On today’s date in 1857, the British Treasury approved the weight of the Province of Canada’s new coinage – a 20-cent piece – at 71.73 grains (or 4.65 grams) of 0.925 per cent Fine silver.
The proposal, which also outlined the coin’s diameter as 23.25 millimetres, was made by the mintmaster of the United Kingdom’s Royal Mint, which struck Canada’s coins until 1908, when its Ottawa branch opened.
On July 17, 1858, Queen Victoria approved the coin’s design. Both plain- and milled-edged patterns were struck. The Province of Canada – then a British colony including present-day Ontario and Québec – ordered $150,000 worth of 20-cent coins (about 750,000 pieces altogether). The coins were engraved by Leonard Wyon and struck at the Royal Mint.
“The order in the Canada Gazette of December 12, 1858, legalized their currency in the Province of Canada,” reads a May 1964 article authored by R. W. Irwin in The Ontario Numismatist, the official publication of the Ontario Numismatic Association.
“The Toronto Leader and other newspapers objected to the striking of the 20-cent piece instead of a 25-cent piece. It was accepted as an equal to the Halifax shilling which was worth the same value. The coins were used in the Post Offices and for legal tender payments. The government saw its error and corrected it at the first opportunity.”
Relatively unpopular at the time, the 20-cent piece was only struck in 1858 before being replaced with a new 25-cent coin in 1870.
“The Minister of Finance in his proclamation of September 9, 1870, asked that the 20-cent coins be withdrawn from circulation by the banks since the 25-cent coin was more convenient for the public,” wrote Irwin.
By 1891, the 20-cent denomination “disappeared from circulation,” he added.
“The 20-cent coins are type items necessary for any collection. A well-struck copy is a joy to behold and own; a reminder of the growing pains in our achieving decimal currency.”