By Martin Smith
French coins used in early Canada are highlighted in various numismatic reference guides, including the Charlton Standard Catalogue of Canadian Coins.
Among the French issues is the copper coinage of 1720 associated with John Law and the “Compagnie des Indes,” a short-lived company reorganized that year under the name “Compagnie Française des Indes” (or “French Company of the Indies”). The listed coins include the 25-millimetre half-sol (six deniers) and the roughly 30-millimetre sol (12 deniers).
A nine-year-old Louis XV is pictured on the obverse with a fleur-de-lis design on the reverse. The Charlton catalogue shows the typical date 1720 and the Paris Mint’s “A” mintmark.
A large number of coins were shipped to New France in 1720; however, there were later royal edicts, including those in 1722, directing the coins’ export from France. Letters from colonial governors also requested their import to New France.
Besides Paris, at least 12 French mints struck these coins leading to some rare issues. It is a relatively unexplored series in which new rarities can still be found by astute collectors.
Generally, the coins struck at Paris (1719), Reims (1719-20) and Perpignan (1722-23) are readily available, even fairly common. Coins struck at Bordeaux, Rouen, La Rochelle, Besançon and Perpignan (1724-34) are rare. As collectors, many of us would focus on the rare dates and mintmarks; on the other hand. common-date coins can be found even in Mint-State grades.
UPDATED POPULATION DATA
Surviving population data, including rare dates, mintmarks and varieties, was published by me in the winter 2018 edition of the Colonial Coin Collectors Newsletter, which is issued quarterly by the U.S.-based Colonial Coin Collectors Club.
The common dates and mintmarks are represented by 100 or more survivors while the rare dates and mintmarks are represented by only two or three coins.
The Perpignan Mint, whose mintmark is “Q,” produced some of the most interesting coins. First, Perpignan kept striking these coins long after the other mints had stopped striking them in 1723. Perpignan coins are dated 1724, 1725, 1726, 1728 and 1734, all of which are rare.
Second, the copper from Perpignan differs from that of the other mints. It contains iridium, a contaminant often found in unrefined copper.
Third, Perpignan Mint coins are often underweight and the planchets irregular. It is unknown why Perpignan Mint coins are so different from the other mints.
The John Law copper series offers collectors a wide range of rarities, from rare date and mintmark combinations to engraver errors and as-of-yet-unknown varieties. They provide a happy hunting ground for collectors of colonial-era coins.
Several John Law coins were offered at the 2019 Toronto Coin Expo Spring Sale by Geoffrey Bell Auctions, which called the census count published a year earlier “a most useful first step towards making this series even more collectible.”
“This is certainly one of the largest offerings of John Law coppers, and there is a representative selection of silver issues, as well as an extremely rare gold piece,” reads the auction catalogue, which offered the coppers from Lot 241–303.