By Jesse Robitaille
In 1992, Canadian numismatics experienced a watershed moment as many of today’s top collectors were introduced to the hobby.
That year, as the country came out of an economic recession, the Royal Canadian Mint issued its first 25-cent circulation coin program. It marked the country’s 125th anniversary, known as “Canada 125,” and it was the Mint’s first public design competition. At the time, building on the heels of third-party grading – then a relatively new concept (“Numismatics thrives thanks to grading, Internet,” CCN Vol. 59 #13) – the market for Canadian coins was booming like never before.
“It really started to develop a high-end market, which drug along all parts of the market, and it was kind of a perfect storm,” said dealer Sandy Campbell, the owner of Proof Positive Coins in Baddeck, N.S., who has been in the numismatic business since the early 1970s.
“You had an awakening in the collector market from both those ends,” added Campbell, who witnessed a boost in high-end collecting as well as more general collecting, including 25-cent coins and sets.
He mentioned one of his current high-end clients, who now spends “a lot of money” on his collection, began with the Canada 125 series.
“He’s roughly 45-50 years old, and his first collection was a set of 1992 quarters he pulled out of circulation. That’s the first thing he collected,” added Campbell. “It was a massive success, that ’92 quarter program, but along with that was the confidence that slowly came into the marketplace from several years of third-party grading.”
COMMEMORATIVE CIRCULATION SERIES
Largely forgoing a tradition of long-serving designs, the Mint first celebrated the anniversary of Canadian Confederation in 1967 – the country’s Centennial – across all circulation denominations.
More recently, the Mint issued specially designed circulation coins for its 1999-2000 Millennium series and its 2017 “Canada 150” series. Both series were created through public design competitions.
But it was 1992’s Canada 125 series that marked the Mint’s first public design competition. Supply and services minister Paul Dick, who oversaw the Mint, announced the competition a year earlier. He invited all Canadians – then totalling 27 million – to submit designs for the reverse of the country’s 1992 $1 and 25-cent circulation coins. The bronze-plated nickel “loonie” would have a Canadian theme while the pure nickel 25-cent coins would focus on the 12 provinces and territories existing at that time.
(In 1999, the Northwest Territories was divided into two territories, with the other one being Nunavut, which became Canada’s third territory and 13th jurisdiction.)
Following the 1992 competition, 13 coins were issued. Each one offered the winning designer a $5,000 top prize, with $2,000 and $1,000 for the second- and third-place runners-up. Each artist’s initials also became “an integral part of the coin design,” according to a 1992 Mint press release.
Government records report the Mint received 11,003 total submissions, including 2,871 for the loonie. Ontarians submitted the most designs at 26.6 per cent of all submissions followed by Québec with 24.8 per cent. Among the more than 11,000 submissions were designs from five Canadian citizens living in the United States.
Mint staffers pored over the submissions before shortlisting several finalists for an 18-member panel, which chose the final designs in April 1991.