Canadian circulation coins have come a long way in 25 years

I don’t think I’d be going out on a limb if I said that most of today’s collectors started out with pocket change.

I have told before the story about how I went through the family penny jar, or in our case a tube that originally contained some sort of rye, sorting out coins and picking up the ones I liked, so I won’t bore you by rehashing that old tale.

The truth is, a fairly large number of people I have talked to over the years have had similar stories. Variety in pocket change is a great way to get the attention of new collectors. It also helps that the coins can be acquired with no risk. When you pull a coin out of circulation, you essentially sell it to yourself for face value. If you decide you don’t want it later on, you can still simply spend it and get back your investment.

Now my children would have you believe that when I was young, coins were hammered out of silver sheets by coiners working in cottages, and had crude images of William the Conqueror. It doesn’t help that I actually recall, shortly before the British converted to a decimal system, receiving heavily worn coins of Queen Victoria in change. Granted mostly pennies and half pennies, but honest-to-goodness coins that were almost 70 years old still being used as money.

Here in Canada, coins of Elizabeth II, and a couple of Georges were in common circulation when I was a child, and the odd U.S. coin would turn up from time to time.

These coins made for a bit of variety. It was the variety that made coins interesting at first. Long before anyone noticed that some years were more common than others, or even developed any sort of idea of what made one coin prettier than another, I knew that some coins were different from others because they looked different.

Fast forward a few decades and things were different.

Virtually every Canadian coin in circulation was a Queen Elizabeth II base-metal coin. Same face, same design, year after year.

OK, I exaggerate a bit, there was the odd commemorative coin floating about, but almost none to speak of. Our coins were monotonous.

I remember writing an editorial calling for new designs. I’m not saying that it was poorly received, but I will suggest that none of you should ever speak ill of the Bluenose, or suggest its removal from our money. Ever.

Since 1992, the number of circulating commemorative coins has grown dramatically. Even though older coins have virtually disappeared from circulation, new commemoratives are showing up in our pockets all the time.

For me, this represents an opportunity to promote the hobby. New collectors are not, at least initially, interested in classic coins from the past. They are excited about the coins they find now.

The Royal Canadian Mint has done a great job of promoting this, with holders for various modern coin programs. It is now up to the collectors to follow that lead and encourage novices to enter the hobby in this low-risk way.

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