The silver content of Canadian coins has changed with time. During the 1850s, a series of laws were enacted that established a monetary unit for the Province of Canada which was based on the gold dollar of the United States of America. Like that of the USA, Canada’s dollar was divided into 100 cents. The coins minted for the Province of Canada beginning in 1858 included silver pieces valued at five cents, ten cents and twenty cents.
The quarter and the fifty-cent piece did not appear until 1870, by which time the issuing authority was now the Dominion of Canada. Perhaps acknowledging that the American silver dollar did not circulate to any great extent, Canada declined to issue this denomination until 1935.
Ongoing Changes in Canadian Coin Composition
The rising price of silver spelled doom for its use in circulating Canadian coinage after the mid 1960s. Canadian dimes and quarters dated 1967 were produced in both the normal .800 fine silver and in a reduced .500 silver. The latter continued into 1968 for these two coins, but a non-silver composition was phased in that year. The production of silver halves ended abruptly with the centenary issue of 1967, and later pieces were of nickel. That was the end for Canada’s rich history of circulating silver coins.
For collectors of Canadian silver coins, the toughest issue is with the 1967 and 1968 coins. In 1967 the Canadian mint shifted production from 80% to 50% on some of the coins. It can be difficult to discriminate between the two. And in 1968 they moved from 50% silver to 99% nickel, removing any silver value for the post 1968 coins. However, that shift was made mid year as well and many 50% silver quarters and dimes were minted, as well as the nickel ones. The way to test is with a magnet. If the coins sticks, it is nickel, if not, it is silver.
Suggestions for Collectors and Investors
Clearly, if you are looking for high silver content, stick with those silver coins minted by Canada dated before 1920. These were minted as sterling, with 92.5% silver content. Dollars, half dollars, quarters and dimes from 1920 – 1966 have a reduced silver content, 80% by weight. This compares to the 90% silver content in pre-1965 U.S. dimes, quarters, halves and silver dollars.
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