On today’s date in 1691, Louis de Buade de Frontenac was forced to issue money made of playing cards to pay his troops at the Québec garrison.
Six years earlier, the colonial authorities in New France found themselves short of funds. A military expedition against the Iroquois—allies of the English—had gone badly, and according to Bank of Canada archives, tax revenues had decreased owing to the curtailment of the beaver trade.
Typically, when short of funds, the government delayed paying merchants for their purchases until a new supply of specie arrived from France; however, the payment of soldiers could not be postponed.
Intendant of Justice, Police, and Finance Jacques de Meulles decided on the temporary issuance of paper money printed on playing cards.
According to E. P. Neufeld’s Money and Banking in Canada, two pamphlets published in Massachusetts in 1691 refer to “the facility with which” Meulles was able to circulate this playing card money. One pamphlet reads: “The French (I hear) at Canada pass such Paper mony without the least scruple.”
Neufeld also writes this card money initiative put “the colony of Canada on a silver-exchange standard. The card money, instead of being redeemed in coin in Quebec, was redeemed in silver coin in France.”
CANADIAN MINT COMMEMORATION
Beginning in 2008, the Royal Canadian Mint commemorated the history of playing card money with a set of four coins, each featuring a unique rectangular shape that combined colour and selective gold plating for the first time in Mint history.