by Gold Expert | September 18, 2015


Coin collectors from Canada, the United States, and around the world seek out the rare and elusive coins from Newfoundland. This history of this small country, now a province of Canada is fascinating and can be seen in its coinage history.

The first brief European contact with Newfoundland and Labrador came about 1000 AD when the Vikings briefly settled in L'Anse aux Meadows. Around 1500 AD, European explorers and fishermen from England, Portugal, France, and Spain (mainly Basques) began exploration. Fishing expeditions came seasonally; the first small permanent settlements appeared around 1630 AD.

Basque fishermen, who had been fishing cod shoals off Newfoundland's coasts since the beginning of the sixteenth century, founded Plaisance (then called Plaisance by the French and today Placentia), a haven which started to be also used by French fishermen. In 1655, France appointed a governor in Plaisance, thus starting a formal French colonization period of Newfoundland. The rest of the island was nearly conquered by New France explorer Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville in the 1697 during the devastating Avalon Peninsula Campaign but the French failed to defend their conquest of the English portion of the island. The French colonization period lasted until the Treaty of Utrecht, in 1713, which ended the War of the Spanish Succession. France ceded its claims to Newfoundland to the British (as well as its claims to the shores of Hudson Bay). In addition, the French possessions in Acadia were also yielded to Britain.

However, in the Seven Years' War (1756–63), control of Newfoundland became a major source of conflict between Britain, France and Spain who all pressed for a share in the valuable fishery there. Britain's victories around the globe led William Pitt to insist that nobody other than Britain should have access to Newfoundland. The Battle of Signal Hill was fought in Newfoundland in 1762, when a French force landed and tried to occupy the island, only to be repulsed by the British.

By the 1850s new formed local banks became a source of credit, replacing the haphazard system of credit from local merchants. Prosperity brought immigration, especially Catholics from Ireland who soon comprised 40% of the residents. Coinage from Great Britain first appeared in 1865 with the bust of the queen and Newfoundland prominent on the reverse. Newfoundland coins were minted in copper, silver, and gold. They were not made in each year, but rather as economic necessity dictated, making them rare and highly sought after by rare coin collectors.

1885 Newfoundland 2 Dollar Gold Coin

The First World War was supported with near unanimity in Newfoundland. Recruiting was brisk, with 6,240 men joining the Newfoundland Regiment for overseas duty, 1,966 joining the Royal Navy, 491 joined the Forestry Corps (which did lumberjack work at home), plus another 3,300 men joined Canadian units, and 40 women became war nurses. During the great Battle of the Somme in France in 1916, the British assaulted the German trenches near Beaumont Hamel. The 800-man Royal Newfoundland Regiment attacked as part of a British brigade. Most of the Newfoundlanders were killed or wounded without anyone in the regiment having fired a shot. The state, church, and press romanticized the sacrifice Newfoundlanders had made in the war effort through ceremonies, war literature, and memorials, the most important of which was the Beaumont Hamel Memorial Park, which opened in France in 1925.

Newfoundland's economy collapsed in the Great Depression, as prices plunged for fish, its main export. The population was 290,000, and the people and merchants were out of money. The government was broke. It had borrowed heavily to construct and maintain a trans-island railway and to finance the country's regiment in the World War. By 1933, the public debt was over $100 million compared to a nominal national income of about $30 million. Interest payments on the debt absorbed 63% of government revenue and the budget deficit was $3.5 million or over 10 percent of the island's GDP. 

In return for British financial assistance, the newly elected government of Frederick Alderdice agreed to the appointment by London of a three-member royal commission, including British, Canadian, and Newfoundland nominees. The Newfoundland Royal Commission, chaired by Lord Amulree, recommended that Britain "assume general responsibility" for Newfoundland's finances. Newfoundland would give up self-government in favour of administration by an appointed governor and a six-member appointed Commission of Government, having both executive and legislative authority. It lasted until 1949.

Canada (Newfoundland) KM#4 1880/70 20 Cents Coin Reverse

As soon as prosperity returned during the war, agitation began to end the Commission. Canada issued an invitation to join it on generous financial terms. Smallwood was elected to the convention where he became the leading proponent of confederation with Canada, insisting, "Today we are more disposed to feel that our very manhood, our very creation by God, entitles us to standards of life no lower than our brothers on the mainland." Displaying a mastery of propaganda technique, courage and ruthlessness, he succeeded in having the Canada option on the referendum. His main opponents were Peter John Cashin and Chesley Crosbie. Cashin, a former finance minister, led the Responsible Government League, warning against cheap Canadian imports and the high Canadian income tax. Crosbie, a leader of the fishing industry, led the Party for Economic Union with the United States, seeking responsible government first, to be followed by closer ties with the United States, which could be a major source of capital.

Smallwood's side was victorious in a referendum and a runoff in June–July 1948, as the choice of joining Canada defeated becoming an independent dominion by 77,869 to or 52.3%. 

Coinage for Newfoundland ended in 1947, being the last year of issue. The next year, they joined the Canadian confederation and used that money for economic transactions. Though brief and turbulent, collecting coins from Newfoundland offers opportunities for the novice collector and the experienced numismatist.

Add these to your collection and "Own a Piece of History!"

Special thanks to wikipedia.

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