Bell auction features pre-Confederation tokens in ‘outstanding’ condition

By Jesse Robitaille

Events at the Spring 2015 Toronto Coin Expo will hit very close to home for the Bell family as Geoffrey Bell’s collection of pre-Confederation tokens and coins take centre stage.

Presented by Geoffrey Bell Auctions as part of the annual spring expo, the upcoming auction will also feature the Richard Cooper collection’s first instalment of countermarked tokens, along with countless more from other consignors. Lot viewing runs between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. on May 28 and 29, with bidding starting at 6 p.m. on both days.

Auctioneer Brian Bell said the auction will serve as a gentle introduction to the impressive Cooper collection.

Aside from that, Bell’s own personal token collection – about 400 in total – is also up for sale.

“We’re going to have my collection, which is probably the best offered in the last 20 years, and we’ve got some nice supplementary material from other collectors to go with it,” said Geoff Bell, Brian’s father. “This will probably be the finest pre-Confederation token collection offered at least since the [Roy] Hughes collection was offered a number of years ago. Condition-wise, it’s going to be outstanding; variety-wise and in regards to the availability of rare pieces, it’s probably as good as has been offered in a long time.”

Bell has been collecting these tokens over the past five decades.

“Of course, the obvious thing is, as you get more sophisticated at it, you want better-conditioned specimens plus you want the very rare specimens, and some of them are very rare.”

“The serious collector will be hard pressed not to find either a stunning rarity or one of the more familiar pre-Confederation tokens in outstanding condition to add to his or her cabinet,” notes Chris Faulkner, founding fellow of the Canadian Numismatic Research Society, in the auction catalogue.

Bell said he had a lot of fun acquiring his collection of pre-Confederation tokens and coins over the years, but now he’s on to something else.

“My interest in it waned a bit,” he said. “I find what happens in collecting is your interests sort of evolve over the years – you move from one thing to another – and now I’ve moved into medals, which I find fascinating.”

Also included in Bell’s collection are Prince Edward Island holey dollars and dumps, wheat-sheaf coins, McDermott tokens and other materials from the Temple and O’Connor collections.

His beloved medals won’t be up for auction.

“They’re not for sale because I love the medals – still collecting those.”

And while Bell’s evolving interests played a role in his decision to sell his collection, so did his age.

“I just feel, with the age I’m at, I’ve got to start paring down my collection. I can’t leave this all for someone else to take care of. I’ve sort of tried to peck away at the areas that I don’t have as much interest in as I do in others.”

Bell said another highlight is the Cooper collection of countermark tokens (lots 371-775).

“We’re going to have several sessions of just counterstamped coins,” he said. “Back in the late-1800s – say from 1870 to 1900 or later – these were like what we would have as business cards today. In those days, they didn’t have a printed card per se, so they would use these coins and stamp their name on it and in some cases even stamp where they were from.”

He said countermark tokens are surprisingly difficult to acquire.

“Looking at this collection, you’d think there are all kinds of them, but there aren’t. You very rarely see counterstamped coins. The collection it originally came from was Joseph Foster, an American collector who collected these for years and years and years to put together the finest collection known,” he said, adding a man named Warren Baker also wrote a book on Foster’s collection called Marked Impressions. “Altogether, there will never be another collection like it. It’s one-of-a-kind – a fantastic collection.”

A collection of test tokens (lots 1091-1116) – the largest ever sold, according to Bell – is another auction highlight.

“A test token is a token that was produced by the Royal Canadian Mint and used to test different metals, different alloys, different production techniques, corrosion on the coinage and things like that,” said Bell. “These test tokens make up a very expansive collection. There’s never been an offer like it before, so if anybody has an interest in test tokens – and there’s quite a bit of interest out there – they’ll never get a better chance than this one.”

Bell said another highlight is the prisoner of war (POW) money (lots 818-820).

“It’s something you don’t see very often in sales, and it’s interesting because when the Second World War was on, they were capturing all these prisoners – especially Italians in East Africa – and the British war camps were overwhelmed with all the prisoners, so they asked Canada to set up the prisoner of war camps.”

He said the money was issued to about 35,000 POWs in nearly 30 camps across Canada.

“These pieces of cardboard – I call them ‘chits’ – were different denominations, from one cent right up to a dollar. They were given to the prisoners in these camps to be used at the canteen for cigarettes and chocolate or whatever,” said Bell. “They’re interesting, and they’re very, very scarce.”

So far, he said, the response from collectors has been positive.

“Brian said the phone has been ringing off the hook. He tells me there’s a lot of buzz out there about it. I suspect every serious token collector in the country will be there at the auction or doing it online.”

The Bells said they’re already looking forward to the 2015 Fall Expo, scheduled for Oct. 2 and 3.

“We’re always planning ahead,” noted Bell, adding they are currently preparing for the 2015 Fall Expo Sale, Oct. 1 and 2. “Whether you’re a buyer or a seller, we’re ready to help you with your collections and would love to discuss the opportunity to auction your collection, duplicates or selective prized possessions.”

For more information on the upcoming auction or to consign a collection for future sale, visit

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