By Jesse Robitaille
This is the first story of a two-part series highlighting Canadian numismatic literature.
A coin collector for four decades, Alan Roy ventured off into one of the hobby’s lesser-known areas about 20 years ago.
After collecting and studying numismatic literature for the past two decades, Roy published the 2018 Checklist of Charlton Numismatic Literature, a 20-page checklist of Charlton publications, last year. It’s available for free online at drive.google.com/open?id=1oUZu-qTlk22MD4eRl0Vv6QXAkk8bvHyP.
“I like old Canadian numismatic literature,” said Roy, who also authors a regular column on the subject in The Canadian Numismatic Journal, the official journal of the Royal Canadian Numismatic Association (RCNA).
“I don’t care if it’s weird, obscure or doesn’t have much apparent value; I like anything – even kid’s books – and I pretty well don’t throw anything away, especially Canadian coin catalogues.”
The first catalogue he ever owned was The 1979 Charlton Coin Guide, which reached its 58th edition this year as Canada’s oldest continuously published buying guide.
Today, he considers himself a “bibliomaniac,” one of three different kinds of numismatic literature collectors.
“They like numismatic literature for its own sake. They get the same satisfaction out of a group of Charlton catalogues as other collectors would get out of a collection of half dollars.”
Another type of literature collector, Roy said, is “the researcher,” who values the information offered in the books.
“Their library might have some old, worn-out reprints of classic numismatic literature, or they might have photocopies stapled together from the library. These are the people who enjoy tracking a coin through a chain of auction catalogues to figure out its provenance.”
In digging for information and publishing their findings, the researcher ensures the hobby’s survival.
“They help build the hobby,” Roy added.
The last type of literature collector is what he calls the “pure collector, who doesn’t understand the benefit of the reference guide.”
“They’re always chasing that one coin they need for their collection, but they don’t really show much of an interest in new reference books. They use reference books kind of like a checklist. A classic example is somebody who would pay $200 for a coin but wouldn’t pay $20 for a new reference catalogue.”
There is a multitude of reasons to collect numismatic literature, and not least among them is their utility.
“They provide insight into the hobby and show how it has grown and changed over time, and sometimes they’ll even affect those trends – they’ll affect the way people collect,” said Roy, of numismatic literature.
“They have a lot of information that’s useful for advancing the hobby, and there’s always an opportunity to find new stuff and share it with other people. It can be challenging to collect, but it’s still affordable for the most part.”
There’s also the artistic appeal of books both new and old, the latter of which was a “major endeavour” to publish, Roy said.
“Typesetting was considered an art, and you actually had to hire artists to do the engraving if you wanted illustrations in it. It wasn’t something every collector had access to. Some of these books are very beautiful and have really nice engraving work or amazing photographs.”
Roy divides the history of Canadian numismatic literature into three parts – before and during the First World War era; the period between the wars; and during and after the Second World War.
“Before the First World War, in the mid-to-late 1800s, the most numismatically active part of Canada was the Montréal area. In 1862, there was a group of collectors – Stanley Bagg, Adélard Boucher and others – who formed the Numismatic Society of Montréal.”
One of the group’s first projects was The Catalogue of the Silver and Copper Coins of Canada. This 16-page reference – the first to be printed in Canada – described more than 70 different bank tokens, privately issued pieces and business cards known to exist in the early 1860s.
“This was never published, and I think only about a dozen or so were printed, so it’s very hard to find,” said Roy, who was one of eight speakers at the two-day educational symposium hosted at the RCNA Convention last August.
At the same time, other relevant catalogues were being published outside of Canada, including in England, where in 1862 Henry Christmas authored a pamphlet entitled Copper Coinage of the British Colonies in America.
“After he passed away, all the other copies were destroyed, so it’s also very hard to find.”
In 1866, the Numismatic Society of Montréal was renamed the Antiquarian and Numismatic Society.
Three years later, Alfred Sandham – another member of the newly renamed society – produced what’s believed to be the first Canadian coin catalogue, entitled The Coins, Tokens and Medals of the Dominion of Canada.
By 1872, the society began producing the first numismatic journal published in Canada. The Canadian Antiquarian and Numismatic Journal would be published for another six decades (albeit irregularly at times).
It joined the American Journal of Numismatics, which was published by the American Numismatic Society (ANS) from 1866-1924 before being revived in 1989 and continuing through the present day.
By 1888, what eventually became the American Numismatic Association’s (ANA) The Numismatist was also being published.
“Numismatic researchers finally had a place to publish their stuff and share their information,” Roy said.
Joseph Leroux’s 1888 book The Canadian Coin Cabinet is among other seminal works of pre-First World War Canadian numismatic literature.
A few years later, R. W. McLachlan published A Descriptive Catalogue Of Coins Tokens And Medals Issued In Or Relating To The Dominion Of Canada And Newfoundland, and Pierre Breton published the Illustrated History of Coins and Tokens Relating to Canada.
Another collector and member of the Numismatic Society of Ottawa, F. X. Paquet, worked as a drafter and had the means to produce a limited run of his own catalogue on local material.
“He managed to print off a few copies of his catalogue with blueprinting equipment, and they’re also pretty rare,” said Roy, of the circa 1893 Illustrated Catalogue of Medals, Checks & Communion Tokens of Ottawa and District.
There’s also Howland Wood’s often-cited 1910 article, “The Canadian Blacksmith Coppers,” which was first published in The Numismatist and again later that year as a pamphlet.
Also published that year and still in use today is Eugene Courteau’s Coins and Tokens of Nova Scotia.
“The most popular area of collecting at the time was Canadian tokens and medals.”