‘Symboles du Québec’ novelty note series continues with McGill issue

The Apprentis Numismates, a French-Canadian numismatic organization founded in 2001, has unveiled the fifth issue of its “Symboles du Québec” commemorative banknote series.

The group’s officials, including founder Claude Bernard and long-time member François Rufiange, who joined in 2005, commemorated Québec’s oldest university, McGill, on the new novelty issue. Only 200 notes, including five uncut press sheets with three notes each, were available to collectors beginning on May 1.

“As with previous notes, the spirit of the times has been respected,” Rufiange said when the note was unveiled.

He and Bernard drew inspiration from the Montréal Bank’s 1821 single-sided $1 bill, a rare chartered note.

“It should be noted that during this period, before Confederation, financial instruments were mainly written in English,” added Rufiange, the president of the Société Numismatique de Québec. “This is a characteristic that we wanted to keep.”

Because Apprentis Numismates operates mainly in French, the 2021 note is bilingual, he added.

“It is also a reference to McGill University, which now offers courses in both official languages.”


Founded in 1821 as the University of McGill College through a bequest from Scottish merchant James McGill – a founding member of Montréal’s Beaver Club – the school is marking its 200th anniversary this year.

“Before his death, this generous benefactor bequeathed 10,000 pounds sterling and his magnificent property, Burnside Place, a 46-acre estate located on the slopes of Mount Royal in Montréal, for the foundation of a university,” Rufiange said.

On March 21, 1821, eight years after McGill died, King George IV granted a royal charter to the University of McGill College, which became McGill University in 1885.

“Although the university obtained its royal charter in 1821, it was not until June 24, 1829, that Burnside Place officially opened its doors under the name of McGill College,” Rufiange added.

“As soon as it opened, the college concluded an agreement to make the ‘Montréal Medical Institution’ its faculty of medicine. Finally, on Sept. 6, 1843, 20 students entered the new arts pavilion. This is the first day of class at McGill College, a historic moment that will have taken 30 years to come true.”

Born in October 1744 in Glasgow, Scotland, McGill rose to prominence as a Montréal businessman, specializing in the fur and ammunition trades, plus as a philanthropist, soldier and politician.

“By his contemporaries, he was considered the richest man in Montréal,” added Rufiange.


Like the series’ first four issues, the print run of McGill University notes corresponds to the anniversary, so 200 notes were printed.

Serial numbers range from “0001” to “0200,” including the radar note “0110.” Among these 200 notes, five uncut sheets are also available. Each of the sheets includes three sequential notes, ranging from “0186″ to “0200.”

Some elements of the original 1821 Montréal Bank note have also been modified on the novelty bill, which measures 75 millimetres by 175 millimetres. The numeral “200,” the words “DEUX CENTS” and “TWO HUNDRED” plus the phrase “SYMBOLES DU QUEBEC” are also added to the left and right sides.

A period painting of McGill University replaces the original note’s naval scene featuring Britannia as the top-centre vignette. At the bottom centre, the original note’s “ONE” denomination – combined with a one-piastre coin, equivalent to a Spanish eight-real coin from Charles IV’s reign – has been replaced by “200.” The two zeroes in “200” are replaced by a contemporary Bank of Montréal token and an 1821 British shilling with the effigy of George IV.

“These two elements obviously refer to the original issuing bank of the note as well as to the sovereign who signed the charter,” said Rufiange, who added the original printer’s name, “Reed & Stiles,” is also replaced with “Apprentis Numismates.”

The original note had only one French-language element, the name “UNE PIASTRE” in the right panel, which was the Numismates’ main inspiration for making a bilingual note. They also kept the school’s original name, “University of McGill College,” which is placed in the centre.

Because the original note was uniface, nothing is visible on the Numismates’ novelty note; however, ultraviolet light will uncover a hidden secret – the university’s coat of arms, with its Latin motto “GRANDESCUNT AUCTA LABORE” (“By work, all things increase and grow”), and an open book with the inscription “IN DOMINO CONFIDO” (“I confide in the Lord”).

The other Symboles du Québec novelty notes marked the 175th anniversary of the Percé Rock’s collapse (2020); the 50th anniversary of the Daniel-Johnson Dam (2019); the 125th anniversary of the Château Frontenac (2018); and the centennial of the Québec Bridge (2017).

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