Canadian Pattern and Trial Pieces of WWII

Canadian Pattern and Trial Pieces of WWII.

By: MICC Lifetime member #001

Unlike a lot of countries during the Second World War, Canada was not forced to issue many coinage denominations in other than the old pre-War format. There were two exceptions: the small bronze cent and the nickel five-cent piece.

The cent could have continued on unchanged indefinitely had it not been for the fact the Japanese overran Malaya, the world’s primary source of tin, in early 1942. Quite naturally, enemy nations such as Canada, Britain and the U.S. were immediately cut off from this source of supply.

The U.S. reacted by experimenting with cents in all sorts of different, readily available materials such as plastic, steel (coated or not) and even glass. They settled on zinc-coated steel cents in 1943 – truly ugly things with any degree of wear – and then cents manufactured from spent shell casings (of which there was an abundance) in 1944-6. These latter were highly successful and it’s hard to tell them from U.S. cents of standard composition.

Canada, too, was cut off from most of her tin supply and although her bronze cents contained but 3% tin until 1942, it was still a lot in absolute terms and had to be cut down – if not out. However, since it required an act of Parliament to change the metal constituents of the given coins’ alloy, it was expedient to simply reduce the tin content to merely a whisper of 1½%. The 1942 cents exist in both 3% and 1½% tin but the difference is unnoticeable.

But Canada did at least consider cents that were highly saving of copper in 1943. Like the U.S., zinc-coated steel cents were considered – but rejected by Canada who feared the soft metal might lead to widespread clogging of the dies. That may not have happened – the U.S. mints turned out more than a billion of them and this didn’t seem to be a problem. So far as we know, the R.C.M. did not strike any such zinc pieces; at least none appear to exist today.

But they did make a limited number of patterns in copper-coated steel such as that shown above (Charlton Patterns/Trials # DC-26) as well as others in steel alone (DC-26a). These experiments were carried out in conjunction with the Stanley Steel Company of Hamilton. There is one each in the National Currency Collection but how many – if any – others exist is hard to say.

One of the more unusual suggestions for coins was received from the Canadian Bankers Association at this time. Since many common items of the day such as stamps and newspapers cost three cents, they advocated the introduction of a 3-cent coin as a means of savings in copper and production time. Their proposal envisioned a bronze coin somewhat larger than the cent but distinguished by being either triangular or having a hole in the center. Preliminary Mint studies showed that design and production time would in fact outweigh any benefit. So far as we know, not even drawings were made.

The Canadian 5-cent piece saw the most radical changes during the War. Canada, possessing something like 90% of the world’s nickel deposits, could scarcely be short of it, in spite of its being a strategic war material. However (perhaps unbelievably), Canada was unable at this time to produce blanks for her own 5-cent coins! Ever since 1922, this had been done by a U.S. company, using Canadian-supplied nickel, as a cost-cutting measure. With the entry of the U.S. into the war directly after Pearl Harbour, one of the first acts was to cut off further exports of nickel products and Canada was lucky to have received the shipment for 1942 just under the wire. In fact the U.S. practically commandeered Canada’s nickel production for her munition needs (INCO was – and is – after all, an American company).

Obviously, the supply of prepared nickel planchets would soon be used up so Canada hastily moved to a metal that she could prepare. This turned out to be “tombac”, a kind of brass and, to distinguish it from cents, the hitherto round 5-cent piece was made 12-sided, similar to the contemporary British 3d piece.

There does exist a pattern or trial strike of the 12-sided 1942 5-cent in nickel (rather than tombac) (Ch. DC-25); under ordinary circumstances, we might suspect it was a mint error, an old nickel planchet becoming mixed with the new brass ones, were it not for the fact it weighs 5.5 grams – a full gram too much. Therefore it is not a mint error but rather an intentional deviation on the normal standards.

Before tombac was adopted in mid-1942, consideration was given to following American practices on the 5-cent. Both copper-nickel (as the U.S. pre-War standard) and a copper/silver alloy (used as of 1942) were contemplated and rejected. It appears that nothing was done of a concrete nature on these standards.

The reverse “beaver” design of the tombac “nickels” was changed to the “V-design” in 1943 and then the metal to chromium-plated steel in 1944-5. A steel 1943 “V-nickel” exists (Ch. DC-27) which is almost certainly a trial strike. The same cannot be said of the one known 1944 “V-nickel” in tombac (Ch. DC-28); chances are excellent this is a mint error, one of the old tombac planchets remaining in the bin and accidentally being run through the press with the next year’s production.

Swamped with work, the Mint could ill afford the time to melt, roll and prepare the tombac planchets so the new metal for the 5-cent pieces became chromium-plated steel in 1944, the blanks supplied by the Stanley Steel Company. There is a slight interval between the passing of the beaver design in 1942 and the adoption of the “V” reverse that should be mentioned. It seems fairly certain that no patterns were struck of the various changeover designs – but there are a number of different drawings. One that is of special interest contains rudimentary Morse Code on it, quite possibly a precursor of the more elaborate coded “We Win When We Work Willingly” used as denticles on the reverse of the “V-Nickels”.

It’s difficult to decide just what the code means. “Dot-dot-dot” = S while “dash” = T. Does it stand for “Shingles, Thomas” the designer/engraver of the reverse? If so, it is a rather cute way of including his initials in a bold, yet unobtrusive way.

Unlike the U.S. whose Mint issued an endless stream of patterns over the years, Canada’s is notable for its highly restricted numbers. And, for the most part, they are not patterns at all but rather “trial strikes”, designs that would be used, even if in a different metal.


Previously printed in the MICC Numismatic Journal Vol-02, Issue-06