Currency Museum of the Bank of Canada

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234 Wellington Street
Ottawa, Ontario
Canada K1A 0G9
Tel: +1 (613) 782-8914

Canada’s National Currency Collection, with over 100,000 artifacts, is the largest and most complete collection of Canadian banknotes, coins, and money-related artifacts in the world. The Currency Museum of the Bank of Canada, the nation’s central bank, exhibits the National Currency Collection, and the collection supports the Museum’s mission to preserve Canada’s numismatic heritage.

Is this Money?

Once inside, visitors begin exploring with bilingual text (French and English) the Museum’s many areas, first with commodities once used as money. Some of the many strange items people used as money in different parts of the globe include: the huge Yap stone in the lobby, Liberian kissi pennies (flattened iron rods), Mexican cocoa beans, and Siberian tea blocks.

History of World Money

The evolution of monetary systems, supplemented with examples of coins and paper money, begins with the ancient Chinese who developed a system of coinage using cast bronze spade and knife money. Round and punch-marked coins from China and India are shown that preceded the first Western coins from Lydia.

Specimens are then shown for the empires that followed: Persian, Greece, Republic and Imperial Rome, Byzantine, Sassasians, Islamic (Umayyads, Abbasids), the Carolingians, highlighted by Charlemagne’s £.D.s system, and the Vikings.

Examples of coins from the many medieval European states, starting with the florin from Florence-the first important gold coin in 1252 to appear in Western Europe in centuries are displayed. This was followed by the Venetian ducat which was important for European trade up to the end of 14th century.

Informational Panels

Several panels are quite informative-three of which are about the dollar: “Origin of the Dollar,” from the Joachimsthaler in Bohemia; “The Spanish-American Dollar,” the silver 8 reales; and “The Beginnings of the Decimal Dollar.”

Another panel is about inflation, showing the high denomination banknotes of Russia, Greece, Germany, and Hungary.

History of Canadian Money

Being Canada’s premier collection, one should not miss this area detailing the evolution of Canada’s money and banking. Before coins, examples of shells, wampum, woolen blankets from Hudson’s Bay and other trading companies, and beaver pelts from the West Coast and Plains tribes used as money are exhibited.

Until the 1850s, the pre-Confederation provinces did not have their own coinage, and accepted a variety of foreign coins: U.S., French, British, and Spanish. One of the most famous was the Prince Edward Island silver “holey” dollar. In 1813 due to a shortage of money, Spanish dollars, i.e., silver 8-reales coins, were center-hole punched and made equal to 5 shillings. The center plug was made equal to 1 shilling.

A very comprehensive collection of Canadian banknotes is shown, which ranges from fractionals to the rarely seen $50,000 “bank legal” that were issued between 1918 and 1935.

The Collector’s Corner

This area offers visitors a unique experience. It’s like visiting a bank vault where there are specimens from the National Currency Collection arranged in four different sections: Canadian banknotes, foreign banknotes, Canadian coins and tokens, and foreign coins.

This text was written by Howard M. Berlin and first published in his book Numismatourist in 2014.

You can order his numismatic guidebook at Amazon.

Howard M. Berlin has his own website.


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