Canadas 1936 Dot Coinage

Canada’s 1936-Dot Coinage.

By: MICC Lifetime member #001

After some 65 years, it would be logical to assume that we now know everything concerning the Canadian 1-, 10- and 25-cent coins dated 1936 with a dot on the lower reverse. The truth is that we are completely sure of very little. While we may recount the “most likely” series of events, little anomalies have a habit of popping up, throwing everything in doubt.

What we do know is this: In January 1936, George V died, leaving plenty of time for all the coinage changes needed for his son, the new King Edward VIII. The new dies were pretty much in place – including all the new Canadian reverses – when Edward abdicated in mid-December, rendering all the obverse dies for the entire Common-wealth so much artistic junk. Frantically, work went forward in manufacturing the new ones for the former Duke of York, now George VI, but with no chance of any such coinage appearing earlier than several months in 1937.

In Canada’s case, she had learned from the coinage debacle of 1911, accordingly striking coins in 1936 greatly in excess of immediate needs and stockpiling them against possible problems. As the abdication proved, it was well that she did. All the same, Canada had insured herself against a possible month or two delay, not the nearly half-year that came to pass.

It didn’t help that there was currently a large demand for minor coin, the result of odd-figure pricing by retailers as well as numerous new petty taxes, particularly sales taxes. Scarcely a month had passed into 1937 before there loomed a possible coin shortage with the Mint, by her own Currency Acts, prevented from filling the need. It is at this point that things become murky.

We should note that there is scarcely any official word concerning the 1936-Dot coinage. In the “Royal Canadian Mint Report for the Calendar Year 1936” (submitted April 24, 1937 – and with the following quote properly belonging to the next year’s Report) we read:

 

“…the work of preparing the dies was well advanced, when the abdication of His late Majesty was announced, and authority was given to continue to use the present obverse bearing the Effigy of King George V, continuing to date the reverse ‘1936’ until dies bearing the effigy of his present majesty could be made available.”

 

Nowhere is a “dot” mentioned – although we assume one was to be used. Further, we have the following solid mintage figures for the 1936-Dot coins – which we should note are simply the total strikings of the three denominations during the period January 2 through April 6 when the new dies arrived. They are:

1 – cent …………………………………………………………………………… 678,823

10-cents   ……………………………………………………………………….. 191,237

25-cents   ……………………………………………………………………….. 151,322

Canada. 25-Cents, 1936. Dot below reverse bow, Struck early 1937.

Nor did it help that the Canadian government largely ignored these coins to the extent that good records were not kept. In an attempt to clear up the controversy, G.R.L. Potter, then Corresponding Secretary for the C.N.A., wrote to Master of the Mint W.C. Ronson (June 24, 1952) requesting clarification. He received the following letter:

 

Royal Canadian Mint                                                                   July 22, 1952

Dear Mr. Potter,

   With reference to your letter of June 24, 1952, the figures you quote for the one cent, ten cent and twenty-five cent pieces dated 1936 with “dot” are correct and all were put into circulation. The “dot” on coins dated 1936 was put there to denote they were struck in 1937 due to a delay in receiving the 1937 dies.

                                                                                                             Yours truly,

                                                                                                             W.C. RONSON, Master

   

This letter only served to deepen the mystery since all of the coins were demonstrably not put into circulation. Only the 25-cent piece, with the lowest mintage figures of all, are common; both the 1-cent and 10-cent 1936-Dots are extremely rare. How rare are they?: the Charlton catalogue says that three cents and five 10-cents – all in UNC or Specimen condition – seem to be known. However, the same G.R.L. Potter located – and personally examined – a slightly different “population”.

The first “dot” coins appear to have been discovered – or at least first publicized – by James Hector of Ottawa in 1940/1, all of them being 25-cent pieces. He exhibited these coins to another Ottawa collector, Hector Lafortune, who had not heard of them before, even though he was a employee of the Royal Canadian Mint. In going through the back files, Lafortune discovered they were part of an “emergency issue” from early 1937 and that both 1- and 10-cent pieces had been coined as well. However, no one had discovered these latter in circulation – and would not, despite all reports to the contrary.

At that time, the RCM usually struck some 25-30 presentation sets for gifts to visiting dignitaries throughout the year – and treated them so cavalierly as to keep few or no records regarding them. Over the years, Mr. Lafortune was sometimes able to buy the “surplus sets” after they became “obsolete” – for face value. After receiving permission to hunt through the vaults for any dating back to 1937, he was rewarded by discovering a full set: 1-, 10- and 25-cent “Dot” as well as another where the 10-cent was lacking the “dot”. In 1955, the “dot”-cent from this “broken set” sold for $900 at auction. Aside from the above, John Jay Pittmann owned two complete sets in their original cases. It would seem, then, that Potter had located a total of four 1-cents and three 10-cents.

According to the Mint Report, these coins were dated 1936 – with no mention made of a dot, even though that may have been an oversight. In fairness, they probably would have had a dot since Canada was assiduous in neither pre-dating nor post-dating coins before about 1950. Something would have distinguished these coins.

Then we have the Master’s letter from some 15 years later stating that all were placed into circulation. Since only the 25-cent as a 1936-dot is less than extremely rare, it looks as if this “official” comment is in error. The “dot” cents and 10-cent pieces are, moreover, usually known only as “specimen” strikes from presentation V.I.P. sets. For this reason, conventional belief is that the whole of the cent and 10-cent issues were melted down before they were needed, the regular 1937 dies having arrived. The only fly in this ointment is that there is no record – or even Mint comment – that any such meltdown-before-need was done. The figures for withdrawal of silver and bronze coin for 1937 are high, but only because serious withdrawal of the 5-cent silvers and large cents had been initiated in November, 1936 – and the Mint Report comments are more or less to this effect.

Lastly, we have as explanation of their rarity the “Peebles Effect”. Dr. Allon Peebles of Ottawa propounded the theory that the dots all filled on the cent and 10-cent dies almost at once. It’s true that the dots on these coins are smaller than on the 25-cent, the result of lighter blows having been delivered to a pointed punch; it’s also true that the new dies, lightly coated with grease were just wiped off before use and not soaked in detergent, allowing the dot to be filled with grease – at least for the first blow.

However, the Peebles Effect just doesn’t stand up. First of all, the grease-clogged die would not stay that way. With the very first coining blow, compression heat would be sufficient to melt it out, allowing the dot to strike up as it intended. Secondly, the number of 36-dot coins struck would have required 2 or more probably 3 one-cent reverse dies; 6 or 7 10-cent reverse dies and 10 or 11 25-cent reverse dies. It’s highly improbable that all the 1- and 10-cent reverse dies would clog with the first blow and stay clogged – yet that is what numismatic experience says happened if we accept this theory. Perhaps most devastating to the Peebles Effect is the fact that the equally small colon dots on the obverse never clogged, even though they were treated in no better fashion.

Over the years, “ghost-dots” have been reported on the 1936 1- and 10-cent pieces in support of a “nearly filled die”. For the most part, these are optical illusions, tricks of surface damage and uneven toning. To date, no circulated examples of these rare denominations have been found.

 

So where does that leave us?:

  1. We have to accept the mintage figures since the RCM did not as yet have the new 1937 dies in hand. Three denominations in all were struck.
  2. Did they all have dots? That is not nearly as certain. Writing April 4, 1937 – within weeks of the “dot” mintages, the Mintmaster mentions only that the coins were dated 1936.
  3. Were they melted down before release? Again, there’s a problem. First, there is no Mint document or comment noting that this was done. Secondly, such an “oversight” might be routinely be tucked away as “Withdrawn Coin” but while the amount of silver withdrawn ($376,416.50) could massively accommodate the little 10-cent dot mintage ($19,123.70), such is not true of the 1936-dot cents. Under the “Bronze Coin Withdrawn” for 1937 is just $6,402.02, mostly large cents and even if not, insufficient to cover the entire 1936-dot cent mintage of $6,788.23. Conclusion: the cents (at least) were not withdrawn and melted.
  4. Practically all the 1- and 10-cent “dots” are from presentation sets (there is an unconfirmed report of a one-cent dot “business strike” in UNC). Perhaps this is the only place these particular “dots” exist. If so, the rest did circulate, but only as “undotted” “ordinary” 1936 coins, the 25-cent piece an exception.

Therefore, we are left with as many questions as answers. Sorry. We’ll have to blame the government – we do for everything else.

Previously printed in the MICC Numismatic Journal Vol-01, Issue-12