Early North American Currency at Toronto Coin Expo

Do you study those pieces listed in the first section of the Charlton Standard Catalogue of Canadian Coins?  Many collectors of our nation’s currency seem to ignore this section, jumping right to provincial coinage or even those struck by the Province of Canada in 1858, leaving these important pieces hugely under-appreciated.  Canada’s history didn’t begin with confederation, yet the coins that circulated as our country was being formed seem to be in few collections.  This situation is correcting itself as astute collectors realize the value available.

The French Colonies coinage for North America is something unusual in numismatics. It spans well over a century, incorporates many distinct coinage types and metals, comprises regular struck coins, overstrikes and countermarks, and has a wealth of varieties, with at least some types struck at each of the 29 French mints. Some were produced in immense quantities yet are scarce or even quite rare today thanks to subsequent recoinage, melting and shipment of coins off to other French possessions after they had they served their purpose in North American French colonies; others were made in small numbers to begin with, and are exceptionally rare today. Despite an abundance of interesting features, the coinage has been inexplicably ignored by numismatists in all three counties that should be collecting it: Canada, the United States of America and France.

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That, thankfully, is beginning to change. While a few types were briefly acknowledged by some late 19th and early 20th century writers, it was only in the late 1970s that Victor Gadoury made the first attempt to list the issues struck in France by date and mintmark, including those for the American colonies. In 2004 Robert A. Vlack wrote a book on the French billon coinages intended for North America, giving variety and rarity information for the first time, especially useful for the Sous and Half Sous Marques – coins that had been around for 250+ years before this was finally attempted. More recently, Syd Martin’s 2015 book looked at the three coinages that were specifically struck for North America; of these types, only the 1721-2 Copper 9 Deniers are affordable and quite collectible, and Martin’s work has die variety and rarity information published for these, also for the first time – nearly three full centuries after those coins were struck! Most of the other French Colonies coinages have yet to be published in any sort of detail, offering a great opportunity for original numismatic research.

Geoffrey Bell Auctions Ltd. is pleased to offer here an extensive collection of the coins that actually circulated in French North America – many of which continued to circulate in both Canada and the United States (especially the areas acquired as part of the Louisiana Purchase) into the early 19th century. A handful of extreme rarities are not included in this collection, such as the 1670-A silver 5 and 15 Sols and the 1717-Q copper issues of 6 and 12 Deniers. While their rarity is legendary, that same rarity also meant those coins would have seldom been seen in circulation. Instead, this collection focused on the coins that were used on a routine basis by those who lived in the region from the 1640s through the early 1800s, and shows the wide variety of coin types available. For struck coins this means date and mintmark combinations as well as major varieties; for countermarked or overstruck coinages it means the variety of different host coins by ruler, date and mint. These coins were made to circulate, not to be placed in the cabinets of European collectors, and while a few have survived in remarkably nice condition, others exist only well-worn, attesting to their long and useful life in commerce. This is a series that is focused less on perfect condition and more on the intrinsic history wrapped up in these rare surviving pieces of daily life.

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This is one of the largest offerings of such coins at public auction, on par with the 500+ coin Robert A. Vlack collection sold in January, 2008 and the 450+ offering of the John J. Ford collection sold in January, 2006 – though each of these three collections are stronger in different areas. Both Ford and Vlack had more Sous Marques and Half Sous, and the Ford sale was remarkably strong in coinage from the treasure ship Le Chameau, while the present collection is far richer in the earliest issues, the 1640 countermarks and the Recoined Sol coinage. Included in this offering are many extremely rare pieces that have never appeared for public sale before, others that are completely unlisted in the scant reference material, and some other unusual delicacies. We have strived to make this more than just an auction catalogue to be discarded after the sale is done, but rather something that can be used as a reference work for the series as a whole. We have grouped the offering by series, each with a brief introduction tracing the coinage and its importance to Canada and North America. For collectors of both Canadian coinage and the American colonial series, this offering is one worthy of further study.

The Toronto Coin Expo 2019 Spring Sale takes place May 2nd and 3rd, with these French Colonies coins hitting the blocks in the first session.  The event takes place at the Toronto Reference Library with bidding also available online.

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