Frontenac Gold Dollar

Fabulous “King of Trade Dollars” unveiled at Alliance Coin

A recent exciting discovery has added a new footnote to the history of Canadian Municipal Trade Tokens, with the added intrigue of unprecedented value and a Royal Visit.

In the summer of 1973, the City of Kingston, Ontario, celebrated perhaps the most significant historical milestone in the community’s rich and lengthy existence – the 300th anniversary of the landing of Count Frontenac at Kataraquoi (Kingston), in July of 1673 – the effective founding of the City.  Among the many events and souvenirs planned to mark the event, a “Frontenac Dollar” token was issued by Kingston Chapter Credit Union.  Struck in aluminum by Canada’s Wellings Mint, the issue was exceptional for its huge 45mm diameter, with obverse portrait of Louis de Buade de Frontenac, the popular and successful Governor of New France. The token’s reverse depicts the still-standing “Murney Tower”, erected in the 1840s as defense against possible aggression by the northern U.S. states.

In addition to the general mintage of 50,000 pieces, a very small number of strikings were made available in fine Silver, with edge-punched serial numbers to #090. These latter collector strikings remain quite scarce, and we have yet to handle an example in the past 30 years.

This is where the story of the Frontenac Dollar takes an interesting turn. Approximately two years ago, a customer of ours began to tease me with stories of a Gold striking of the token he had purchased several years earlier. As he relayed the event, he had been standing in the downtown Ottawa jewellery story of a friend in 2011, when a customer came in to offer a unique piece to the proprietor. The item in question was a Frontenac Dollar, seemingly in Gold, with outer rim bearing the serial #03. The seller, as the story goes, was the son of D.A. Austin, the original designer for the project who had been presented with this piece with the gratitude of the issuing committee. The first striking, continued the seller, was presented to Her Majesty the Queen, while the second example was donated to Canada’s National Currency Collection.

An intriguing story indeed, though with no verifiable evidence of the token’s actual existence, let alone the stellar purported provenance.  Additionally, I consulted with my late colleague, and one of the leading authorities and dealers of Canadian Municipal Tokens, Ray Desjardins, who confirmed much familiarity with the Frontenac Dollar program, though no knowledge or record whatsoever of a Gold striking of same.

This began to change in the spring of 2019, however, when – at very long last – I held the candidate piece in my hand. It was lovely, and extremely heavy at 72 grams (clearly not a plated example of the standard aluminum issue, at almost three times the weight), although my non-invasive tests were coming up empty when testing for gold composition. Clearly, any such piece would have had to be entirely custom prepared.  Unlike standard, much smaller municipal issues, no mint in North America would have had ready gold planchets in stock of this very unusual size.  Further, I could not envision an active attempt by forgers to produce fraudulent example in (for example) gold-plated lead or tungsten, as any interested buyer would almost certainly exercise the same high level of caution with such a mystery piece, as mirrored in my own reluctance to verify the piece.  Ultimately, the only truly effective (again, non-invasive) procedure which could verify the composition was the use of an XRF scanner to x-ray the coin.

This, then once again set off a several-months long back and forth of trying to arrange for a brief borrowing of the token and then lining up an expeditious “XRF’ing” through a numismatic friend at the Geological Survey of Canada.  At last, in this past September of 2019, the stars aligned and the token was scanned. The results, to the delight (or perhaps relief) of both the seller and myself, were clear – here was a previously-unknown 22K Gold striking of the Frontenac Dollar, and – based just on physical/intrinsic specifications themselves – arguably the most valuable Canadian Municipal Token in existence.

“…arguably the most valuable Canadian Municipal Token in existence”

This left just one remaining task to resolve, namely the provenance of the piece. Based on the only information available to me at this time, as provided by the original 2011 seller, I embarked on two specific lines of enquiry.  First, I asked my colleague David Bergeron, esteemed Curator of the Bank of Canada Museum, to look into what strikings might currently be held within the National Currency Collection. Secondly, I embarked on a review of the accessible inventory listings of the Royal Collection Trust, tasked with receiving and preserving the vast collections of art, books, and antiquities owned by the English Monarch.

On this first enquiry, I came up completely empty. Surprisingly, the Bank of Canada Museum did not appear to hold even a standard aluminum striking of the Frontenac Token. David offered to take a deeper look in the collection’s archives when time permitted, however these initial findings were discouraging.  On my second line of investigation, however, there was an encouraging development. Documented on the website of the Royal Collection Trust was indeed a pair of the Frontenac Tokens in Aluminum and Silver. There was no mention of a Gold striking, however the presence of this Token pair made it very plausible that a Gold striking might also have been conceivably presented.  As it turned out, Kingston was graced with a Royal Visit from Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip on June 27, 1973, and the aluminum/Silver pair of tokens was indeed presented to the Queen on this occasion.

Hoping to further capitalize on this encouraging information, I wrote a brief note to the curators of the Royal Collection Trust, detailing the nature of my research and asking them to verify whether a third striking of the medal in Gold (ideally, with serial #01) also resided in the collection.  In the meantime, I then turned my attention to where the second purported striking may reside.  If not in the National Currency Collection, there where could one look?  The National Archives, or perhaps more locally, the City of Kingston Archives, etc.?

I continued to ponder this for some brief period, only to find an emailed letter in my inbox last week which provided an unexpected and exciting definitive answer to the mystery.

The letter, from the Queen’s Royal Bibliographer at Windsor Castle, confirmed that a Gold striking of the Frontenac Dollar with serial #01 was indeed presented to the Queen, and thus resided in the Royal Collection Trust. Pleased very much with that confirmation, a further revelation in the letter came as a complete surprise to me.  In addition to the three-piece set of medals presented to the Queen, the archivist revealed that a further identical set was also presented to Prince Philip, inclusive of a Gold striking with serial #02!  Thus, remarkably, the mystery of the entire rare Gold issue was immediately put to rest.

Of the three strikings made of this fabulous gold presentation piece, the first two both resided in England’s Royal Collection, having been personally presented to the Queen/Prince on their 1973 visit to Kingston, while the third striking – and hence the only existing example in private hands – was now revealed to collectors for the first time in a generation.

A truly fitting ending to a mystery of regal proportions; we look forward to unveiling this incredible piece at the upcoming Montreal Nuphilex show in November.

Sean Isaacs

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