RCMP collecting full of ‘fringe’ fun

By Jesse Robitaille

This is the final story in a three-part series exploring Royal Canadian Mounted Police collectibles.

Beyond circulation and collector coins, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) is also the focus of many numismatic “fringe” pieces issued in Canada since the “Mounties” were formed in 1873 as the North-West Mounted Police.

A century later, the RCMP’s 100th anniversary was widely commemorated on municipal trade tokens, medals and so-called “challenge coins,” the latter of which hold a special place in one collector’s heart.

“I didn’t know what they were a few years ago, but now I’m hooked on them,” said retired teacher and long-time numismatist Chris Boyer, who added challenge coins “aren’t technically coins,” which are issued by a government and assigned a denomination for use in trade and commerce.

Historically a U.S. tradition, challenge coins are relatively new within the Canadian military but are also issued by police, fire and other emergency services as well as public services.

“Popularity gained traction during the war in Afghanistan when Canadian soldiers worked closely with the U.S. It has many uses – as tokens of appreciation, regimental or unit association – and are subject to several social traditions,” said Rod McLeod, a collector and producer of military coins, medallions and other ceremonial regalia.

The challenge, McLeod explained, goes like this: “If I put my coin on the bar – and you do not have yours with you – then you pay for the round. On the other hand, if you do produce your coin, then I buy.”

Among the RCMP challenge coins in Boyer’s collection is one issued for British Columbia’s “E” Division tactical team.

“This one is fairly simple; there’s no colourization like modern challenges coins would have,” said Boyer, who added one side depicts a “crossed sword and rifle” design while the other includes a space for the receiving officer’s five-digit regimental number.

Boyer’s collection also includes a scarce piece issued for the Vancouver 2010 “Integrated Security Unit,” a special task force created to help police the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, B.C.

More “commercially available examples” include a colourized piece that reads, “Beyond the Red Serge,” referencing the Mounties’ iconic red jacket adopted as part of the force’s standard uniform since 1873.

“The demand is for more and more elaborate coins to keep up with our American friends, so here in Canada, we try to keep up by dressing them up a little bit.”

REGIMENTAL CHALLENGE COIN

In 2004, Boyer even issued his own officially licensed RCMP challenge coin for sale to the public.

After receiving a license from the RCMP and testing various metals plus engraving and packaging processes, Boyer ordered 1,000 pieces struck by a Vancouver-based private mint. Measuring 38 millimetres in diameter and finished in silver as well as antique gold plate, each coin was encased in a suede bag and colour-coded box with a bilingual information card.

“We had a good run of these for a good year,” he said, adding some examples were donated to local emergency service personnel while most were sold for $15 each.

“For the side I designed, we commissioned an artist to get an image of a galloping horse; the leaf in the background is symbolic of our nation; ‘MP’ are the fused letters for mounted police, which is a trademark; and 1873 is the year of inception.”

There were several finishes, including silver, and it was struck by the now-closed Pressed Metal Products.

“I wanted to keep it in Canada as a Canadian project, and it was a real experience because I was not a businessman; I was a teacher,” said Boyer, who’s a Fellow of both the Royal Canadian Numismatic Association and Ontario Numismatic Association.

RCMP-THEMED TRADE TOKENS

Many municipal trade tokens are also available with RCMP themes, including – once again – the force’s 1973 centennial.

“Even Eaton’s got into the game and issued something for Fort MacLeod,” said Boyer, who added they are “simple but with beautiful relief.”

Among his favourites is a piece showing conjoined portraits of an Indigenous man and RCMP officer from Manitoba – Boyer’s home province – in 1973, which was also that province’s centennial.

“Many municipalities issued them, and there are lots out there,” said Boyer, who has also served on the RCNA’s education committee, sat as the RCNA’s youth director and contributed a chapter to the RCNA Correspondence Course Part Two.

2023 SESQUICENTENNIAL

Looking forward to 2023, the RCMP will be celebrating its 150th anniversary, something Boyer believes is ripe for commemoration—and collecting.

“I don’t know of any announcements yet for that one, but I’m sure there will be a few items to collect.” 

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