The Royal Canadian Mint is set to release restrikes of the country's 1912 $5 and $10 gold coins to mark the 90th anniversary of their first minting.
The history of these coins, which were only minted for three years, began when the British Royal Mint opened its branch office in Ottawa in 1908. It had always been the intention of the Canadian government to strike domestic gold coins for Canadians, both in the sovereign denomination so popular in Britain, as well as in dollar denominations.
In 1911, and British artist William Henry James Blakemore was commissioned to prepare the designs for the Ottawa branch mint. His work consisted of the Canadian coat of arms with a maple leaf wreath on each side, the word Canada above, and the date and denomination (in English only) below.
Initially, the government was going to strike $2.50 and $20 gold coins as well, since the Americans were using those denominations, but those plans were abandoned.
Circulating versions of the $5 and $10 gold coins were first released in 1912 at a time when that amount of money was an immense store of wealth and few Canadians could afford to have that much money in their pockets. At the time, Canadian paper money was redeemable in gold and the government wanted to have a reserve of gold coins in case a run on the banks ever created a demand for the precious metal.
The coins enjoyed a brief popularity as curiosities, but they never caught on with the Canadian public as similar gold coins did in the United States. Most of the coins wound up in the vaults of the Finance Department in Ottawa to form the gold backing of the Dominion bank notes.
As late as 1983, James Haxby, the author of Striking Impressions, the official history of the Royal Canadian Mint, reported that the majority of the 1912-1914 $5 and $10 gold coins were still being held for the government by the Bank of Canada.
If that is, in fact, still true, perhaps it is time for those coins to be released by the bank into the collector market after being buried for the better part of a century.
Two of the specimens in the collection of the Bank of Canada were loaned to the Royal Canadian mint so they could be "faithfully reproduced" in the 2002 versions. The only changes are that the portrait of the Queen replaces her grandfather George V, and the dates on the reverse now read 1912-2002.
At press time, the coins had not been officially announced by the Mint, nor were they being offered for sale on the mint's web site (www.mint.ca). But the secret was revealed by two coin dealers in western Canada who advertised them in the current edition of Canadian Coin News. Both dealers were selling them at $780.45 for a set of two coins.
The coin sets were quietly offered for sale earlier this summer to the mint's select customer list of big spenders, and the complete mintage of 2,002 sets is now sold out.
At current bullion values, the restrikes contain about $350 (Canadian) worth of gold, making a tidy profit for the mint based on the original $750 sale price.
A record price for any single coin was set at Sotheby's auction galleries in New York on July 30 when a 1933 American $20 gold coin was sold for $7.59 million US, or about $12 million Canadian.
Formerly owned by King Farouk of Egypt, the coin is the only 1933 $20 gold piece that may be legally owned. The entire mintage was ordered destroyed by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1933, but a few escaped the melting pot. Those that surfaced since then were confiscated by the U.S. government, but the coin sold last week was the subject of lengthy litigation between its owner and the U.S. Mint. The case was settled recently and the coin became the first and only one of its type and date permitted in private hands.
The buyer's name was not made public.