Geoffrey Bell Auctions Ltd. sales have achieved a reputation for offering scarce material beyond typical Canadian decimal coins and paper money; tokens and medals are two examples of where the firm has assembled offerings of historical Canadian pieces often under-appreciated elsewhere. Some extensive collections of counterstamped coins and tokens is another area in which they’ve excelled and this post will look in depth at a particularly intriguing mark.
The storied J.O.P. dollars and the prolific Devins & Bolton counterstamps are two well-known and highly sought after examples of these sorts of modified coins or tokens. There’s another punch that has knowledgeable collectors searching Newfoundland Victorian coins – a small “NO” within a rectangular cartouche, usually placed just below the bust of Victoria.
The Nils Ohman counterstamp has been offered on a number of coins in our past auctions and they’ve always performed well, demonstrating how recognizable and desired these pieces are, but there hasn’t been a lot of information on them readily available.
The counterstamp, sometimes referred to as a countermark, appears in Gregory Brunk’s, Merchant and Privately Countermarked Coins, but is attributed to a Nicholas Ohman. Lucky for us, Warren Baker included a fairly detailed writeup in his book, Marked Impressions.
Baker follows Ohman, originally from Sweden, from his time in St. John’s, Newfoundland, where he stayed until as late as December of 1897, to Montréal, where he died at the age of 92 on March 21, 1936. During this time he set up as a jeweller, watchmaker, and optician in addition to being a stamp dealer, coin dealer, and engraver. Despite a bankruptcy in Newfoundland, he would become a Commissioner of the Superior Court of Montréal, which is a considerable achievement.
Much has been speculated upon as to the purpose of the little counterstamp. They are almost always found in the same location on the coin. This deliberateness would seem to rule out it simply being a test strike and the mark is much too small to have any advertising impact. Was it a tracking game to see if the coin would make its way back to him? Baker speculates that the countermarked coins would have served as a token of sorts; if a fifty-cent piece with the “NO” mark was returned to Ohman after the customer had received it in change, they could have received a bonus towards their purchase, perhaps being given credit for a dollar instead of the half.
The counterstamps have been found mostly on Newfoundland Victorian fifty-cent pieces. Exceptions include a love token carved on a Newfoundland 20-cent piece, which we sold at the Toronto Coin Expo 2016 Spring Sale, a 1906 Canadian 10-cent piece that had the “NO” stamp front and back that was in a lot at the same sale, and a 1906 Canadian large cent that possessed the mark below the date.
For this post, we’ve included another “NO” counterstamped Newfoundland 50-cent piece that looks rather typical except for what appears to be something underneath Ohman’s stamp. Is there an underlying mark or is that a defect in the 1899 coin, like a lamination error?
While some merely look at counterstamps on coins as a form of damage, there’s no question they add an intriguing bit of mystery to a treasured piece of history.