The Newfoundland Commemorative Dollar, 1949

The Newfoundland Commemorative Dollar, 1949

By: MICC Lifetime member #001

Newfoundland had some financial woes, times being hard enough back in the ’30s that she was forced to revert to colonial status under Britain. For a while, things brightened during the Second World War as the air, naval and army bases pumped money into her economy but afterward, the slump resumed. Most Newfoundlanders knew something had to be done and in the referendum of July, 1948, they narrowly voted for union with Canada over attempting to go it alone as had been the case before 1934. The pro-Confederation forces were spearheaded by Joseph (“Joey”) Smallwood who not only became the new province’s first premier but held the position until 1971.

Newfoundland would officially enter Confederation as of the last day of March, 1949 and to mark the event, the Canadian government decided to issue their third commemorative dollar. In every respect, the project went forward with unusual speed. A photograph of a model by Ernest Maunder of St. John’s (thought to be accurate) of John Cabot’s Matthew, in which he discovered Newfoundland and claimed it for England, was used twice: once for the reverse of the commemorative dollar and again for the 4-cent stamp that was issued for the same event.

The 1949 Commemorative Dollar – Obv

The 1949 Commemorative Dollar – Rev

1949 Commemorative 4-cent stamp

The obverse used on the commemorative dollar was the same as had appeared in 1948, the bare head of George VI left by T. Humphry Paget with the legend modified to delete reference in India – of which the British monarchs were no longer “emperors” as of 1947. As may be seen, the view of the model Matthew was the same as used on the stamp; in fact, both were engraved from the same photograph.

The reverse of the dollar was engraved by the Chief Engraver of the R.C.M., Thomas Shingles, directly from the photograph. Notably, he engraved the master die used entirely by hand, a skill he had similarly used on the reverses of the “V-Nickels” during WWII. It was fortunate that Shingles was so talented since the piece of minting equipment that would have otherwise been required, the “reducing machine”, was only acquired by the Ottawa Mint during the year 1949, too late for use on this coin. So far as we know, it was first used on master punches of a circulating coin for the reverse of Trenka’s 1951 commemorative 5-cent piece, produced directly from his sculpted model.

Shingles was also fast. From start to finish, he hand-produced the master die for this coin in five weeks, considered to be breakneck speed within the industry. In addition to the legend under the Matthew, “FLOREAT TERRA NOVA” – “May the new Land Flourish” – we find Shingles’ initials T.S. at center right just behind the halyard rope.

The physical specifications of the commemorative were the same as for the regular dollar of the previous year: .800 fine silver, weighing 23.327 grams (with a silver content of an even .6 ounce Troy) and a diameter of 36 mm.

It was intended that the coin be released on Dominion Day, 1949, but a certain number became available to the public in St. John’s, Newfoundland, as early as June 24 through the Bank of Canada there. In all, some 14,000 of the dollars would be handled by that agency there.

Thomas Shingles at work engraving the reverse die for the Canadian Volunteer Service Medal, 1945.
Illus. from “Striking Impressions” by James Haxby, 1986.

   Not all the dollars were minted in 1949. A mintage of 631,500 were struck in that year but in following a new government policy of supplying such coins for as long as there was a demand, an additional 40,718 were struck in 1950 bearing the 1949 date (and another 756 in 1951; 506 in 1952; and 177 in 1953). Added together, the total mintage figure appears to be 673,657 instead of the usually accepted 672,218. For what it’s worth.

Collectors typically find these coins in better condition with even the “MS-what-evers” not too hard to find. This is due to the care with which they were originally issued, being shipped to the banks in plastic and cardboard “20-count” tubes after having been hand-picked, just like those of the 1935 Jubilee had been. This was in sharp contrast to the issues from the rest of the intermediate years where dollars were typically bagged using steel grain shovels!

Previously printed in the MICC Numismatic Journal Vol-01, Issue-05