picture is the overlapping obverse and reverse of a British Columbia
twenty dollar gold pattern coin of 1862. What may not be generally
known about this, and it's companion ten dollar piece, is that these two
colonial coins were the first gold coins struck for what is now
Canada. The first Newfoundland two dollar gold piece was issued in
1865. The first "Canadian struck" gold sovereign was
issued in 1908.
The gold rush
of 1858 created problems such as the exchange of gold dust for
coins. The rapid growth of the B.C. population in the next few
years made the currency problem even more severe. There was an
extreme shortage of coined money and the miners had great difficulty
exchanging their gold for coins. While urgent requests were made
to Great Britain to supply the colony with quantities of hard currency,
only a comparative trickle of silver coins arrived. The colonial
government attempted the issue of government notes, which first appeared
in January 1862, and while this may have brought some temporary relief,
they were all eventually redeemed by the government.
and Assay Office, New Westminster, 1860
Douglas was forced by the extent of the currency crisis to consider
issuing colonial coins. He sought permission from Her Majesty's
Government in November 1861 to set up a coining plant in connection with
the Assay Office that had previously been established in New Westminster
in 1860. The colonial assayer, Francis George Claudet, was sent to
San Francisco to purchase the necessary machinery. The dies for
the ten and twenty dollar pieces were ordered from Mr. Wagner of
Vanderslices Silver Manufactory. These were engraved by Albert Küner
of San Francisco.
Silver die test
specimens were struck in San Francisco and were sent along with the
wax impressions were destroyed in the San Francisco fire of 1906.
Despite some change of
mind on the part of Governor Douglas, the Treasurer of B.C., William
Driscoll Gosset, went ahead with his plans and set up the coining plant
with the newly arrived equipment in June 1862.
A few sample
ten dollar coins were struck and some were sent to Douglas with the
intention of sending them to the International Exhibition being held in
London that year. At first Douglas said no, he had not given final
permission for the mint to be set up and was no longer in favour of this
operation. Gosset prevailed and finally got Douglas to agree to
allow eighteen $10 and ten $20 pieces to be struck for the
exhibition. The coins were sent to the Commissioner for B.C in
London to be shown at the exhibition, then to be melted down for
bullion. Gosset was permitted to frame two specimens as Mint
souvenirs. Douglas then ordered the plant to be shut down, thus
ending B.C.'s hope for a mint and a coinage of her own precious metal.
specimens of these coins known today were probably test pieces purchased
by some senior members of the government as souveniers. These
patterns could not be called official coinage as no permission had been
given by the Crown to strike coins in British Columbia. Three,
possibly four, of the $10 and five, possibly six, of the $20 are known
to have survived. Of the silver die test pieces, five of the $10
and 4 of the $20 are known to exist. The gold set in the British
Museum is most likely the set Gosset had framed. The B.C.
Provincial Archives has a set of both coins in gold and silver, of which
the somewhat battered $10 gold coin was once worn as a watch fob by B.C.
Premier John Robson. At one time the late King Farouk of Egypt was
known to have had one of the $20 coins. One collector, Virgil
Brand, had seven of the B.C. coins, gold and silver, in his collection.
article is based on a much longer article by Leslie Hill which in turn
is based on the B.C. Archives memoir no. VII, "The Assay Office and
the proposed mint at New Westminster", by Robie L. Reid.
Additional material was supplied by R. Greene.