By Jesse Robitaille
Less than two months after hosting the 2019 Royal Canadian Numismatic Association (RCNA) Convention, the Calgary Numismatic Society (CNS) is shifting its focus back to the local scene for its annual Fall Coin Show.
On Sept. 7-8, when local collectors gather for the two-day show at the Clarion Hotel – just down the road from RCNA venue – organizers are expecting a strong turnout despite the recent national event.
“Numismatics is very strong in Alberta,” said show co-chair James Williston, who also served as the chair of this year’s RCNA Convention, held in July, and as a former CNS president.
“I think we’ll be good in terms of attendance because we have about 25 dealers, and while there’s more of a western flavour at our show compared to the RCNA, we still have a good selection with dealers coming from across the country.”
The bourse will be open both days from 10 a.m.-5 p.m., during which time a youth table will be set up for young collectors.
“We’re trying to get our youth club, the ‘Coinivores,’ up and running again,” said Williston, who added when he served as CNS president from 2007-09, there were about 15 active members in the Coinivores, but the club has since dissipated.
“They’re all grown up on me now, but I still see them at shows – I saw about five at the RCNA Convention – so now we’re trying to redevelop the club.”
One of the first steps – and something organizers will be looking into throughout the show this September – is finding a youth club program director who can “spend some time making sure the club evolves.”
Calgary boasts 70-year history of organized coin collecting
Calgary’s numismatic roots can be traced back seven decades, to the mid-20th century, with the formation of what was then known as the Calgary Coin Club.
Only 11 months after the RCNA’s predecessor was formed in January 1950, collectors brought this idea to Calgary, where they’ve enjoyed long-lasting success. Now known as the CNS, the local club was the host of this year’s RCNA Convention—its seventh time hosting the national show in as many decades.
“The Calgary club has had a very visible presence in the city,” said CNS honorary life member Neil Probert, who has served as the club’s newsletter editor since 1977 and as president in 1978, 1979 and 2005.
“They have always been active in promoting coin collecting to the general public.”
Since hosting its first show in 1958, the club has held one- and two-day coin shows nearly every year. It has also hosted the convention of the RCNA – or, before 2009, the Canadian Numismatic Association (CNA) – in 1968, 1975, 1987, 1995, 2005, 2012 and now 2019.
“The club has been very successful with the annual national conventions,” said Probert, who added the first CNA Convention in Calgary had “almost 400 registrants.”
‘WHY NOT CALGARY?’
“Organized numismatics in Calgary has its beginnings in 1949,” said Probert, who attended his first club meeting in January 1972.
“Prior to that time, there were a number of coin collectors in Calgary, but they never gathered together in organized groups.”
The need for organization was spurred on by local collectors, who were already meeting to examine one another’s collections and discuss recent acquisitions. This was before any clubs or dealers set up in the area, and while material was available – mainly at hobby shops, antique stores, pawnshops and estate sales – there were “very few coin collecting resources,” Probert said.
“One individual collector in Calgary would have a huge influence on the local numismatic community.”
Life-long collector Arthur Reginald Prince came to Calgary in 1949, at the age of 49, to work as a biologist at Mount Royal College (now Mount Royal University). Already a member of the American Numismatic Association (ANA), he became interested in the newly formed Ottawa Coin Club when it came together in 1948.
Two years later, while Prince was in Calgary, members of the Ottawa club formed the CNA, which Prince joined as member #144 – one of the first from western Canada.
“He’d seen a local club form in Ottawa and grow rapidly, so he thought, ‘Why not in Calgary?’ Calgary’s population in 1950 was about 125,000 – a city, he thought, large enough to support its own club.”
The first meeting of the Calgary Coin Club was held in November 1950 at Mount Royal College Library, and Prince was the club’s first president.
Less than two years later, the club was approved as CNA chapter #2 – second to the Ottawa chapter that received its designation in 1951.
“Dues for the Calgary Coin Club at the time were set at $2 a year and $1.50 for juniors,” said Probert, who added “$1.25 was for the annual dues of the CNA, so dues in the Calgary club were 75 cents a year.”
Within the next four years, 44 people applied for CNS memberships, which also included membership in the CNA.
Throughout its nearly 70 years, the club has enlisted about 11,000 members; on average, it has maintained between 50 and 200 members, and there are about 75 active members today.
THE BOOMING FIFTIES
After nearly a decade of growth through the 1950s, the club hosted its first show, the Western Coin Round-Up, which was originally held by the Regina Coin Club as the first official coin show in western Canada.
Brought to Calgary’s Stampeder Inn on June 28-29, 1958, the Third Annual Western Coin Round-Up was highlighted by keynote speaker and acclaimed collector John Jay Pittman, of Rochester, N.Y., then a director of both the CNA and ANA.
“Mr. Pittman had on display some of Canada’s rarest coins, including an 1862 $20 gold pattern from British Columbia and sets of the 1936 Canadian ‘dot’ coinage – quite a coo at the time,” said Probert, who added there was also a four-session, 734-lot auction that saw a 1921 half-dollar in Uncirculated condition sell for $3,200.
In 1959, the club changed its name to the Calgary Coin Association as “interest in coin collecting continued to grow,” Probert said, adding attendance at club meetings “sometimes” exceeded 60 members and with local coin shows bringing in more than 2,000 people over two days.
“Much of the interest in coins was due to the high value in silver coinage that was in circulation during that time and the great deal of publicity that the increased value of silver was receiving. The commemorative coinage celebrating Canada’s centennial in 1967 also stirred a great deal of interest in coin collecting.”
By 1969, the Calgary club changed its name again – this time to its present-day iteration – “to better reflect the many, varied items that people collect,” Probert said, “not just coins but paper money, medallions, trade dollars and of course, woods.”
Over the years, many CNS members “have gone on to achieve prominence and are well-known in numismatic circles throughout Canada,” he said, listing off past members such as Donald Stewart, Ray Mah, Albert Kaiser, Garry Braunwarth, Earl Salterio and Al Munro, among others.
NEW SEASON MEANS SHOWTIME
As one of the first shows after Labour Day weekend, the CNS’ Fall Coin Show reignites collectors’ camaraderie after the summer numismatic season, Williston said.
“On Saturday night, we’ll have a hospitality suite with food and drinks for dealers and volunteers,” he said, adding the room opens at 5 p.m. and “goes all night.”
“It’s a chance to meet up with everyone but its’ also a thank you for volunteers and dealers, and there’s a lot of thanks because it’s been a super year with three major shows,” he said, referencing the CNS’ annual Spring Money Fair in March, this year’s RCNA Convention in July and now the Fall Coin Show this September.
“We had about 650 people through the door this spring, and we’re hoping for a similar turnout this fall.”