A Penny Collection

Pennies have a long history in Canada, and they've gone from being a day's wage for a workman to throwaway junk. Before Confederation, most provinces minted their own, such as the 1857 Upper Canada example below. In 1858, pennies were issued in the name of the Province of Canada; they were about the size of a modern quarter. The first pennies of the Dominion of Canada were issued in 1876; they were similar to the 1912 example shown. In 1908, minting of pennies was transferred from England to Canada. In 1920, the size of the penny was reduced from 1" to 3/4" to make it the same size as the American penny, and in 1937 the modern maple leaf design was adopted. The maple leaf design was interrupted only once: for 1967 it was changed to a dove.

All coins must be labelled with the year of their minting to be legal tender in Canada. However, in 2002 the location of the date was changed from the maple leaf side to the sovereign side to commemorate the diamond jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II.

When I started my boyhood collection in the 1940's, gluing them into a home-made album with Duco cement, a penny bought four cinnamon heart candies at the corner store and 12 of them bought a loaf of National Bakery bread. I got one of each year since 1908 except for 1922 when I gather very few were minted. When I rediscovered it in 2011 and decided to bring it up to date (and dissolve the cement with acetone to put them in coin collector pockets), I had to check 765 pennies before filling in all the intervening years. Although 218 million pennies were produced in 1990, it was the last year to be found. Of course, I graphed the dates:

On average, half of all pennies minted have been lost from circulation every ten years. However, that rate has increased since Y2K as their value has declined - in 2008, 70% of all Canadian coins minted were pennies, to keep up with losses. If you dropped one on a sidewalk, hundreds of people would walk by until someone like me (born during the depression) paused to pick it up.

And so, in February 2012 production of Canadian pennies was stopped. As of February 2013, those remaining are being withdrawn from circulation and melted down. This is one of the last ones produced.

John Sankey