On today’s date in 1691, Louis de Buade de Frontenac issued currency made from playing cards to pay his troops at the Québec garrison.
It was six years prior when colonial officials in New France found themselves short of funds.
“A military expedition against the Iroquois, allies of the English, had gone badly, and tax revenues were down owing to the curtailment of the beaver trade because of the war and illegal trading with the English,” reads “A History of the Canadian Dollar” by the Bank of Canada.
“Typically, when short of funds, the government simply delayed paying merchants for their purchases until a fresh supply of specie arrived from France. But the payment of soldiers could not be postponed.”
After attempting other measures – but refusing to borrow from merchants’ steep terms – Intendant of Justice, Police, and Finance Jacques de Meulles issued temporary paper money printed on playing cards.
Two pamphlets published in Massachusetts in 1691 refer to “the facility with which” Meulles was able to circulate this playing-card money, according to E. P. Neufeld’s Money and Banking in Canada.
One pamphlet reads, “The French (I hear) at Canada pass such Paper mony without the least scruple; whereby the government is greatly fortified, since they can at all times make what they need. Now if we account our selves to transcend from French in courage it is a shame for us to come so far short of them in wit and understanding.”
Neufeld also writes the playing-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.