects of no possible value except to the souvenir crazed. Surprisingly, enough, no attempt was made to carry off the anchor. Does all this have any bearing on the dollars? It most certainly does.

Dollars that get over the border have histories of two different sorts. They have one history which is concerned with souvenir hunters and they have another which is concerned with collectors. But without regard to which history it may be, both end in the same way. I mean by this that in practically no instance do the dollars get back to Canada.

Souvenir hunters defy description. They know little or nothing about the coins they hold; they rarely seek information; they are almost entirely unknown to dealers and collectors, and many of them are distinctly difficult people to understand. Yet some knowledge of them is absolutely necessary in numismatic research on such a subject as the dollars. Why? Because they hold far more of them than do the collectors. Like it or not, they cannot he ignored in a study of this kind.

Spokane has two banks that handle foreign exchange: the Spokane Eastern Trust and the Old National. Both have about the same Canadian dollar history. Over a 10 year period something more than 300 of the coins have gone to each bank. How many went back over the border to Vancouver, British Columbia? None at all. The best were sold to interested collectors and to people wanting them as souvenirs.

For every dollar that reaches the banks at least 10 more fail to do so. These are the dollars that are claimed by the souvenir hunters. It is impossible for me to imagine that a Canadian dollar could change hands five times in circulation. More frequently than not they stop with the first person. Needless to say, all other denominations are allowed to circulate. They excite no interest as souvenirs, save to occasional outside visitors, because they are too common and have no novelty value.

On the basis of the submitted 10 to 1 ratio, Spokane souvenir coins would be around 6.000. The collectors of the same area could not even begin to boast such a number of them. This being true, it is at once evident that collectors do not monopolize the dollars. What is true of Spokane is equally true of Seattle, Buffalo, Bellingham, Detroit, and numerous other places along the border.

An extreme instance of souvenir Canadian dollars may be seen in Eureka, Montana. This small town of 1,500 is close to the border and Canadian visitors are severely limited in number. Eureka has only one bona fide collector and he is interested in United States dollars, not those of Canada. Despite unfavorable circumstances, the town has about 25 pieces, none of them held by collectors.

There has been some talk about possible resumption of gold coinage by the Dominion. Technically, by the way, Canada is still on the gold standard. Should such action really he taken, and I do not for one moment believe it will, it would be an act of foolishness on the part of Canada wholly wanting in precedent. If the dollars are seized upon at such a rate, what would we expect of gold coins? Not a single one of them would ever see a bank.

Previous mention has been made of the fact that the totem pole (1958) coins circulated freely in Bellingham. This was only possible because they appeared in such numbers as to be no novelty. It must be kept in mind that British Columbia received nearly half of the total large coinage, something hitherto quite unknown.

What is their Canadian circulation history? It is very much the same as that of the United States. Although for a long time not particularly dollar conscious, Canadians of today have an esteem of the coins unknown in times past. In their earlier history, many of the Dominion citizens were quite unaware of the fact that a dollar was minted and knowledge of them was built up rather slowly.

Strange to relate, there are some instances on record in which tradesmen have refused to accept the dollars. I heard this story more than once and was somewhat skeptical. However, I finally had it proved to my entire satisfaction.

Some years ago I offered a Canadian dollar in payment for cigarettes and it was promptly declined. Both amazed and amused, I enquired as to whether or not any other denomination would be accepted. An answer was given me in the affirmative. I then wanted to know what was wrong with the proffered dollar and was given no answer. The storekeeper just said he wouldn't take it. Of course, he thought it was a fake or a token of some kind, probably the latter. Quite likely it was the first Canadian dollar he had ever seen. The same coin, offered at another place, was given a warm welcome.

Four years ago, I was called upon to grade 2,000 or more United States dollars for a man who was the owner of a cabaret near Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. Grading them was easy enough as he was not too particular; he merely wanted to know the ones that would be worth keeping. In the course of the grading I encountered about 15 Canadian dollars. They interested me a great deal.

In general, they were the most beaten up Canadian dollars that I had ever seen. They actually showed evidence of considerable usage. Enquiry being made as to their value, I told him that no collector would want a single one of them; that they were all common dates, that they had been handled too much and too carelessly. He nevertheless kept them and I suppose that he expects them at some time to become quite valuable. Experiences of this kind are common enough with the dollars.

Although it may appear that I have made a very poor case for their circulation, it is true that they do circulate. Collectors claim only a modest number, and if the souvenir hunters would only let them alone, a thing which they will obviously never do, then it must be admitted that they would have quite a fair history of circulation.

United States dollars, placed in similar circumstances, show exactly the same history. These coins are a novelty in many parts of the Union and they also meet with skepticism and refusal in some areas of the country. Souvenir hunters would make it impossible for them to circulate in any part of the Deep South. As a matter of fact, they can readily be sold for twice face value, provided they are good specimens. Therefore, the dollars of Canada are by no means unique.

We have noticed general public loss of interest in large silver coins. Paper is preferred by the majority because it is more convenient. Therefore the dollars of Canada can never circulate except in minor degree. As pointed out before, it assuredly is not the fault of the dollars. In any event, large numbers of them are not to be found in banks as happens to he true of the United States.

Future circulation history makes a subject of great interest. Small as it has been, it is apparently due for further shrinkage. Dollars come over the border in decreasing number and the old days when they could be picked up from banks is largely a thing of the past. Banks in Canada have been raided for all the dollars they possessed. A Calgary dealer informed me that several thousand totem pole dollars were returned to Calgary banks as being unfit for collectors. Despite this, an inspired citizenry fell upon them very much as locusts descended upon Egypt in ancient times.

This particular section of my work owes much to kindness of banks in Canada and the United States who proved generous with time and assistance. Only an occasional bank failed to reply and many of them went into detail, showed genuine interest in what was being done, and made themselves helpful in ways that I had not even imagined. More than 40 were contacted and thus enabled me to get a very good idea as to the general history of the dollars in circulation. A good number of those who are employed in banks have numismatic interests in some degree and a few of them are collectors.

 

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