Harold Don Allen, prolific numismatist across seven decades, dies at 89

By Laura Ashton

Dr. Harold Don Allen, who brought a storyteller’s passion to numismatic history and collecting, died on July 11 in Brossard, Qué., with his family by his side.

Born on July 2, 1931, Allen was raised in Montréal, where he earned his bachelor of science in mathematics and physics with distinction in 1952 from McGill University. He later earned his master’s degrees from California’s University of Santa Clara in 1966 and New Jersey’s Rutgers University in 1968. His doctorate in mathematics education, a source of enormous pride for him throughout his life, was conferred on him by Rutgers in 1977.

Teaching generations of math students and future teachers while instilling a sense of wonder for the beauty of numbers and cryptograms, he taught professionally for 51 years in Montréal, Chibougamau and Arvida in Québec; at the Nova Scotia Teachers College in Truro, N.S., from 1969-87; and in the Canadian Arctic at the Nunavut Teacher Education Program in the mid-1990s.

Allen promotes numismatics in a 1959 TV segment.


Allen acquired an early numismatic fascination with world paper money and began writing articles in the late 1950s.

He was an active member of numismatic societies in Canada, the United States and abroad for more than 70 years. He was well ahead of his time in talking about new collecting areas such as Canadian milk tokens, rationing and other “Cinderella” means of exchange, including his widely cited December 2006 article in The Numismatist, the monthly publication of the American Numismatic Association (ANA), about the origins of Canadian Tire money. A prolific writer of hundreds of articles, his work was also published in Coin World, the Canadian Numismatic Journal,  the International Bank Note Society Journal and the Fare Box.

He was a lifetime or honorary member of the ANA, Royal Canadian Numismatic Association, Canadian Paper Money Society, International Bank Note Society and Society of Paper Money Collectors; a fellow of the U.K.-based Royal Numismatic Society; a past president of the Montreal Coin Club; and a member of many other clubs worldwide.

Allen speaks at the Rutgers Speakers Bureau at New Jersey’s Rutgers University in 1968.

Allen was also an innovator in bringing the hobby to a wider audience through the use of TV and radio. He and the Truro Coin Club (now the Central Nova Coin Club) had a regular TV program on Eastern Cablevision broadcast throughout central Nova Scotia. This initiative was recognized by the ANA in the 1970 National Coin Week competition and reported by the New York Times, with Allen’s entry being the only award granted that year outside the United States.

In 2001, Allen wrote the authorized biography of a renowned Canadian numismatist Jim Charlton. Entitled J.E. Charlton: Coinman to Canadians, the book was prepared from personal correspondence and conversations between the author and “Mr. Coin.”

Never having learned to drive a car, Allen travelled by bus and train, visiting his children as they moved across Canada, Europe, the Middle East and Asia. He proudly claimed to have visited all 48 contiguous U.S. states, plus Hawaii, while attending, speaking, exhibiting and judging at ANA and other numismatic and educational conventions and gatherings.

Allen receives his 50-year membership recognition from the Royal Canadian Numismatic Association in 2006.

Allen was married to his late wife Frances, who died in April 2018, for nearly 63 years.

Allen will be laid to rest in his crimson doctoral robes at the Allen family monument during a private ceremony at the Mount Royal Cemetery. He is survived by his four children, Nigel, Laura (Ashton), Elizabeth (Seamone) and Rosalie (Jarvis), and their families.

Friends and associates are invited to view his memorial site and leave messages or numismatic memories or photos for the family.

– Laura Ashton is Harold Allen’s daughter.

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