The Canadian numismatic scene is dominated by the Canadian decimal series.
It makes sense, these are the coins that we handle virtually every day, and the market is dominated by the one-cent to one-dollar series.
There are a number of advantages for the new collector: the coins area readily available, all Canadians are familiar with the circulating family, valuations are commonly understood and widely published, and there are several standard references to choose from.
There are also a number of disadvantages: competition for key grades can be tough, finishing off a collection can take a few bucks, in some cases the same design runs for years with only a date change, and it can take years to find the elusive items.
Experienced collectors often solve these problems by developing a secondary collection or two, and some collectors choose the road less travelled because it is more suited to their interests.
Alternative collections can cover paper money, non-Canadian coins, pre-Confederation tokens, ancient coins, or even medals.
Certainly, in some cases these fields are heavily collected and the same problems of price and cost can rear their heads, but these can be fun areas.
One area that I think is way under-appreciated is the world of medals.
The field of medal collecting is probably much larger than decimal coins. Years ago a U.S. collector named Bob Gardiner compiled a massive catalogue of medals and tokens issued to mark the centennial of Confederation in 1967.
I haven’t heard of Gardiner, or his reference in years, but last time I saw a copy it ran quite a few pages. It included not only the well-known series of gold medallions featuring prime ministers and Canadian provinces issued by a retail chain of gas stations, but also a staggering number of medals issued by municipalities, government agencies, and private organizations.
Other collectors can put together medals along a royal theme, or the War of 1812, or almost any other subject you can imagine.
Some of these fields have been documented, so you can find a guide to collecting communion tokens, CNE medals, merchant tokens, or military awards and decorations.
There are still plenty of areas that haven’t been documented at all.
Take a stroll through any dealer’s junk box, and you’re bound to find items that hold potential. Over the years I have seen souvenir medals made for battlefields, temperance medals, and mysterious pieces that defied identification.
The fun thing is that these items can often be bought for just a dollar or two, making them affordable and fun.
Now admittedly there is quite a bit of artistic variation.
Some medals were obviously produced cheaply using poor engraving, low relief, and cheap metals. But in other cases the designers have been able to create tiny sculptures, often in high relief.
If you’re getting bored with your main collection because it is just becoming too expensive or difficult to complete, give Canadian medals some thought. It can be a rewarding experience.