By Jesse Robitaille
Described as the “sale of the century for Canadian tokens” and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to acquire unique exonumia, the Douglas Robins Collection will be offered during Heritage Auctions’ Chicago Coin Expo World Coins Signature Auction on April 20-24.
According to auctioneers, the sale will offer both the finest and most extensive collection of Canadian pre-Confederation tokens ever assembled anywhere.
“That includes the National Currency Collection, and I’ve seen it because I was deputy curator there for eight years,” said cataloguer Jim Haxby, who worked with the Bank of Canada’s National Currency Collection from 1972-80.
“Of course, there’s a considerable degree of overlap between the two, but Doug was particularly interested in condition, so in quite a number of cases his pieces – while also represented in the National Currency Collection – are better conditioned.”
Owing to the significance of the acclaimed Robins Collection, Haxby said he expects all major token collectors – “anybody who’s anybody” – to attend either the live auction in Chicago or participate online via “Heritage Live,” an audio/video platform for Internet bidders.
“I think it’s the sale of the century for Canadian tokens,” said Haxby, who’s also the author of A Guide Book of Canadian Coins, which is commonly referred to as the “Red Book of Canadian coins,” in reference to the popular reference guide for U.S. coins. “There will never be a better offering; there can’t be.”
Described as a combination of “depth, condition and rarity,” the sale will also have a separate catalogue, said Warren Tucker, vice-president of Heritage World Coin Auctions.
“We think it will be used as a reference catalogue for quite some time. Doug was an extremely serious collector of these pieces, and it’s going to be a nice memorial to him,” said Tucker, who added Robins died in 2016 after spending the previous four decades acquiring his collection.
BON POUR DEUX SOUS
Among the top highlights of the upcoming sale is Lot 30299, an 1812 Lower Canada “BON POUR DEUX SOUS” pattern penny in Numismatic Guaranty Corp. (NGC) Proof-65 Brown.
While NGC deemed this piece a Proof, Haxby disagrees, adding it was more likely a first strike from regular dies than a Proof. The dies were produced by Thomas Halliday, a prominent token die engraver and coiner in Birmingham. This piece’s “extreme rarity makes the Proof/business strike issue a moot point,” he added.
“One of the most iconic pieces in the Canadian series is a pattern known as the ‘Bon Pour Deux Sous.’ There are only two of those known,” said Haxby, who added he expects the piece to bring at least $60,000 US.
“The other one, which is in the National Currency Collection, is in much lower condition. This is a case where a very important piece is in much better condition in Doug’s collection.”
NORTH WEST COMPANY TOKEN
Another “spectacular highlight of the collection” is Lot 30103, an 1820 North West Company (NWC) unholed brass plain edge token in NGC Mint State-61. Robins purchased this token in May 2004, during the sale of the John Ford Collection, for nearly $49,000 US.
“That’s a really interesting one,” said Haxby, who added he expects this piece will also bring at least $60,000 US. “This token is probably unique in that I’ve never seen or heard of another unholed brass example, and it’s plain edge, and that’s the only plain edge I’ve ever heard of.”
It’s believed to be a trial piece struck without the usual engrailed edge found on all the other NWC tokens.
“This North West Company token without the hole is the only one I’ve ever seen that doesn’t have an engrailed edge. It’s not unusual for specimens or trial pieces to be struck without the edge decoration, so that fits the trial piece theory,” said Haxby.
“This is one of the few – or maybe the only one – that I think came to collectors directly out of England. I don’t think that piece even made it over to North America; I think it was a trial piece that stayed in the hands of the coiner and eventually went to a London coin dealer.”
Haxby said NWC tokens were “primarily, if not exclusively, American in their issue and usage,” adding this U.S. connection should drive stronger prices.
“Of course, the North West Company was a Canadian company, but they barely had time to circulate their tokens,” he said, adding amalgamation with the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) took place in 1821, no more than a year after the NWC could have received their tokens.
He also referenced past research by Donald Stuart, who wrote the HBC in London and received three critical HBC accounts before writing his article, “Notes on the North West Company Token,” for June 1970 issue of the Canadian Numismatic Journal, the official publication of the Royal Canadian Numismatic Association.
In November 1821, an inventory of stock, including copper and brass tokens, was taken at Oregon’s Fort George (formerly Fort Astoria), which was operated by the NWC before the HBC took over in the summer of 1821.
“The following spring, there was another account, and it showed a decrease in the number of those tokens, so that shows the HBC was using them. They were issuing them, and the only HBC post mentioned as having the tokens is Fort George; they were issuing them from that fort in Oregon,” said Haxby, who added it’s “tempting to believe that the North West Company issued their tokens from the same location when they controlled it.”
“The third account was from the mid-1820s, when Fort George closed temporarily and all their affairs were transferred to what’s now Vancouver, Wash., to a new fort that had been built, Fort Vancouver. An 1826 account for that location includes North West Company tokens, and there were fewer yet.”
Haxby said between 400 and 500 tokens were leaving the fort each year.
“So more were issued by the HBC, and they were being issue only by forts in Oregon and Washington. The long and short of it is the Americans should be very interested in these tokens, and when the Americans get involved, you know what can happen to prices,” he said, adding the NWC tokens are listed in the U.S. “Red Book,” officially named A Guide Book of United States Coins.
What’s more, in the late 1970s, more than 20 NWC tokens were discovered among the “Umpqua River Valley hoard” found in Oregon. Haxby noted most of the NWC tokens are tied up in institutions and “very seldom come to market.”
At the time of Stuart’s research in 1970, there were no known Canadian discoveries of NWC tokens.
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