Merchant collection ‘one of the finest offerings’ of communion tokens

Bell auction features part three of Cooper collection

By Jesse Robitaille

In recent years, the highlight of the Toronto Coin Expo has arguably been its auction, which is presented by Geoffrey Bell Auctions, of Moncton, N.B.

In fact, last fall’s sale rewrote the record books after an 1845 Bank of Montreal halfpenny realized more than $60,000, setting a new numismatic record for the highest-priced Canadian token sold at an auction. Fortunately for Canadian collectors, the time has come for another Expo offering.

“Geoffrey Bell Auctions will be featuring some rare and early pieces of Canadian history in its next auction at the Toronto Coin Expo, April 21 and 22,” said auctioneer Brian Bell. “This spring sale features a fine variety of numismatic material for both the beginner and connoisseur.”

The bidding begins with Session One (Lots 1-725) on April 21 and concludes with Session Two (Lots 726-1361) the following day. Lot viewing runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days; the live auction will follow at 6 p.m. As always, the sale is open to the public and free to attend.


Bell said among the top highlights of this spring’s auction is material from the Bob Merchant Communion Token Collection.

“These crudely struck pieces of base metal composition were used extensively in Canada’s Maritime Provinces, Canada East (Quebec) and Canada West (Ontario),” said Bell, who added the Merchant Collection represents one of the finest offerings to hit the numismatic market in decades.

The purpose of the communion tokens, which were used primarily throughout the 19th century, was dependent on the practice of closed communion.

“Elders of each congregation served as moral watchdogs over the church adherents,” said Bell. “These same elders gave out the tokens to the faithful who were deemed qualified ‘by the virtue of correct belief and proper conduct.’”

The mostly lead specimens often contained biblical verses and depicted biblical symbols such as the Bible, the burning bush or a communion cup and table.

“You will observe the tokens come in many shapes and sizes and often they were locally made by blacksmiths or other trades people,” said Bell. “The ‘stock’ pieces were used in many churches as opposed to the unique pieces made specifically for an individual church.”

One highlight is Lot 327, a Canada East Beauharnois communion token from the Church of Scotland. With only three examples known to exist, this lot has an estimate of $400-$500.

“Rev. Walter Roach was appointed as missionary to Canada in 1833 by the Church of Scotland,” said Bell. “He was ordained at Quebec to the pastoral charge of Beauharnois, St. Louis and Chateauguay, where he served until his death in 1849.”


Bell said the upcoming Expo sale will include material from the “extensive” Richard Cooper Collection, of which this is the third portion to be offered since last May.

“It is the largest and most important to have been offered at public sale for at least 40 years or more. This is due in part to several specialized collections formed by Mr. Cooper, in addition to his main Breton collection.”

This portion of the Cooper Collection will be sold across two sessions, said Bell, beginning on April 21 with Cooper’s collection of late 19th- and 20th-century Ontario tokens.

“The collection is far and away the largest collection ever formed and will present a unique opportunity for collectors to acquire scarce or rare pieces not frequently encountered,” he said, adding the three largest collections of Ontario tokens – as well as a number of smaller collections – were acquired by Cooper. “In this sale, tokens representing 47 counties are being offered.”

What’s more, Bell said the series of trade and advertising tokens has taken on new interest, owing partly to the late John Temple, an esteemed numismatist and collector with a particular interest in tokens.


Session Two will be a continuation of the Cooper Collection, in particular the Lower Canada colonial pieces offered at the previous Expo sale in October 2015.

“It is an excellent collection and includes an Owen Ropery, Hunterstown, and Bouquet-Sou Br. 675 to name just a few,” said Bell.

Among the highlights of Session Two is Lot 771, a Lauzon Ferry four-pence token (Breton 560). Interestingly, Bell said, this token has the countermark of James McKenzie, the man who initially leased the ferry from John Goudie in 1825 before eventually purchasing it from Sir John Caldwell three years later. In nice Very Fine condition, this token is estimated at $3,000-$3,500.

Also being offered is a classic copper Owen Ropery storecard (Breton 564). This piece, Lot 783, is graded Fine-Very Fine and has an estimate of $15,000-$20,000.

Another highlight is Lot 787, a rare 1852 Hunterstown token (Breton 567) with an estimate of $10,000-$12,000.

“It is stronger than the specimen in the Hoare sale of September 2012, which hammered at $9,000,” said Bell.


Lot 1092, an 1859 Narrow 9 brass cent in ICCS G-4, has an estimate of $18,000-$20,000.

“A rare example of a very rare variety,” said Bell.

Lot 1122 is a 2002P cent in ICCS MS-67. This copper-plated zinc coin is the solo non-magnetic type known to exist and has an estimate of $5,000-$7,500. Check the next issue of CCN for a story about this new find.

Lot 1123, a 2003P cent in ICCS MS-67, has an estimate of $4,000-$6,000. This copper-plated zinc coin is of the non-magnetic variety, of which only three are known to exist.

Lastly, rounding out the cents is Lot 1124, a 2005P cent in ICCS MS-65. With an estimate of $1,000-$2,000, there are a dozen of these examples known to exist.


Some banknote highlights include Lot 1307, an 1897 Dominion of Canada $2 bill in PMG AU-55. With a Choice Dory vignette, bold signatures and a serial number reading 091129/A, this piece has an estimate of $10,000-$12,000.

“Extremely difficult to find in better conditions,” Bell said.

Rounding out the highlights is Lot 1321, a 1924 Dominion of Canada $5 bank-
note in PMG VF-30. This popular Queen Mary note has a serial number reading A046327/B and an estimate of $9,000-$10,000.

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