Coins Are Like Songs: the Upper Canada Coppers 1815-1841 by Christopher Faulkner, sponsored by the J Douglas Ferguson Historical Research Foundation
Hardback, 418 pages. colour illustrations and maps
RRP £65 -
This is the ﬁrst study in 100 years to be devoted to the copper tokens which were issued for circulation in Upper Canada between 1815 and the formation of the Province of Canada in 1841, and is in two parts: a general introduction, devoted to establishing something of the historical context – social, economic, and cultural – in which the Upper Canada coppers were issued and circulated. To that end, it is important to understand the growth and size of settlements in Upper Canada, of whom their populations consisted, in what occupations and leisure activities those populations were engaged, along with the economic foundations which led to trade and commerce and created the conditions necessary for the appearance of copper tokens. The second part is a descriptive catalogue of the various copper tokens known to have been issued for use in Upper Canada.
The title of the book comes from a remark by John MacTaggart, who spent three years in Upper Canada between 1826 and 1828 working with Colonel John By on the Rideau Canal between Ottawa and Kingston. MacTaggart observed that “the very coins of a realm, like the songs, affect its character. The emblems on the current coins of Canada help to make Yankees of the Colonists.” His complaint was directed at “silver coins having eagles, stars, and emblems of liberty stamped upon them,” seeming to equate the ubiquity of American coins in Upper Canada with republican propaganda against the British Crown.
But the claim that “coins are like songs” conveys something more and something wider than the narrowest propaganda: they are like popular songs because they sing their meaning everywhere and to all who hold them in their hands. They evoke a world of farmers and merchants, artisans and labourers, which was particular to Upper Canada, and part of the goal in this book is to try and recreate something of that world. The tokens sing the songs of people’s lives and labours.
There is a social and cultural importance which attaches to Canada’s early currency, as well as a political and economic importance, and Numismatics can offer us a window onto that social and cultural history, as much as it can onto political or monetary history.
Christopher Faulkner is Professor Emeritus and Distinguished Research Professor at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada.