The Canadian penny from 1867 to 1967 was an iconic coin in circulation. It has a fascinating history stretching back to Confederation in 1867. This copper coin was in use for over 100 years, enduring changes in design and metal composition along the way.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: The original Canadian penny was minted in 1858 and introduced in 1870, featuring Queen Victoria on the obverse. It was made of bronze until 1920, then switched to copper-nickel, and finally ended up as steel by the 1940s.

The penny remained in circulation until 2013 when it was phased out.

In this article, we will take an in-depth look at the origins, designs, metal compositions, and ultimate fate of the Canadian one-cent piece from 1867 up until it was discontinued in 1967.

The Origins of the Canadian Penny

The Origins Of The Canadian Penny

Introduction of Decimal Currency in 1858

Before the introduction of decimal currency in Canada in 1858, various forms of currency were in circulation, including British pounds, shillings, and pence. However, this system proved to be cumbersome and confusing, especially as trade increased between Canada and the United States, which already had a decimal currency system in place.

To simplify the monetary system, the Canadian government decided to adopt a decimal-based currency. This new system divided the Canadian dollar into 100 cents, with the penny being the smallest unit of currency.

The introduction of the decimal currency system was met with some resistance, as people were accustomed to the old system. However, over time, Canadians embraced the new system, which made calculations and transactions much easier.

The first Canadian Pennies were Minted in 1870

In 1870, the first Canadian pennies were minted. These pennies were made of bronze and featured a portrait of Queen Victoria on the obverse side. The reverse side displayed a maple wreath surrounding the words “ONE CENT” and the year of minting.

Initially, the Canadian penny had a higher intrinsic value than its face value, as the cost of producing the coin was greater than one cent. However, as advancements in technology and the availability of cheaper materials improved, the cost of producing the penny decreased.

Over the years, the design of the Canadian penny underwent several changes. Different monarchs, such as King George V and Queen Elizabeth II, were featured on the obverse side, while the reverse side saw variations in the maple wreath design.

It’s important to note that in 2013, the Canadian government decided to eliminate the penny from circulation due to its low purchasing power and the high cost of production. Today, the Canadian penny holds a special place in history, serving as a reminder of the country’s transition to a decimal-based currency system.

For more information on the history of the Canadian penny, you can visit Royal Canadian Mint.

Penny Designs and Motifs 1867-1967

Penny Designs And Motifs 1867-1967

Queen Victoria Pennies (1870-1901)

During the period between 1870 and 1901, the Canadian penny featured the regal and dignified profile of Queen Victoria. These pennies were made of bronze and had a diameter of 25.4 mm. On the obverse side, Queen Victoria’s effigy was surrounded by the inscription “VICTORIA DEI GRATIA REGINA” which translates to “Victoria, by the Grace of God, Queen.”

The reverse side showcased a maple wreath encircling the words “ONE CENT” and the year of minting. These coins symbolized the stability and strength of the British Empire during Queen Victoria’s reign.

King Edward VII and King George V Pennies (1902-1936)

Following Queen Victoria’s reign, the Canadian penny underwent a design change with the ascension of King Edward VII in 1902. The new pennies featured a portrait of the king on the obverse side, along with the inscription “EDWARDVS VII DEI GRATIA REX IMPERATOR” which means “Edward VII, by the Grace of God, King and Emperor.”

The reverse side continued to display the maple wreath and the words “ONE CENT.” This design remained in use until 1936 when King George V took the throne. The pennies during George V’s reign maintained a similar design, with his portrait on the obverse side and the maple wreath on the reverse.

King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II Pennies (1937-1967)

The final phase of the Canadian penny’s history from 1937 to 1967 saw the reigns of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II. The pennies during this time featured the respective monarch’s portraits on the obverse side, along with the inscriptions “GEORGIVS VI D:G: REX ET IND: IMP” and “ELIZABETH II D:G: REGINA” to denote the kingship of George VI and the queenship of Elizabeth II.

The reverse side still displayed the maple wreath and the words “ONE CENT.” In 1967, the Canadian penny underwent another significant change as it transitioned from a bronze composition to a nickel one in celebration of Canada’s centennial year.

Metal Compositions and Changes

Bronze Pennies (1870-1920)

The Canadian penny has a rich history when it comes to its metal compositions. From 1870 to 1920, the penny was primarily made of bronze. Bronze is an alloy consisting of copper and tin, which gave the penny its distinctive reddish-brown color.

These early pennies were highly valued for their durability and resistance to corrosion.

A notable change in the metal composition occurred in 1908 when the Canadian government switched from the bronze penny to a copper penny. This change was made in response to rising copper prices and the desire to reduce production costs. However, the copper pennies continued to be minted until 1920.

Copper-Nickel Pennies (1920-1946)

Starting in 1920, the Canadian penny underwent another significant change in its metal composition. The bronze pennies were replaced with copper-nickel pennies. The new composition consisted of 95% copper and 5% nickel.

This change was influenced by the need to conserve copper during World War I and to align with other countries that were also using copper-nickel alloys for their coins.

The copper-nickel pennies remained in circulation until 1946. During this period, the Canadian government experimented with different designs and minting techniques, making each penny unique in its way.

Collectors often seek out these early copper-nickel pennies for their historical and numismatic value.

Steel Pennies (1942-1967)

One of the most intriguing chapters in the history of the Canadian penny is the steel penny era, which lasted from 1942 to 1967. This period coincided with World War II when there was a shortage of copper due to its increased demand for military purposes.

To conserve copper, the Canadian government made the bold decision to switch from copper-nickel to steel for the penny’s composition. These steel pennies were zinc-coated to prevent rust and were significantly lighter than their predecessors.

However, the public did not embrace the steel pennies as much as the earlier copper versions, and they were often mistaken for dimes due to their similar size and color.

Metal Compositions and Changes

In 1967, the Canadian government made yet another change by introducing the centennial penny, which featured a special design to commemorate Canada’s 100th anniversary as a nation. This marked the end of the steel penny era, as the composition of the penny would undergo another transformation in the years to come.

For more information about the history of Canadian pennies, you can visit the Royal Canadian Mint official website.

The Demise and Discontinuation of the Penny

The Demise and Discontinuation of the Penny

The Canadian penny, a copper coin with a maple leaf design, has a rich history spanning from 1867 to 2012. However, in recent years, the penny has faced challenges that have led to its demise and eventual discontinuation.

This article will explore the factors that contributed to the end of the penny’s circulation in Canada.

Inflation and the Rising Cost of Penny Production

One of the main reasons for the discontinuation of the Canadian penny was the impact of inflation and the rising cost of production. Over time, the value of the penny decreased due to inflation, making it less practical to use in everyday transactions.

Additionally, the cost of producing a penny exceeded its face value, creating a financial burden for the Canadian government.

The Royal Canadian Mint estimated that it cost 1.6 cents to produce each penny, leading to an annual loss of millions of dollars. As a result, the decision was made to discontinue the penny and round cash transactions to the nearest five-cent increment.

Steel Shortages During WWII

During World War II, Canada, like many other countries, faced steel shortages due to the demands of the war effort. As a result, the composition of the penny was changed from copper to zinc-coated steel in 1942. This change was a temporary measure to conserve copper for the war effort.

Although the steel penny served its purpose during the war, it was not without its challenges. The steel coins were prone to rust and had a shorter lifespan compared to the traditional copper pennies. After the war, the composition of the penny was changed back to copper, but the steel penny left a lasting impact on the history of the Canadian penny.

The Advent of New Currencies and Coinage

Another factor that contributed to the discontinuation of the penny was the advent of new currencies and coinage systems. In the digital age, cash transactions have become less common, with many people opting for electronic payment methods.

The rise of digital currencies, such as Bitcoin, has also challenged the traditional concept of physical coins.

Furthermore, the introduction of the loonie (one-dollar coin) and the toonie (two-dollar coin) in the late 1980s and early 1990s respectively, reduced the need for smaller denominations like the penny.

The popularity of these higher-value coins led to a decrease in demand for the penny and ultimately paved the way for its discontinuation.

The history of the Canadian penny is a testament to the ever-changing landscape of currency and coinage. While the penny served as a symbol of Canadian identity for many years, its discontinuation reflects the need to adapt to new economic realities and technological advancements.


Royal Canadian Mint

Bank of Canada

Canadian Penny From 1867 To 1967 – Conclusion

In conclusion, the Canadian penny underwent many important changes in its design, metal composition, and production over its lifetime from 1867 to 1967. Starting as a bronze coin featuring Queen Victoria, it later bore the portraits of British monarchs Edward VII, George V, and George VI as well as the new queen Elizabeth II.

Switches from bronze to copper-nickel and eventually steel reflected efforts to reduce costs but keep the penny in circulation. While the iconic one-cent coin met its demise in 2013, it remains an integral part of Canadian history and coin collecting.

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