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Numismatic Royalty: The 1921 50 cent
Last Updated: 06/10/2014
It is not often that something comes through the door of a well-established coin store that causes the staff to clamour around each other like schoolchildren admiring the latest handheld video game. Like being an usher at a major-league sports arena or a theme-park ride operator, the lustre of working somewhere cool will inevitably wear off. For a coin dealer, weeks and years pass by and thousands of coins come and go. For many professional numismatists, the list of rare coins that have never passed over the store’s counter becomes increasingly smaller and smaller, and what was previously something that elicited a ‘wow’ is now merely a ‘meh’.

There are a few coins, however, that will never cease to impress. Such was the case this month when a private collector entered our store unannounced to sell a single coin. That coin turned out to be a Canadian 50 cent piece dated 1921.

The story of the 1921 50 cent is well known, but also well worth repeating.

The tale begins in 1870, when the 50 cent coin was first introduced in Canada. 450,000 coins were struck that first year, but demand for this denomination varied widely afterwards, with some years having no coins produced at all.

In 1920, the Canadian government officially reduced the silver content of our coins from 92.5% to only 80%. This worsened the situation for the 50 cent denomination, which was already unpopular, and demand for the coins fell dramatically. So much so that of the 200,000+ 50 cents struck in 1921, virtually all of them remained in storage at the mint. Demand for the denomination did not increase again until 1929. At that time Master of the Mint John Honeyford Campbell considered releasing the stockpile of 1921’s into circulation, but concerns were raised that brand new coins dated from eight years prior might not be accepted as genuine.

The result was that the stockpile of 1921 50 cents were recycled, unceremoniously melted down and re-coined into new 1929 50 cents. Estimates as to how many escaped the crucible vary, with educated estimates hovering around 75 examples still in existence.

This story, of course, was well known to me. Known innately, like how I know that Mount Everest is the world’s tallest mountain. My expectation of seeing a 1921 50 cent that day was about the same as my expectation of ever scaling that famous peak. And yet, as I unwrapped the certification holder from its velvet sleeve, I realize that not only was I holding one of those legendary surviving coins, but I was holding the second finest known example of a 1921 50 cent. The quality of the strike, the immaculate lustre, the subtle toning and patina, all would have been stunning on a more common date. On a 1921, the result was astonishing.

Now I’m certain my co-workers would be the first to tell you that I am among the more jaded numismatists out there. On this particular day, however, holding a 1921 50 cent in a PCGS MS-66 holder, I was reminded just how cool my job is, and it must have shown by my savvy and insightful response.

I said ‘wow’. Three times in a row.




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For those of you who may not understand, the 1921 50 cent is sometimes referred to as ‘The King of Canadian Coins’. Modest, well-worn examples command tens of thousands of dollars at auction. For a specimen of this calibre, let’s just say that one could make a fair trade against something like a new Rolls Royce Ghost or an Aston Martin Vantage convertible. If you would prefer a more practical comparison, it’s fair to say that the value of this coin could pay a family of four’s weekly grocery bill for about 25 years. This coin not only deserves the title ‘King of Canadian Coins’, it is the very definition of numismatic royalty.

Eventually I regained my composure and got back down to business. In short order a deal was reached and the greater challenge began. As much as I might admire a showpiece like the 1921 50 cent, the goal of a business is sales, and a buyer needed to be found.

And so here we are. At the time of writing, this magnificent coin is still available. For most people this coin is merely a dream, like my hopes of climbing Mount Everest. But somewhere, the right person is out there, who has the means and the courage to seize this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Perhaps it’s you.

Try not to say ‘wow’.

Written by:
Dennis Pike, General Manager - Canadian Coin & Currency

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