No person better deserves the honour of being called the dean of Canadian coin collectors than James E. (Jim) Charlton. In celebration of his 90th birthday last month, the Charlton Press (which has been owned by coin dealer and publisher William K. Cross for many years) has published a biography entitled J.E. Charlton - Coinman to Canadians.
Not only is it a warm tribute to the man who introduced coin collecting to the public-at- large in this country, but the book is a behind-the-scenes peek at the coin market and its luminaries in this country over the last 50 years.
By coincidence, the biography appears in the golden anniversary year of Canada's most popular coin catalogue. Jim Charlton's 34-page Catalogue of Canadian Coins, Tokens & Fractional Currency was first published in 1952, and after a number of spin-offs moving the tokens and paper currency into separate books, the Charlton Standard Catalogue of Canadian Coins, long considered the undisputed authority on numismatics in Canada, is celebrating 50 years of continuous publication.
With the Charlton format and hallmark, the book is a perpetual Canadian best-seller, having sold millions and millions of copies over five decades.
Jim Charlton had a long career with the Toronto Star. He joined the newspaper in 1948 just before the death of its founder Joseph E. Atkinson. As chief engineer in the old Star building at 80 King St. W. he was responsible for the physical plant until he left in 1961 to devote himself full-time to his business, Canada Coin Exchange.
He also wrote the Coins column in The Star before I started writing it in 1968, and a similar column in the Toronto Telegram before it stopped publishing in 1971.
Coinman to Canadians is a chronicle of a great range of Charlton's business and promotional activities which brought popular numismatics - the "coin hobby" - to Canadians, as no one had before. As a young collector, I bought some of my first coins at Charlton's basement shop on Richmond St. E.
Charlton's unstinting efforts also served to make aspects of Canadian numismatics - coins, tokens, paper money - known and sought outside the country.
This biography also includes a series of appendices highlighting many historically important events in Canadian numismatics over the past fifty years. Coin buffs will appreciate the 50-year price comparison of 16 selected Canadian coins, and all will enjoy the more than 60 photos which carry the reader through 20th-century coin collecting in Canada.
It is certainly amusing to note that an uncirculated 1858 Canadian cent was priced at $3 in Charlton's 1952 catalogue, and $450 in the 2002 catalogue. A circulated 1921 half dollar jumped from $50 to $22,500 over the same period. If only...
When Charlton began his coin and publishing business, coin collecting was just coming into its own as a popular recreation. Once a hobby associated with the well-to-do, Charlton's promotion of the hobby helped transform it into an affordable and popular hobby for the general public.
Coinman to Canadians is a collaborative effort by Bill Cross, publisher of the Charlton Press, author Harold Don Allen, and Charlton himself. It is long overdue, not only as a tribute to an outstanding collector, dealer, author, publisher and promoter, but as a record of an important period in Canadian numismatics.
Published by Charlton Press 416-488-1418.