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Size Matters: Large Bust Vs. Small Bust 1973 Canadian Quarters


Connoisseurs of Canadian coins know the coinage of the Great White North offers a wide range of interesting – sometimes rare – varieties. That’s certainly the case with 1973 Canadian Quarters. Featured on these quarters is a one-year-only commemorative reverse design honoring the centennial of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), the law enforcement team often shorthanded “Mounties” and established in 1873 as the North West Mounted Police.

The Mounties are famous for their red uniforms and stately horses, the latter originally used as practical transport for the officers in a pre-automobile era. The mounted officers still serve a critical law enforcement role, though these days the horses are used almost exclusively in a role of pomp and pageantry. RCMP officers must earn the privilege to ride on the majestic black horses by serving at least two years of active duty. RCMP officers on horseback can be found standing sentinel in many gala events throughout Canada each year.

The iconic RCMP “Mounties” were handsomely honored on the reverse of the 1973 Canadian Quarter, which was struck for circulation to the tune of 134,958,587 pieces. The coin was a popular circulating commemorative, one of many the Royal Canadian Mint has struck over the years. And in the case of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Centennial Quarter, the reverse of which was designed and engraved by Paul Cedarberg, it became one of the more sought-after issues.

But the coin’s relatively intricate design, showcasing a single mounted RCMP officer on horseback in a detailed side profile with “1873-1973” dual-dated feature and other design elements, required some retooling of the obverse die to ensure proper metal flow in striking up the reverse details. To achieve the fine details on the reverse and ensure an ideal strike on both sides of the coin, mint officials reduced the size of Queen Elizabeth II’s obverse portrait.

In shrinking the obverse portrait of the queen, the mint also added greater refinement to her hair detail. The ornamental beading on the obverse was also modified, with a reduction in the number of beads decreasing from 132 to only 120, and the beading feature was brought slightly farther away from the rim. Virtually all 1973 RCMP Centennial Canadian Quarters were struck with the smaller bust on the obverse, as prescribed by the mint that year for all 1973 Quarters. However, not all were struck with the Small Bust obverse.

Somehow, a run of 1973 Quarters numbering fewer than 10,000 pieces were struck with a die marriage consisting of the 1972 Large Bust obverse with 132 beads. This die marriage, combining the 1972 obverse with 1973 RCMP Centennial reverse, created a rare mule variety coveted by collectors. There are two key diagnostics for differentiating a 1973 Large Bust Quarter from a 1973 Small Bust Quarter. The beads on the Large Bust Quarter appear to sit very close to the rim – nearly tangent – while the beads are set a relatively far distance from the rim on the Small Bust Quarter. Also, the top of the apex in the letter “A” in “REGINA” on the Large Bust points directly at a bead, whereas on the Small Bust Quarter the top of the “A” points at a spot between two beads.

1973 Canada Large Bust Quarter. Click image to enlarge.

The 1973 Large Bust RCMP Quarter is one of the more valuable modern rarities that Canadian collectors look for in circulation. It’s worth well north of $75 even in well-circulated condition. The 1973 Large Bust RCMP Centennial Quarter is known in both business-strike and prooflike format. Presently, nine examples are graded by PCGS as PL68 with none finer; the record price paid to date for a PL representative is $384, with the PCGS PL67 specimen trading hands at a 2019 Heritage Auctions event. Meanwhile, the finest-known Large Bust business strikes graded by PCGS come in at MS66, with just two currently graded at that level. High-end business strikes being scarce, one of the most noteworthy auction showings for an uncirculated specimen is a 2015 Heritage Auctions appearance, where a PCGS MS64 specimen crossed the block for $564.

Works Cited

Coin Collecting: Basics Canadian

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