Sometimes, a coin is just a coin

By Jeff Fournier

I have been collecting commemorative medals and tokens for a long time—over 40 years, in fact. Back in the heyday of the “trade dollar” I was in the thick of things. That was in the late 1970s and that craze continued until the mid-to-late 1990s when it began to gradually taper off until it all but disappeared by 2009 or so.

Over those years, collectors began to have some rather heated discussions about what these tokens should be called. “Trade dollar,” according to some, was actually an incorrect term and often led to confusion with American collectors who had their own definition for that word and their own brand of trade dollars or “so-called dollars.”

When the trade dollar craze first began in Canada, most issues were, indeed, valued at a dollar; but as the years wore on and minting costs rose, communities increasingly began to issue $2, $3, $5 and even higher-denomination pieces.

It came to pass after much back and forth discussion (and nearly fist fights in a few instances) that the generally accepted term for these numismatic items soon became Municipal Trade Currency, or MTC for short.

Through all those years, while I was collecting trade dollars—or should I say, MTC—and enjoying my “cheap” ride across Canada, living vicariously through these tokens and “visiting” Vulcan, Alta.; Gander, Nfld.; Vancouver, B.C.; and other such Canadian municipalities during my virtual adventures, I was also collecting commemorative and municipal medallions.

It always confounded me how MTC collectors would largely ignore these medallions even though in many cases, other than the fact they didn’t sport a denomination, they were basically one in the same.

I remember collectors paying huge dollars for certain MTC pieces issued on Manitoulin Island, for example. This series ran continuously from 1969 through to the mid-2000s. Strangely enough, most collectors snubbed the Manitoulin 1968 medallion, which was actually far scarcer than any of the MTC pieces. Same goes for the Nanaimo, B.C. MTC pieces, which were issued beginning in 1969 and continued uninterrupted until the latter part of the 2000s. All commemorated the world famous bathtub races.

Nanaimo also issued a medal in 1968 to commemorate that famed event, but like the Manitoulin issue of the same year, it was largely ignored by collectors.

Fast forward to 2017. MTC is still being issued, as you may know if you’ve been following my Numismatic Fringe columns, although in far smaller quantities than they were previously issued. You might have noticed the majority of non-Royal Canadian Mint items I have been writing about are actually medallions and don’t have a denomination.

Now I would like to take a quantum leap, and I ask you to please bear with me for a moment. We are likely all in agreement that our hobby is becoming more globalized with each passing day. With the Internet and eBay especially, many more collectors from around the world are being exposed to global numismatics. Many of these collectors are novices.

So what does this have to do with trade dollars and medals?

As a numismatist, I prefer to use the correct terminology for coins, tokens and medals and medallions, but in today’s global society, and in the ever-changing world of collecting and numismatics, sometimes that isn’t so practical and often leads to confusion.

I have been writing a lot about challenge coins, medals and tokens in my columns, but as a collector and as a person who is interested in marketing, I know that to many people, all of these things are just “coins.” To them, a municipal token is a coin. A medallion is a coin, and certainly to the general public and the general collector, a challenge coin is just that as well—a coin! And that’s what people want to buy: coins!

I ask you this: how can we attract new blood to our hobby if we are overly concerned with terminology when we are speaking to the average person on the street, or to our friends, co-workers and family, and trying to describe the difference between a Royal Canadian Mint coin a token, medal or challenge coin?

We should all remember that sometimes, a coin is just a coin is just a coin! And to the general public – the very people whom we want to attract to this hobby – that is definitely the case.

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