Robins Collection proves to be ‘sale of the century for Canadian tokens’

By Jesse Robitaille

All realizations in U.S. dollars and include 20 per cent buyer’s premium.

The Douglas Robins Collection realized more than $1 million across more than 550 lots during Heritage Auctions’ Chicago Coin Expo World Coins Signature Auction this April.

Described as the “sale of the century for Canadian tokens,” the April 20-24 sale was highlighted by an 1812 Lower Canada “BON POUR DEUX SOUS” pattern penny, which was offered as Lot 29299. Although it was certified by Numismatic Guaranty Corp. (NGC) as Proof-65 Brown, this piece is believed to be a “business strike” from copied dies – not a first strike from regular dies – produced by Thomas Halliday, a prominent token die engraver and coiner in Birmingham. This 206-year-old piece realized $50,400 after a pre-sale estimate of $60,000.

“In general, the sale met expectations, although the high-priced material went for somewhat less than expected,” said auction cataloguer Jim Haxby, who worked with the Bank of Canada’s National Currency Collection from 1972-80.

“However, there were numerous mid-range items that did better than expected. As you’re undoubtedly aware from the post-sale offerings, very few lots failed to sell.”

Other highlights of the sale, which offered both the finest and most extensive collection of Canadian pre-Confederation tokens ever assembled, include Lot 29197, a “St. John’s, N.B.” half-penny ship token in NGC About Uncirculated-58 Brown.

“Because of its erroneous rendering of the city name (St. John’s instead of St. John), this design is presumed to have been rejected by the client,” reads the auction catalogue. “This type, of which the present piece is the only example currently recorded, was unknown to all the early catalogers of Canadiana.”

This unique piece sold for $45,600 to a bidder on the floor.

Another top lot was the 1820 North West Company (NWC) unholed, plain-edge brass token offered as Lot 29103. In NGC Mint State-61 and believed to be a unique trial piece, it sold for $42,000 – after a pre-sale estimate of $60,000 – to a bidder on the floor.

Sandy Campbell, owner of Baddeck, N.S.’s Proof Positive Coins, said the sale was “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to acquire unique Canadian exonumia.

“I thought prices, for the most part, were very strong. It was a once-in-lifetime opportunity. I bought three pieces that are unique, and I thought I bought them extremely reasonably in terms of what I felt their values were.”

Campbell said there “was a lot of strong bidding both online and in the room.”

“I think everybody thought that the pricing was quite aggressive. Again, because it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, people were not willing to take the risk to not buy some of these items,” he said, adding some of the more sought-after items might be held by their new owners for a long time.


Other highlights of the sale include Lot 29105, an 1820 NWC unholed, engrailed-edge copper token in NGC Extremely Fine-40. According to auctioneers, it is the second rarest sub-variety with fewer than five examples known. It sold for $20,400 to a bidder on the floor.

A 1794 gold Proof “restrike” Copper Company of Upper Canada half-penny token in NGC Proof-66 Ultra Cameo was offered as Lot 29466. According to auctioneers, this “excessively rare” piece is “from the same die pair J. Rochelle Thomas used for the bronze and silver ‘Restrikes’ and presumably done on his order, although he made no mention of striking in this metal.”

This piece sold for $16,800 to an online bidder.

Rounding out the highlights was Lot 29281, a circa 1812 Lower Canada gold Wellington Peninsular half-penny token in NGC Uncirculated Details.

“It is said that J.K. Picard struck a single example of his Wellington Peninsular halfpenny in gold, for presentation to the Prince Regent (later George IV),” according to the auction catalogue. “The present piece surfaced in Europe a few years ago and Mr. Robins bought it. Whether this is the piece given to the Prince Regent is unclear; however, it is the only gold example we have traced. Whoever had it, this piece was apparently worn for a time as a pendant.”

This piece sold for $15,000 to an online bidder.

Campbell said the sale of the Robins Collection was evidence there is “very strong” interest in Canadian tokens.

“I think Canadian tokens have gone to a different level of both awareness and pricing. I think over the last five to 10 years the market has developed to where it is today, but the Robins Collection has shown where it is today. The market is very strong and eager.”


Haxby also noted the auction’s bidding was characteristic of the ongoing trend towards online bidding versus traditional methods such as floor bidding.

“That was the first sale I’d attended in many years and one thing that struck me was how few floor bidders there were,” said Haxby, who added there were fewer than 20 floor bidders. “Most bids came from the book or – by far the largest number – from Heritage Live, the real-time internet bidders.”

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