By Bret Evans
As you read this we are in the last few days of public voting for the Canada 150 program.
The program offers a rare chance for Canadians to participate in the design selection process, something I applaud.
I’ve always been a fan of circulating commemorative coins, particularly programs. They get regular people looking at that their coins, and encourage collecting pocket change; a risk-free entry into coin collecting that is pure fun.
Once rare, we have had a number of programs going back to the 1967 series marking the 100th anniversary of Confederation. In more recent memory, the two biggest programs were the Canada 125 program of 1992, and the Millennium series of coins issued in 1999 and 2000.
The Canada 125 program was outstanding. We hadn’t seen anything like it in years, and it started a collecting boom. Average Canadians began to put together sets all on their own, and within a few months dealers began to notice that their stocks of 1967 sets were running dry as people started back filling their collections.
The success of that program can be attributed to one luck accident. It was tied to the then 10 Canadian provinces and two territories. Everyone could relate to that theme, and it gave the series a logical start and finish.
When the millennium program was released, we had similar expectations that it would stimulate collecting once again. While it did create some interest, the impact was nowhere as dramatic.
At the time we wondered if maybe a two-year program was too long, but I think it was the theme.
In those two years, the coins were built around themes such as values, achievement, innovation, community, traditions and learning. All of them were warm and commendable, but they are a bit abstract. Okay they are downright intangible. What’s more, the series didn’t have that unifying theme the Canada 125 series had, or the sense of an inherent start and finish. Even worse, the 24 designs of that series, representing 24 different subjects, had little artistic unity.
I have similar reservations about the Canada 150 program.
Once again, the series is being built around five themes. All good themes, but they lack that simple device of being connected to a single unifying device, such as our geography. To be sure the folks at the Royal Canadian Mint have done their best to mitigate that issue.
The designs Canadians have been asked to vote on, while obviously conceptual presentations that will probably be changed a bit in execution, do have a strong artistic unity despite being very diverse.
Will I set aside some coins from circulation? Of course, it is fun to hunt for coins and getting one of each may take some looking. One thing I will be interested in getting my hands on are some Uncirculated Sets.
In 1991 the RCM cut back on 25-cent coin production and inventories to get the 1992 sets into circulation. This resulted in the 1991 25-cent piece becoming a scarce, collectible coin. There is a good chance that 2016 coins will have lower than usual mintages, making that set collectible. If the Canada 150 designs are put into circulation for the entire year, it means that the traditional coin designs will only appear on Mint sets. That means the 2017 sets could be packed full of key dates. Unless the sets are only produced using the commemorative designs, in which case I will be hoping for some sort of special product that offers me a 2017-dated caribou, Bluenose, beaver, bear and loonie.
Of course, the whole thing is still a few years away, so things could change, but it’s fun to think about the interesting possibilities Canada 150 coins could create for collectors.