OTD: Marco Polo launched

On today’s date in 1851, James Smith launched his square-rigged clipper ship Marco Polo at Marsh Creek near Courtenay Bay in Saint John, N.B.

The Canadian-built clipper ship had the body of a cargo ship above the water line and the configuration of a much-faster clipper ship below. Its name was owed to Italian merchant Marco Polo, who was born in the Republic of Venice and known for his far-reaching travels.

Soon after it was launched, the ship set a new record for the fastest passage – 15 days – from St. John’s, Nfld., to Liverpool, England.

The following year, the Marco Polo completed her round-trip voyage between England and Australia in only five months and 21 days. It was the first time the voyage was completed in fewer than six months, according to Historica Canada, and the Marco Polo became widely known as the fastest ship in the world.


In 2001, the Royal Canadian Mint featured the Marco Polo on a $20 silver hologram coin as part of its “Transportation” series. The Proof coin has a weight of 31.1 grams; a diameter of 38 millimetres; and a mintage of 41,828 pieces.

The 12-coin “Transportation on Land, Sea and Rail” series ran from 2001-04. Each year, three $20 coins were produced in sterling silver.

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