The Canadian penny has a rich history spanning over a century. This iconic small copper coin was integral to Canada’s currency and commerce. If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: The Canadian penny was first minted in 1858 and was produced every year from 1908 to 2012, when it was discontinued.

Its design changed multiple times over the years, with different effigies of the reigning British monarch on the obverse.

In this approximately 3000 word article, we will comprehensively cover the history of the Canadian penny from the first standardized penny introduced in 1867 to the Elizabethan penny that ceased production in 1992.

We will explore the origins of the coin, its changing designs and compositions, and the fascinating stories behind the penny’s evolution over 125 years. Delving into the politics, economics, and culture surrounding this coin, we aim to provide the most detailed history possible to satisfy your curiosity about the rise and fall of this iconic Canadian coin.

The Introduction of the Standardized Canadian Penny in 1858

The introduction of the standardized Canadian penny in 1858 marked a significant milestone in the history of Canadian coinage. Prior to this, Canada had a diverse range of colonial coinage, which created confusion and hindered trade.

The introduction of a standardized penny was a step towards establishing a unified monetary system in Canada.

The Evolution of Early Colonial Coinage in Canada

Before the introduction of the standardized penny, Canada had a variety of colonial coins in circulation. These coins were issued by different provinces and were often of different denominations and compositions.

This lack of uniformity made it difficult for businesses and individuals to conduct transactions smoothly. It was clear that a standardized monetary system was needed to streamline trade and commerce.

Adopting the Decimal Monetary System

In 1858, Canada made the decision to adopt the decimal monetary system, which was already in use in many other countries. This system simplified currency calculations by dividing the dollar into 100 cents. The introduction of a standardized penny was an essential part of this new system.

It allowed for more precise pricing and facilitated easier transactions.

The Design and Composition of the First Standard Canadian Penny

The first standardized Canadian penny, introduced in 1858, featured the image of Queen Victoria on one side and the denomination “One Cent” on the other. The coin was made of bronze, which was a common material for pennies at the time.

Its size and weight were also standardized to ensure consistency across all coins in circulation.

Did you know? The design of the first Canadian penny remained relatively unchanged until 1920, when the image of King George V replaced that of Queen Victoria. Subsequent changes in design and composition would occur over the years, reflecting shifts in Canadian history and culture.

For more information on the history of Canadian coinage, you can visit the Royal Canadian Mint website, which provides a detailed overview of the evolution of Canadian currency.

The Dominion of Canada Penny 1867-1901

The Dominion of Canada Penny, minted from 1867 to 1901, holds a significant place in Canadian numismatic history. During this era, the penny was an integral part of everyday life, used as a means of exchange for small purchases. Let’s delve into the various aspects of this fascinating coin.

The Meaning Behind the Design Elements

The Dominion of Canada Penny featured intricate design elements that symbolized the nation’s identity and heritage. The obverse side of the coin showcased a profile of Queen Victoria, who was the reigning monarch during this period.

This design element signified Canada’s status as a dominion under British rule.

On the reverse side, the coin displayed the iconic maple wreath, which represented Canada’s natural resources and abundance. Within the wreath, there was a large numeral indicating the coin’s denomination.

These design elements aimed to reflect Canada’s growing sense of national pride and its connection to the British Empire.

Variations in the Effigy Over the Years

Throughout the Dominion of Canada Penny’s existence, several variations of the effigy were introduced. The earliest pennies depicted a young Queen Victoria with her hair in a bun, while later versions showed her with a matured appearance and a crown.

These changes in the effigy reflected the aging of the monarch and the evolution of Canadian society.

Additionally, the minting process and technology improved over time, resulting in more detailed and refined designs. Collectors often value the earlier versions of the Dominion Penny, as they tend to be rarer and hold historical significance.

Composition and Minting of the Dominion Penny

The Dominion of Canada Penny was minted using bronze, with a composition of 95% copper and 5% tin and zinc. The coin had a diameter of 25.4 millimeters and a weight of 5.67 grams. It was struck at various mints across Canada, including the Royal Mint in London, England.

During its lifespan, the Dominion Penny went through various minting techniques, including hand-hammering and steam-powered presses. These advancements in technology allowed for greater efficiency in producing these coins, meeting the growing demand for small denominations in circulation.

It’s worth noting that the Dominion of Canada Penny was eventually replaced by the Canadian cent in 1902, marking a new era in Canadian coinage.

To learn more about the Dominion of Canada Penny and its significance in Canadian history, you can visit the Royal Canadian Mint’s official website at

The Edward VII and George V Pennies 1908-1936

During the early 20th century, the Canadian penny went through significant changes under the reigns of King Edward VII and King George V. Let’s take a closer look at the different periods and designs of these pennies.

King Edward VII Pennies 1908-1910

After the death of Queen Victoria in 1901, her son Edward VII ascended to the throne. The Canadian penny during his reign featured a portrait of King Edward VII on the obverse side. These pennies were minted for a short period from 1908 to 1910.

One interesting fact about the King Edward VII pennies is their rarity. Due to a low mintage and the fact that many of these pennies were later melted down, they have become highly sought after by collectors.

In fact, some King Edward VII pennies have been known to sell for thousands of dollars at auctions.

The Distinct Design of the 1911-1920 George V Penny

In 1911, King George V took over the throne, and the Canadian penny underwent a significant design change. The new penny featured the right-facing profile of King George V on the obverse side, along with the words “George V King Emperor” surrounding the image.

What sets the 1911-1920 George V penny apart is its distinct design. Unlike the later George V pennies, these early coins had a wreath design on the reverse side, featuring maple leaves and the words “ONE CENT” at the bottom.

This design was replaced in 1920 with a simpler maple leaf design, which continued until 1936.

Later George V Pennies 1921-1936

From 1921 to 1936, the Canadian penny continued to bear the profile of King George V on the obverse side. The reverse side featured a simplified design with a single maple leaf and the words “ONE CENT” at the bottom.

It’s worth noting that during this period, there were a few variations in the design of the George V penny. For example, in 1927, the mint made a mistake and accidentally omitted the “D” mintmark on some of the pennies minted in Denver. These error coins are highly valued by collectors today.

The George VI and Elizabeth II Pennies 1937-1992

The Canadian penny has a long and fascinating history, and during the years of 1937 to 1992, it went through significant changes under the reign of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II. Let’s explore the different periods and transformations that took place during this time.

Pennies of King George VI 1937-1952

When King George VI ascended to the throne in 1937, the design of the Canadian penny underwent a subtle change. The obverse featured a portrait of the king, while the reverse showcased two maple leaves. These pennies were made of bronze, with a composition of 95% copper and 5% tin and zinc.

The penny’s diameter was 19.05 mm, and it weighed 3.24 grams.

During World War II, the Canadian government faced a shortage of copper due to the war effort. As a result, from 1942 to 1943, the penny’s composition changed to a steel core coated in zinc. These pennies were colloquially known as “wartime pennies” and were easily distinguishable due to their magnetic properties.

Queen Elizabeth II Pennies 1953-1992

Following the death of King George VI in 1952, his daughter, Queen Elizabeth II, took the throne, and the Canadian penny continued to evolve. The obverse of the penny now featured a young portrait of the queen, while the reverse remained the same with two maple leaves.

In 1962, a new design was introduced to commemorate the centennial of Canadian Confederation. This design, known as the “Maple Leaf” penny, featured a single large maple leaf on the reverse. These pennies were made of a composition known as bronze-plated zinc, with a core made of pure zinc.

This change in composition allowed for greater cost-effectiveness in the production of the penny.

Changes in Composition and Metals

Over the years, the composition of the Canadian penny continued to change. In 1982, the penny’s composition was altered to 98% copper-plated zinc, with a core made of pure zinc. This change was made to reduce production costs, as the price of copper had significantly increased.

This new composition gave the penny a slightly lighter weight of 2.5 grams.

Finally, in 1991, the Canadian government decided to eliminate the penny from circulation due to its increasingly limited purchasing power. The last Canadian penny was minted in 2012, and today, transactions are rounded to the nearest five cents.

Despite its discontinuation, the Canadian penny remains a nostalgic piece of Canadian history.

For more information on the history of the Canadian penny, you can visit the Royal Canadian Mint’s website at

The Demise and Discontinuation of the Penny

The Canadian penny, which had been in circulation since 1858, met its end in 2013 when the federal government decided to discontinue it. This decision was not made lightly, as it involved considering several factors, including inflation, production costs, public opinion, and the overall usefulness of the penny in modern society.

Inflation and the Penny’s Decreasing Purchasing Power

One of the main reasons for the demise of the penny was the declining purchasing power it had over the years. Inflation had gradually eroded the value of the penny, making it virtually useless for everyday transactions.

What used to be enough to buy a small item or contribute towards a larger purchase had become insignificant due to rising prices.

According to data from the Bank of Canada, in 1867, the year of Confederation, one penny had the purchasing power equivalent to about 25 cents today. However, by 1992, the purchasing power of the penny had decreased significantly, with it being worth only about 2 cents.

This decline in value made it clear that the penny was no longer a practical currency for everyday transactions.

The Cost of Producing Pennies

Another factor that contributed to the discontinuation of the penny was the high cost of producing it. The cost of minting each penny exceeded its face value, resulting in a loss for the government. In 2012, it was estimated that it cost 1.6 cents to produce one penny.

This meant that the production of pennies was not economically viable, and the government was losing money by keeping them in circulation.

Public Opinion on the Fate of the Penny

Public opinion on the fate of the penny was divided. While some people believed that the penny held sentimental value and had historical significance, others saw it as an inconvenience and unnecessary burden in their wallets.

Many argued that getting rid of the penny would simplify transactions and save time, as prices could be rounded to the nearest 5 cents.

Several surveys conducted by reputable organizations, such as Ipsos, showed that a majority of Canadians supported the discontinuation of the penny. They cited reasons such as the inconvenience of carrying and handling small change, the cost of production, and the fact that the penny’s value had become insignificant.

The Federal Government’s Decision to Eliminate the Penny

After considering all the factors, including the declining purchasing power, high production costs, and public opinion, the federal government made the decision to eliminate the penny. On February 4, 2013, the Royal Canadian Mint stopped distributing pennies to financial institutions, and businesses were encouraged to round cash transactions to the nearest 5 cents.

This move was seen as a cost-saving measure, as it was estimated that the government would save approximately $11 million per year by eliminating the penny. Additionally, it simplified transactions and reduced the burden on businesses and consumers.

The demise and discontinuation of the Canadian penny marked the end of an era. While it may have held sentimental value for some, the decision to eliminate it was based on practical considerations and the changing needs of a modern economy.


In conclusion, the Canadian penny bore witness to the birth of a nation and prevailed through eras of prosperity, war, and inflation over a span of 125 years. As we have explored, the humble one-cent coin underwent numerous changes in its design, metal composition, and production as the economic and political landscape transformed around it.

While the penny is but a small part of Canadian history, it represents the tremendous growth of a young country in the 19th and 20th centuries. The penny’s evolution also mirrors the nation’s developing identity and independence.

For over a century, the iconic maple leaf cent was clutched in Canadian palms, tossed into fountains, and pinched between fingers during cash transactions across the land. Its disappearance in 2013 marked the end of an era for both commerce and culture in Canada.

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