Canada’s 50 Cents a Somewhat Forgotten Coin
With the Canada 1 cent having recently ended its 150+ year run as a part of our circulating coins, it is interesting to look at another seemingly strange but important denomination...the 50 cent.
When first introduced in 1870 by the Dominion of Canada, it was the highest value coin. Considering most workers at that time likely earned between $5 and $15 a week, this piece represented a significant sum.
The Victorian coins 1870-1901 were minted in sterling silver (92.5%) which was the current standard in the British Empire. Weighing 11.62 gram, and with a diameter of 29.72 mm it was an impressive size. The obverse (heads side) has a mature crowned bust of Queen Victoria with the legend “VICTORIA DEI GRATIA REGINA CANADA”, which roughly means, Victoria Grace of God Queen of Canada. The other side (reverse) is much like the 5, 10, and 25 cents; having St. Edwards crown on top of two rows of maple leaves with a ribbon on the bottom.
Because of its large size and value, it was not issued every year, and most Victorian dates have modest mintages. All are of great value in top condition, and are still scarce even somewhat used. 1890 is the scarcest date with only 20,000 minted, and few surviving (especially in new condition!) today.
The early 20th century Edward VII dates 1902-1910 continued in a very similar style to the Victorian issues...obviously with a change of bust of the monarch on the obverse. Unlike during the 1800’s, there were coins produced for every year of Edward’s reign. 1904 and 1905 stand out as difficult years for collectors to locate, even in used condition.
George V 1911-1936 again kept a similar design, but in 1920 the silver content was reduced from 92.5% to 80%. The mintages were greatly increased during WWI and by 1919 over a million were made annually. By the early 1920’s there were so many 50 cent pieces around that much of the 1920, and almost all of the 1921 dates were held back from circulation and eventually melted. Only 75 to 100 1921’s are known to have survived, and this coin sells for between $20,000 and $250,000 depending on condition!!! The coin has a nickname as the “King” of Canadian coins because it is so hard to find. No other dates appear until 1929, and then only 1931, 1932, 1934, and 1936, the last 4 minted in much lower quantities. So putting together a date set of these coins will indeed be hard work, and cost quite a bit.
There was a total design change for the George VI (1937-1952) issues. For the first time the bust of the king (or queen) had no crown on top…just a bare head. On the reverse there is a Canadian coat of arms. Most years through the 1940’s and 1950’s were produced in large quantities, and this coin was well circulated in commerce. Four basic varieties exists with the 1947 coins. There are two types of 7’s in the date, one with the tip of the 7 facing left (this is called “Straight 7”), and another with the tip curved right. To make things more interesting some of 1947 coins were minted with a small maple leaf after the date...we will explain why in a future article. The rarest combination is one where the 7 is curved, and there is a maple leaf after the date. This is a classic Canadian rarity. In my estimation less than a few hundred of these exist, and even in used condition it is valued in the thousands of dollars.
Elizabeth (1953-present) began by continuing the tradition of her father of not having a crown on her portrait. Coins until 1967 continued to be issued in 80% silver. The 1967 date was special since it was the 100th anniversary of confederation, and Canadian animals appear on all denominations. For the 50 cent, an image of a howling wolf was struck...designed by well known artist Alex Colville. In 1968 all 50 cent pieces were struck in pure nickel, this continued until 2000, and since have been made of plated steel. For some reason the bust of the Queen appears with a crown starting in 1990, and this continued until 2002.
A decision was made in the early 2000’s to end the regular circulation of 50 cent pieces. Since 2003 no coins were distributed for general use as money...however these coins are still produced every year in mint sets, and obtainable in rolls purchased from the Royal Canadian Mint.