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Canada Calls on U.S. Mint for Help
By Mark Fox, World Coin News
October 18, 2010

This article was originally printed in World Coin News.
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Editor’s Note: This is the second in a three-part series. Click here for part 1.


A 10-cent solution

Beginning in late August 1968, news was circulating that Canadian Finance Minister Edgar J. Benson had contracted the Philadelphia mint to strike 75 million Canadian 10-cent pieces, so as to enable the Royal Canadian Mint to concentrate “exclusively” on minting 25-cent coins. A member of the Canadian Parliament described it all as a “two-bit operation.”1

The Royal Canadian Mint report for 1968 illustrated the need for outside help in more somber terms:

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During 1968 the Mint worked shiftwork around the clock plus overtime. Even this superhuman effort was not sufficient to satisfy the year’s abnormal demand for coinage. For the first time since the Royal Canadian Mint has been in existence, a coin order was placed with a foreign government. In 1968 a contract was placed with the United States Mint to manufacture 85 million ten cent coins on behalf of the Royal Canadian Mint.2

On Aug. 14, two weeks after nickel metal coinage could legally circulate through commercial channels, Norval Parker died at the age of 60. He was a popular mint master and a familiar face among coin collectors in both Canada and the U.S., having attended a number of coin shows and conventions. Ernest F. Brown replaced Parker as acting mint master, a position he would hold until 1970.

The 75 million coins reported in the newspapers was either an error on their part or an indication that the negotiations were still in an initial phase after Mr. Parker’s passing. Whenever they began, it appears an agreement was reached rather quickly.

One source quoted the cost of the 10 cent order to be $1.5 million (CAD), and whether it was for 75 or 85 million coins, this works out to roughly two Canadian or U.S. cents per coin in 1968. Even so, James A. Haxby noted that, “naturally the imported coins were purchased at greater cost than if they had been produced in Canada.”3

The design on the back of the Canadian 10 cent in 1968 had been in use since the great coin modernizing campaign of 1937. It featured the famous fishing and racing schooner, Bluenose, which the RCM officially acknowledged in 2002. It has been said, though, that the celebrated sculptor Emanuel Hahn had used several schooners to arrive at his design. The obverse, as with all the other denominations, featured the tiara bust of Queen Elizabeth II by Arnold Machin.

Understandably, the RCM only gave U.S. minters a little part in manufacturing the necessary minting equipment. According to the Montreal Gazette, “Canadian technicians will help their U.S. counterparts in the manufacture of dies and other aspects of the coin mintage.”4

Richard McP. Cabeen, writing in the Chicago Tribune, noted that the Philadelphia strikes would not bear a mintmark.5 Since the Ottawa minted coins wouldn’t, as usual, carry any mark either, it was unclear to Cabeen how the two issues could be told apart. But they can. Collectors would discover if the reeding along the coin’s edge had flat bottoms like U.S. coins, it was a product of Philadelphia; if the reeding contained V-shaped bottoms, then it was struck at Ottawa. Reeding is formed on a coin at the moment of striking when the dies squeeze the planchet and force it against the reeding pattern on the collar. The different styles of reeding likely didn’t matter to the RCM if it was considered at all, since it was probably easier for Philadelphia to just use their own dime collars. As a result, the coins have the exact same diameter as a U.S. dime, 17.91 mm. This theoretically serves as another distinguishing point since Ottawa strikes measure 18.03 mm, but after carefully measuring several Canadian and U.S. dimes, it became apparent that the irregularity of width due to striking or wear makes this test unreliable. A specimen from either mint weighs the same at 2.07 grams.

Mintmarks had only just returned to U.S. coins in 1968 after a frustrating absence of three years. It was one strange method implemented by the U.S. Mint to combat the American coin shortage in the mistaken belief that coin collectors were largely responsible for it. The decision to omit mintmarks on the U.S.-minted Canadian 10-cent pieces was thus probably welcomed by Philadelphia as well as Ottawa, which would hardly have been enthusiastic were the former to advertise itself on Canadian coins. However, this lack of identification is said to have also made the coins theoretically illicit. According to coin expert Alan Herbert, “the Philadelphia strikes were technically illegal under Canadian law, which requires that anything imported has to show the country of origin. The Royal Mint later admitted bending the rule.”6

Official U.S. Mint records state that the Mother Mint coined 42,430,000 of the Canadian 10-cent pieces in 1968. The Royal Canadian Mint annual report for this year notes that only 35,000,000 pieces out of a total of 107,022,930 were minted at Philadelphia. The Canadian figure for the Philadelphia strikes probably can be explained in terms of coins received and that some coins were probably still waiting to be shipped from the U.S. at the end of the year. By this time, Canada would have issued more than 99 percent of the new nickel 10-cent coins they had minted or received to a coin-hungry Canadian public.

Production of U.S.-minted Bluenose 10 cents continued straight into 1969, but were still apparently dated 1968. A total of 42,740,000 pieces were minted, according to U.S. records. Sadly, there is no known way to tell this issue apart from the coins minted the previous year. Production of 1968-dated 10 cents also continued into the following year at Ottawa, with 15,390,000 pieces struck. In the end, a total of 172,582,930 Canadian 10-cent coins dated 1968 were created, split fairly evenly between both mints: 87,412,930 for Ottawa and 85,170,000 for Philadelphia. The latter mint would consume 194.68 short tons of nickel metal. Interestingly, both the Canadian and U.S. mint reports agree on the final Philadelphia mintage figure. The 50 percent silver Bluenose versions amounted to only 70,460,000, or a little under half of the combined nickel coin total.

As all these mintage totals suggest, all three varieties of the 1968 Bluenose 10-cent can be had for a few dimes. The 2009 Standard Catalog of World Coins prices the silver strikes at a paltry 60 cents in MS-60, which have only risen to a couple of dollars now on account of soaring silver prices. The nickel versions register 20 cents in the same grade for the Ottawa strikes and 5 cents more for the Philadelphia variety!

In looking back at the U.S. contribution, one is tempted to regard the mintage total as little more than a drop in the bucket for what the Philadelphia Mint produces every year. And it is true that during 1968, U.S. coin production was on the low side and that Philadelphia in particular didn’t strike any nickels or half dollars. But then again, in addition to its domestic duties, the Mother Mint was contracted during the 1968 fiscal year to produce coinage not only for Canada, but also for Costa Rica and the Philippines. The Canada order becomes more challenging in light of the fact that the U.S. Mint was in the process of moving to a new minting facility.



Footnotes

1Canadian Press. “‘Two-bit’ deal to overcome coin shortage.” Ottawa Citizen (Sept. 17, 1968), p. 9. The person in question was Alfred D. Hales (PC–Wellington).
2Royal Canadian Mint Report for Calendar Year 1968, p. 21.
3Haxby, James A. Striking Impressions: The Royal Canadian Mint and Canadian Coinage. Ottawa, ON: The Mint, 1984, p. 221.
4“U.S. to mint 75 million new Canadian dimes.” Montreal Gazette (Aug. 22, 1968), p. 11.
5Cabeen, Richard McP. “We’ll Mint Dimes for Our Neighbors.” Chicago Tribune (Sept. 15, 1968), p. N10.
6Herbert, Alan. Coin Clinic: 1001 Frequently Asked Questions. Iola, Wis.: Krause Publications, 1995, p. 38. When asked where he had learned about the illicit nature of the coin issue, Herbert thought it might have been “a letter published in one of the hobby publications.”


(Continued in the December issue.)


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