O'Canada For A Kitten - 1967: That Memorable Centennial Year
Posted on 4/16/2015
As I rapidly approach my fifth full decade of collecting coins, I harken back to where it all began. I certainly embrace the opportunity to share with my readers some of my early remembrances of numismatics and my first encounters with those metal discs. Every collector undoubtedly has a veritable litany of stories covering their indoctrination too. For those of you who frequent my ramblings, you are most probably aware of my fondness and excitement for numismatics.
Researching and pricing US coins has been my forte for several decades and when the opportunity presents itself I am very eager to add coins to my own collection. While I have the utmost respect, appreciation and fascination with US coins and their history, I certainly have a fondness for world coins. I’ve mentioned this fact numerous times in this column. Well, another of my passions is baseball and with the 2015 Red Sox home opener underway as I write this report, I harken back to my first trip to see a Major League game. I can recall the summer of 1967 like it was yesterday. It was my first visit to Fenway Park to see my beloved Red Sox in what would be referred to as the “Impossible Dream” team year. Amazingly, Boston had gotten to the World Series after finishing a half game from the American League basement the year before but lost in a hard fought series with the Cardinals. I had gotten my first Daisy BB rifle this memorable year; yet everything was COINS in my 10 year old world.
I had been introduced to the great hobby courtesy of the Red Book during the winter of 1966. Look out! I had a stapler and an ample supply of white 2x2 holders and just about anything worth saving was stapled between those thin acetate Mylar films. While I plucked sundry Wheat cents from circulation and an occasional 90% silver dime, I also enjoyed world coins. In fact, my first silver dollar was the 1958 “Totem Pole” or British Columbia commemorative coin. This was also the first coin which I traded for.
I found out that Jerry, a school classmate of mine, had just been given some Canadian Dollars, and included in his cache was the 1958 Totem Pole issue. I also knew Jerry liked to trade for things and being short of cash, I was concocting a plan on how to pry one of the Canadian cartwheels away.
It was also a well known fact in our neighborhood that Jerry and his family adored animals. Actually, that is putting it mildly. Upon entering their home it was like visiting a small zoo without paying admission. So when I stopped into their menagerie after school one afternoon, I encouraged Jerry and his mom to perhaps think about getting another feline to add to their circus. Both were immediately receptive to this notion...and with them taking my bait...I announced that our cat, Tinker, just gave birth to a litter of six adorable kittens. I happened to have a Polaroid photo to show them too. Both were immediately smitten by the little fluffy balls of fur. I then reluctantly offered to trade one of the litter for the Totem Pole coin but eventually had to raise the ante to two of Tinker’s offspring for the rights of ownership to that neat 1958 British Columbia Dollar coin.
After triumphantly securing that silver dollar, I began to study our great neighbor to the north in earnest. Canada is a very popularly collected Commonwealth country I soon realized!
Growing up in New England, the close proximity to the land of the maple leaf afforded me numerous opportunities to collect coins directly from circulation. The occasional Canadian penny, nickel, dime and quarter would always be eagerly accepted into my collection. While these were technically my first foreign coins, I really didn’t think of them as such since I was so familiar with seeing them appear in my pocket change all of my young life. I soon discovered that many local merchants were glad to get rid of the Canadian coins which resided in their till and at a discount no less, because the exchange rate at that time was such that the Canadian Dollar was only worth about three quarters of what the US Dollar was. Coins at a discount! Certain retailers would even set aside a few dollars’ worth of Canadian coins for me on a regular basis.
I recall in the spring and summer of 1967 the new Canadian Centennial issues began to trickle down to a few local establishments around the New Hampshire seacoast area. For me, as well as many other collectors, this wildlife-themed Canadian Centennial set was in extremely high demand. I was fortunate enough to pick up a handful of the Dove Cent and a few of the Rabbit Five Cent piece coins in my change. Then on one Friday afternoon, an assistant manager at the local Woolworth’s had called our residence to inform me that he had set aside a full roll of the Mackerel Dimes! I was thrilled, my networking of local merchants certainly paid off! I remember I had to twist my dad’s arm a bit and agree to wash the car to pick up that deal! That was my first roll of silver coins. Eventually I had located every coin from that set in circulation, Bobcat Quarter, Wolf Half Dollar and the Canadian Goose Dollar.
There of course was one coin missing and that was the $20 gold piece. I wasn’t really able to afford it anyway and since there were restrictions regarding the import of modern gold coins (that pesky ban would not be lifted officially until January 1, 1975), I knew I had no chance of getting that $20 coin to complete my Centennial set. However, unbeknownst to me, my dad had some friends that would frequently travel to Canada to secure various liquors (whisky) and he told one family friend, who I knew as “Uncle Gilly”, to do what he could to get that $20 gold coin. Then one weekend late in the summer of 1967, fresh from his most recent junket to Montréal, our Uncle Gilly came over for a visit. He first delivered a couple of bottles of prime spirits to my dad, and then Gilly looked at me and said "I have something for you as well." He then pulled two little brown craft envelopes from his pocket and handed one to me and one to my father. I could feel it was a coin in the envelope and based on the size and heft I figured it was a Canadian half dollar. As I opened the envelope's seal and the coin slid neatly in my hand, I’m sure my mouth flew open as wide as it ever had and probably ever will. There in all of its glorious golden splendor was the $20 Centennial gold coin! While I stood there shell-shocked, Gilley said "don’t tell anyone where you got it!" I never did (until now). In fact, I would only enjoy viewing that coin in the privacy of my bedroom with the door shut until the ban was lifted!
For those getting initiated in this hobby, it still is best to learn first-hand about the coin business by getting out and going to a local coin show. You need to see, feel and touch what numismatics is all about. Ask questions to your dealer of choice. It will definitely take time to learn the ins and outs of buying and selling and trading, but it is certainly time well spent. Find a series or two that you enjoy either by denomination, design or other personal preferences. Remember, it doesn’t have to be limited to US coins since world coins and ancients have always been popular with collectors and continue to draw scores of new enthusiasts. Make sure to buy coins you can afford and that you enjoy. Take care of your collection and it will certainly reward you with a lifetime of fond memories and satisfaction. It certainly has for me. Hey, I still have that gleaming roll of 1967 Canadian Mackerel Dimes, Totem Pole Dollar, as well as the fabulous 1967 $20 gold piece! Someday I will pass them on, along with the stories which made them unique to me.
As this article posts, four live floor sessions of the Heritage CICF World and Ancient coins auction are in the books. Reporting in at $5.9 million, eclectic, valuable and rarely seen world treasures are finding new homes at the Chicago International Coin Fair. NGC-certified world treasures led the way in spirited action with many offerings topping five figures.
One of my favorites in this sale was a splendid representative of what was unofficially called the first US silver dollar: the Mexican Eight Reales. These iconic globe and pillar dollars were actually accepted on par with US currency up until 1857. A magnificently toned well struck Mexico 1740 Mo-MF Philip V 8 Reales graded NGC MS 64 realized $10,575. Certainly a lovely example and a superb type coin!
Another modern Latin American dollar size coin was the Panama 1931 One Balboa graded NGC PF 65 Matte. Struck at the Philadelphia Mint facility, of the original reported mintage of 20 coins, only two pieces remain accounted for. According to the NGC Census, the finest of that pair powered to an impressive $25,850. Truly a coup for the modern specialist!
Next up, all eyes will be on the 76th Annual Central States Numismatic Society Convention which will be getting underway next week in Schaumburg, Illinois. Running April 23 through the 25, the Heritage Auction spectacular featuring nearly 6,000 lots of Colonials, Early Federal rarities and modern type should be scrutinized by all potential participants! Enjoy the show and I hope to see you on the bourse floor!
Until next time, happy collecting!
Jim Bisognani has written extensively on US coin market trends and values and was the market analyst and writer for a major pricing guide for many years. He frequently attends major coin shows and auctions.
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