On today’s date in 1922, Governor-General Julian Byng struck Canada’s first pure nickel five-cent coin, which replaced the costlier silver coin that began circulating in 1858.
Before these nickel coins were introduced into circulation on Jan. 3, 1920, Canada’s five-cent pieces were smaller and thinner in size and composed of silver (in some places, they were known as “fish scales”).
“To maintain silver content that is proportional to its value—meaning that it had to contain 5-cents worth of silver—the coin was quite small, measuring 15.5 millimetres and weighing 1.16 grams,” reads a blog post by David Bergeron, curator of the Bank of Canada Museum.
“Yet, their purchasing power was significant. So losing these little coins was problematic.”
Because Canada was the world’s largest nickel producer, it was decided the new Canadian five-cent coin would be made of pure nickel.
With the new five-cent coin’s release, the denomination’s previous year-date – 1921 – was melted down; only about 400 survived the melting pot and remain in existence today.
From 1922-42, the nickel five-cent coins weighed 4.54 grams with a 21.21-millimetre diameter and a thickness of 4.1 millimetres.
In 1942-43, the composition changed to 88 per cent copper and 12 per cent zinc—together known as “tombac.” In 1944-45, the composition changed again – this time to chrome-plated steel – before returning to pure nickel from 1946-51.
After changing back to chrome-plated steel from 1951-54 and then pure nickel once again from 1955-81, Canada’s five-cent coin has seen its nickel content dwindle. From 1982-99, it was composed of 75 per cent copper and 25 per cent nickel, and since 2000, it’s been made of 94.5 per cent steel, 3.5 per cent copper and two per cent nickel plating.