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Lower Canada, Magdalen Islands, penny token, 1815

By Library and Archives Canada | Monday, March 29, 2004

The Magdalen Islands, a group of 16 islands situated in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, were discovered by Jacques Cartier during his voyage to the Gaspe in 1534. The islands were granted to Sir Isaac Coffin in 1787 in recognition of the Boston-born Admiral's loyal service to Britain during the American War of Independence. Fancying himself somewhat of a feudal lord, Sir Isaac decided to introduce his own coinage of pure copper penny and halfpenny tokens to his North American possessions. In 1815 an issue of penny tokens produced in Birmingham, England, was sent out to the Magdalens and distributed to the local fishermen.

However, when the British authorities learned that Coffin had ordered a private coinage, he was duly informed that the right of coinage was vested only in the Crown. Following this, it appears that halfpennies were never produced. The choice of subjects depicted on Coffin's penny token was, and indeed still is, appropriate. The obverse shows a fur seal, while the reverse features a split codfish - thus denoting the main resources of the islands. The reverse also bears the inscription "SUCCESS TO THE FISHERY" and the denomination "ONE PENNY." It is interesting to note that although these tokens did not receive royal approval they apparently did circulate extensively and, as a result, few examples are found in mint condition. The piece illustrated is slightly smaller than a silver dollar and is part of the National Currency Collection, Bank of Canada.

Penny token, 1815, (obverse and reverse)
Penny token, 1815, (obverse and reverse)

This article represents a portion of the the article titled Currency Museum of the Bank of Canada

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