The Commemoratives of 1927
By: MICC Lifetime member #001
The first major anniversary of Canadian Confederation – the fiftieth in 1917 – couldn’t have come at a worse time, in the depths of the First World War. Understand-ably, little time or effort was made in its celebration. Officially, the government only issued a 3-cent stamp featuring a painting of the Fathers of Confederation to mark the occasion.
But things were slightly different ten years later on Canada’s Diamond Jubilee of Confederation – her 60th. Not only was the country at peace, it was in the twilight years of a certain prosperity. For the era, Canada celebrated in a major way, so far as the government was concerned. Stamps appeared again: the same Fathers of Confederation painting appeared on a green 2-cent stamp. As well, there was a 1-cent (MacDonald); 3-cent (Peace Tower); two 5-cents (Laurier and Magee; two 12-cents (map of Canada & Laurier/MacDonald) and a 20-cent (Baldwin/LaFontaine). All of the above were issued on the same date: June 29, 1927, practically the last business day before Dominion Day that year.
In February, 1927, an act was passed incorporating the National Committee for the Celebration of the Diamond Jubilee of Confederation. One area of its jurisdiction was the issue of the above stamps as well as proposed coins and medals. The latter were possibly inspired by commemorative half-dollars and $2.50 gold coins issued by the U.S. to mark their 150th anniversary of independence in the previous year. Canadian proposals included a silver dollar along with other denominations.
Unfortunately, time constraints were to scuttle many of these numismatic proposals. Drawing on their experience from the days of conversion to small cents and large 5-cent pieces (1920-2), Mint officials were only too aware of the time requirements of such projects. Stocks of many of the silver denominations were still on hand, precluding the striking of more and, economically, a silver dollar could not be justified. On the other hand, inactivity at the Mint meant that make-work projects might be useful and it was with this in mind that the Deputy Master suggested that the designs of the present denominations could stand an overhaul.
Thus inspired, the Mint arranged for a design competition called in May, 1927. For the present, design changes were limited to the reverses of the denominations of 25-cents and under. All such designs were to refer symbolically or in the legend to Confederation or its anniversary. A prize of $500 was to be awarded for the winning design of each denomination.
The competition didn’t go well. Time limitations dictated that designs be received by the middle of June, only one month hence. Unsurprisingly, the number of submissions was small and their quality low to indifferent – so low that the selection committee refused to award a prize for the 10-cent denomination. As for the other three, the prize for the one-cent reverse was won by Gustav Hahn and both the 5- and 25-cent reverses by J.A.H. MacDonald. Unfortunately, Dominion Day had passed by some two months before the competition results were announced and, reluctantly, the Canadian government was forced to concede that these new reverses could not possibly appear before the celebratory year of 1927 was entirely past. Therefore they exist only as sketches in the Public Archives of Canada.
Above: Winning design for the one-cent piece by Gustav Hahn. Much simplified, a similar naturalistic treatment of a maple leaf sprig appeared on the new cent ten years later.
Above: the winning designs by J. MacDonald. A stylized lion appeared in the coat of arms on the 50-cent piece in 1937 and something similar to the Peace Tower design would reappear on the reverse of the 1939 silver dollar commemorating the Royal Visit during that year.
Although coins were apparently out, medals weren’t. Even so, the Royal Canadian Mint had very little to do with them during 1927. The small (1-inch) bronze medal was presented to every school child in Canada but, so far as we know, the Mint only did the striking of them from master tools prepared from an outside source. In Striking Impressions, James Haxby believed it was a private Ottawa firm; if so, this would preclude the unknown firm from being Ellis Bros. of Toronto – even though the firm is known to have struck several different types of private medals for the 1927 Jubilee and whose “style” is very similar to the reverse of the “official schoolchild” medal.
The same style of medal was also produced in a larger size (1.5 inch) in gold, silver and bronze for use as prizes in scholastic competitions that year. The dies for these medals were almost certainly produced by the same unknown firm.
1-inch Bronze Medal given to every Canadian schoolchild in 1927.
By far the best medal produced for the occasion turned out to be a non-runner due to an under-estimation of the time required. The master tools for this large (3-inch) medal were prepared by two mints: the Royal Mint, London, prepared the obverse which used the official crowned effigy of George V by Percy Metcalfe with CONFEDERATION CANADA around.
The medal’s reverse, however, was both designed and the master tools engraved at the Paris Mint. The design, by Raymond Delamarre, depicts a woman (presumably Canada) standing on a base decorated with wheat heads and maple leaves. In the background is a map of Canada with the official motto A MARE USQUE AD MARE (“From Sea Unto Sea”) around. On the base is the date “1867-1927”.
This was a presentation medallion and small numbers were struck in gold, silver and toned tombac. However, delays in receiving the master tools prevented the Ottawa Mint from producing any of them until well into 1928, nearly a year after the official celebrations.
Previously printed in the MICC Numismatic Journal Vol-01, Issue-09