Canadian Dollars are large, highly collectible coins that have been popular with collectors since their regular-issue inception in 1935. They were struck in an 80% silver format through 1967, when rising bullion prices forced the Royal Canadian Mint to choose a less-expensive base-metal format for its dollar coinage. The replacement was a pure nickel composition that was used in Canada Dollars from 1968 through 1987; from 1987 on, the large-size dollar format was replaced by the smaller “Loonie” Dollar, a 26.72-millimeter nickel-bronze coin nicknamed for the placid design by Robert-Ralph Carmichael of a loon swimming in a serene pond.
The pure nickel Canadian Dollars of the 1960s, ‘70s, and ‘80s represented a much larger shift for the Royal Canadian Mint, which faced the same economic constraints the United States Mint confronted south of the border. Rising bullion prices was squeezing silver from circulating coinage made from the white precious metal, and Canada subsequently phased the valuable bullion from its dimes, quarters, half dollars, and dollar coins.
One of the challenges that came with this compositional change arose from the physical resilience of nickel, which is a much harder metal than copper and silver. The pure nickel coinage that began rolling out of the Royal Canadian Mint in the late 1960s required changes to the physical dimensions of its coins, including the dollar coin. To compensate for the harder, pure nickel composition, the dollar’s planchet size was reduced in diameter by 11% and in thickness by 8% to properly produce the design. This resulted in new physical specifications for the nickel dollar, which came in at 32.13 millimeters in diameter and weighing 15.62 grams – down from the previous 80% silver dollar’s 36.06-millimeter width and weight of 23.33 grams.
One thing that did not change about the Canadian Dollar during its transition was the coin’s obverse and reverse designs; the obverse of the nickel dollars kept the portrait of a 39-year-old Queen Elizabeth II as designed by Arnold Machin, while the iconic Voyageur reverse by Emanuel Hahn was continued but in reduced size. This design pairing was continued for the duration of the large-size Canadian Dollar series, with a few exceptions for the appearances of circulating commemorative designs.
Circulating Canadian Commemorative Dollars made during the nickel era include the 1970 Manitoba Centennial, 1971 British Columbia Centennial, 1973 Prince Edward Island Centennial, 1974 Winnipeg Centennial, 1982 Constitution, and 1984 Jacques Cartier Commemoratives. While the 1970s commemorative designs replaced the Voyageur reverse on those respective issues, the two 1980s issues were made concurrently with the Voyageur reverse. Thus, 1982 marked the first time that two different dollars of the nickel format were struck simultaneously by the Royal Canadian Mint for circulation.
None of the circulating nickel-format Canadian Dollar issues is categorically rare, as each regular-issue strike boasts mintages well above 1 million pieces. During most of the years the nickel dollars were made, various numismatic strikes were produced. These include Specimen, Prooflike, and Proof pieces. All are available for relatively affordable prices, and the vast majority of the coins from this subtype can be had for prices south of $25 each – and many for mere fractions thereof.
Still, there are some rarer varieties to be found among the nickel dollars. For example, the first year of nickel dollar production spawned several distinct varieties involving the nub of the island landform appearing just to the lower right of the canoe, while other varieties on the 1968 Canada Dollar concern doubling of the horizon lines and extra water lines. On some examples of the 1974 Winnipeg Centennial Commemorative appears a Doubled Yoke element, which is known in three varieties and each worth significant premiums. A handful of 1982 Constitution Commemorative Dollars was struck in coin alignment (versus the standard medal alignment for Canadian coinage), and these are worth over $1,000 in uncirculated grades.
These and several other fascinating varieties are incorporated into the various Canadian Dollar PCGS Registry Sets. Collectors who build Canada Dollar sets on the PCGS Set Registry can engage in some friendly competition with other collectors and vie for awards and other recognitions.
- “Canadian Silver Dollars (Voyageurs and Commemoratives).” Accessed February 3, 2021.
- Cross, W.K. Charlton Standard Catalogue of Canadian Coins. The Charlton Press, 2011.
- Haxby, James A. A Guide Book of Canadian Coins and Tokens. Whitman Publishing, 2012.