The Canadian Small Cent
The year is 1920, and there were some very exciting events that occurred in
Canada. Joe Malone of the Quebec Bulldogs set an NHL record of seven goals
in a single game; the Royal Canadian Mounted Police form as the Royal Northwest
Mounted Police then merge with the Dominion Police; the Ottawa Senators beat
Seattle 3 games to 2 winning the Stanley Cup; and the Royal Canadian Mint
released its new small cent into circulation.
It was in March of 1919 that the Finance Minister announced that the one cent
coin would be reduced in size, and that it would be closer in size to that of
the U.S. one-cent coin. Then in June of that same year, the Currency Act
of 1910 was amended which would set the weight of the new one-cent coin at 50
grains, with a diameter of 19.05 mm (.75 inches), and composition of .955
copper, .030 tin and .015 zinc. The Finance Department decides to continue
with the E.B. MacKennal design of the effigy of King George V for the obverse of
the new cent, but they select a new reverse. It was Frederick Lewis whose
design would grace the reverse of the new small cent. From the 10 o'clock
to the 2 o'clock position on the perimeter of the coin is inscribed the word
CANADA, and centered at the 6 o'clock position is the date. The word ONE
is positioned over the word CENT in the center of the coin, flanked on each side
by a single maple leaf, and a small decorative device appears above the word ONE
and below the word CENT. The edge of the coin was to be plain. With
the new one-cent coin designs in hand, the mint placed its order for the dies to
produce the new coins with the Royal Mint in England. The new small
Canadian one-cent piece was officially placed into circulation on May 21, 1920
with a total mintage of 15,483,923 for that year.
The King George V small cent was produced every year from 1920 through 1936.
There is one very special rarity in this series. In 1936, there was a
variety of the standard issue in that year. It can be identified by a
small dot appearing below the date between the '9' and the '3'. In the
book the Standard Catalog of World Coins by Chester L. Krause and
Clifford Mishler, they indicate that 678,823 of these special dot one-cent
pieces were produced, but only one business strike and three specimens are
currently know to exist. So, dig through your pennies and find that dot.
From 1937 through 1952, the King George VI series of one-cent pieces
circulated. These pennies were also produced every year. The effigy
of King George VI was designed by T.H. Paget. The new reverse design of a
single twig supporting two maple leaves occupies the center of the coin.
The word CANADA follows the perimeter of the coin from the 7 o'clock to the 4
o'clock positions. Centered on the 12 o'clock position is 1 CENT, and the date
appears to the left of the twig and below the left leaning maple leaf.
This design by G.E. Kruger-Gray has become a fixed design on the Canadian
There are several changes and varieties found within the King George VI
series. In 1941, there is a variety of the one-cent known as the 'T' cent
where the strike of the coin shows an additional device at the top of the '1'
making it look like a 'T.' During the World War II years, 1942 through
1945, the composition of the one-cent coin was changed to .980 copper, .005 tin
and .015 zinc. In August of 1947, India was granted its independence from
British rule. This meant the obverse legend needed to be modified for the 1948
issue. The Latin words ET IND:IMP had to be removed. Since the modified
dies were not completed for the initial issuance of the 1948 pennies, a small
maple leaf privy mark was added at the end of the date on the 1947 dies.
The coins were struck and issued until the new dies arrived. When the new
1948 dies arrived, there were two different obverse varieties placed into
circulation. The major difference between the two was in the placement of
the legend's lettering orientation to the rim denticles, and these two varieties
were carried over to the 1949 cent as well.
Mary Gillick designed the effigy of a young Queen Elizabeth II that appeared
on the Canadian one-cent series from 1953 to 1964. There are only two
major varieties that reveal themselves within each of three years, 1953, 1954
and 1955, and that is the with strap, and without strap coins.
The strap is the Queen's gown strap over her shoulder. It is
either visible or it is not.
Queen Elizabeth II image was updated by Arnold Machin, and remained on the
one-cent piece from 1965 through 1981. The maple leaf reverse design
remained uninterrupted on this series with the exception of one year, 1967.
The year, 1967, marked the 100th anniversary of the Canadian Confederation.
For that year only, the design on the reverse of the one-cent coin was replaced
by Colville's Rock Dove in Flight. There are a couple of varieties and
changes worth noting in this series. In the first year of issue, 1965, the
necklace of the Queen is shown as a large bead, or a small bead
variety, and the number '5' in the date is either a pointed 5 or a
blunt 5. With all combinations of the beads and the fives, that is
four different varieties. In 1979, Queen Elizabeth's portrait was reduced
in size, and the following year, the weight of the one-cent piece was reduced
from 3.24 to 2.8 grams. This was accomplished by reducing the diameter to
19 mm and the coin's thickness to 1.38 mm.
The next series of the Canadian cent occurs from 1982 to 1989. The
immediate visible change is to, what is called, the multisided cent.
Although the devices are the same on the obverse and reverse, this series
displays 12 plain edge sides, one for each of the 10 provinces, plus 2 for the
two territories. Once again in this series, the weight has been reduced to
2.5 grams, but the diameter was increased slightly to 19.1 mm. The only
notable varieties occur in 1985 where there exists both the pointed 5 and
the blunt 5 on the date.
The crowned version of Queen Elizabeth II was introduced to the multisided
penny in 1990, and remained on this series until1996. The design utilized
was sculpted by the first Canadian permitted to create the Queen's effigy for a
coin, Dora dePedery-Hunt. Two changes are marked within this series of
coins. The first occurs in 1992 for the 125th anniversary of the Canadian
Confederation with a dual date appearing on the reverse of the coins, and the
second is in 1996 when the coins composition is once again altered to copper
The dePedery-Hunt design of the Queen is carried over to the next series, a
round plain edge cent which is circulated form 1997 through 2002. Once
again the composition of the coin was changed to bronze plated zinc. In
1998, the 'W' mintmark for Winnipeg made its first appearance on the penny (all
pennies up to this point in time were struck at the Ottawa facility). The
2002 edition of the one-cent piece was a very special issue. It was Queen
Elizabeth's 50th Jubilee. The penny for this year carried the dual dates
of 1952-2002, and the dates were moved from the reverse to the obverse for this
one year only issue.
The most current change to the Canadian cent, as of the writing of this
article, was made in 2003 with what could be called a softer, less royal
appearing image of Queen Elizabeth II. The portrait was sculpted by
Susanna Blunt. Her Majesty appears more mature, without her crown, her
hair more befitting current social standards, and a single strand of pearls
encircling her neck. The composition is as stated above, and there are not
any major varieties that have been brought to publication.
The Canadian small cent has gone through 9 different series since its release
85 years ago. It is the constant evolutionary process of these coins that
builds a sense of history, and creates the diversity upon which Coin Collectors
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This content was written by Raymond F. Hanisco. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Gary Eggleston for details.