Early Canadian numismatists gave hobby life

By Jesse Robitaille

This is the third story in a four-part series exploring numismatic research and writing through the centuries.

As Canada came to the fore of the numismatic world in the mid-19th century, it was on the backs of numismatic researchers and writers like Robert Wallace McLachlan.

Born in Montréal in 1845, McLachlan amassed the most extensive coin collection in 19th-century Canada. What was in 1894 more than 8,000 pieces, ranging from ancients to contemporary coins, grew to about 20,000 pieces by 1922, when the McLachlan Collection was acquired by the Antiquarian and Numismatic Society of Montréal (formerly the Montréal Numismatic Society).

“As a boy, circa 1858, young Robert began to collect coins along with his school medals,” said Stan Clute, president of the Canadian Numismatic Research Society (CNRS) and past president of the Royal Canadian Numismatic Association (RCNA). “Subsequent to a little family encouragement, his interest in the hobby flourished.”

Just a few years after starting his hobby, McLachlan met Joshua Bronsdon, “an enthusiastic numismatist” and early member of the Montréal Numismatic Society, who became his mentor, Clute added.

“This gave his interest in the hobby another boost.”

While McLachlan was initially considered too young to join the Montréal club, which formed in 1862, he would soon reach what termed the “age of numismatic expression,” Clute said.

“Bronsdon sponsored his application, and he became a member of the society in January 1864. He immediately became active in the society’s meetings, and when it began to publish the Canadian Antiquarian and Numismatic Journal in 1872, he was appointed to the editorial staff and contributed many articles. He went on to display his numismatic brilliance over and over again in his research and writing.”

By the time McLachlan died on May 10, 1926, he had “attained a numismatic status unparalleled in his time,” Clute added.

“It is not unfair to state McLachlan left behind him a legacy of numismatic research and writing which helped in large measure to lay the groundwork for today’s researchers into early Canadian numismatics.”

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