Collecting Canadian paper money can be rewarding in many ways, most notably historically, artistically, and financially. At Geoffrey Bell Auction Ltd. we believe education is the most important factor in achieving these rewards to their fullest. Two types of notes that are often confusing to collectors, even seasoned ones, are proof and specimen issues.
A proof note is fairly easy to identify, but many are unsure of the reason for their existence. Such banknotes are usually printed on thin India paper, often backed with card stock. They can also be printed right on the card. They will commonly lack any serial number and may sometimes have “specimen” on them. In addition to these characteristics, they are easily spotted because they are usually only printed on one side. A proof note was used to sample or test the printing plates before they were put into use.
In our RCNA Ottawa Sale, a set of front and back 1935 Bank of Canada $500 proof notes hit the blocks and at our Toronto Coin Expo 2015 Fall Sale we offered an 1871 Molsons Bank set of six dollars front and back proofs. The results show how desirable proof banknotes can be. The Coin Cabinet currently has an example of a Bank of New Brunswick 1892 $5 front proof that is mounted on the card as issued by the American Bank Note Company.
Specimen banknotes, often confused with proofs, were used to familiarize bank employees and others with new notes. They are normally printed, front and back, with the same banknote paper, making them very similar to regular issues. The word “specimen” will usually appear stamped somewhere on the note such as the on signature line or sheet numbering area or they may be punch cancelled. They will lack manuscript signatures and serial numbers will commonly, but not always, be all zeroes.
At our Toronto Coin Expo 2015 Spring Sale a lucky bidder went away with a 1925 Dominion Bank Fifty Dollar specimen issue and at our 2016 Fall Sale a 1901 Canadian Bank of Commerce $100 specimen note was sold. To see a more modern set of Bank of Canada specimen banknotes, the Coin Cabinet has available a complete set of multi-colour banknotes. Note the set number stamp present on each note.