1845 BMO halfpenny sets Canadian numismatic record

By Jesse Robitaille

Another 170-year-old token sold for more than $60,000 at the recent Fall 2015 Toronto Coin Expo, setting a new numismatic record for the highest-priced Canadian token sold at an auction.

Altogether, the auction realized nearly $800,000 from some 950 lots of coins, tokens, medals and banknotes as part of Geoffrey Bell Auctions biannual Coin Expo sale.

The auction’s highlight was undoubtedly Lot 129, an 1845 Bank of Montreal (BMO) halfpenny (Breton 527) that crossed the block for $61,200 after a pre-sale estimate of $40,000-$50,000.

“This is one of Canada’s greatest rarities,” said Sandy Campbell, owner of Proof Positive Coins, about the token, which he added is the “only example in private hands and a pedigree of great importance.”

“It was one of only four known to exist,” said auctioneer Brian Bell, who added the lot was part of the Richard Cooper Collection, which accounted for lots 93-319. “It is the only example in private hands, though.”

Campbell said pre-Confederation tokens are among the strongest areas in Canadian numismatic collecting.

“The vision and knowledge of people like Warren Baker, Chris Faulkner, John Temple and Doug Robins have helped develop this field over the past 40 years,” he said.

Bell said the sale saw part two of the Cooper Collection auctioned off for nearly $300,000 altogether.

“Session One was mainly part two of the Cooper Collection, and that sold for $294,000,” he said. “It was very well received.”

The Cooper Collection’s first installment, which included an “outstanding” collection of countermarked tokens, was sold at the Spring 2015 Coin Expo held in May 2015.


Another highlight was Lot 118, an 1839 Banque du Peuple sideview penny (Breton 525), which realized $32,400 after an estimate of $25,000-$30,000. In Choice About Uncirculated condition, this token is described in the auction catalogue as being “as good as the specimen described as Unc. in the Ford Sale, which netted $25,850 US.”

Lot 716, a Bank of Nova Scotia £1 note issued in Jamaica in 1900, realized $21,600 after an estimate of $10,000-$12,500.

“This banknote was issued in Jamaica, where the bank operated a branch for some time,” said Bell.

According to the Scotiabank (then the Bank of Nova Scotia) website, its Jamaican branch was opened in 1899 and marked the bank’s first move into the Caribbean. What’s more, it was the first branch of a Canadian bank to be opened outside the U.S. or U.K.

Lot 712, a “rare” 1872 Niagara District Bank $5 bill, sold for $21,000.

“We think this piece is probably unique in private hands,” said Bell, who added there are three examples listed in the Canadian Paper Money Society census; one resides in the National Currency Collection and another in the Bank of Commerce archives, making this note “quite likely the only example in private hands” and the only listed with this signature combination.

Another highlight was Lot 635, a 1985 New Zealand mule, of which few are known to exist, that realized $15,000 after a pre-sale estimate of $10,000-$12,500. Bell said this “very rare” coin combines the obverse of a New Zealand 50-cent piece and the reverse of a Canada dollar.

Lastly, rounding out the highlights was Lot 937, a 1971 Bank of Canada $10 replacement note that sold for $19,800 to an online bidder after a pre-sale estimate of only $4,000-$5,000.

“This was a surprise, too,” said Bell, who added the Charlton guide lists only one known example. “I think someone bought it for the rarity factor.”

And despite Lot 937 going to an online bidder, Bell said there was a frenzy of floor bidding to match the typically busy online activity at the recent auction.

“It was full,” he said. “Viewing was full, too. We’re seeing strong floor attendance, and it’s a different crowd. Our specialty is eclectic, so we attract a different crowd of very serious collectors.”

The Spring 2016 Toronto Coin Expo is scheduled for April 22-23 at the same location. For more information or directions to both the spring and fall shows, click here.

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