Gerald Tebben

Five Facts

Gerald Tebben

Gerald Tebben, a Coin World columnist for more than 30 years, also contributes to Coin World’s Coin Values and edits the Central States Numismatic Society’s journal, The Centinel. He collects coins that tell stories.

Coin World’s bloggers are not edited by Coin World’s editorial staff and blog posts reflect the views of the individual author.

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​Odd uses for coins: A numismatic ruler

Canadians must have been running short on rulers and weights in 1858 when the British colony decided that its cents should be an inch in diameter and weigh 1/100th of a pound.

Issued in 1858 and 1859, Province of Canada cents featured Queen Victoria on the obverse and the denomination on the reverse.  

The Journal of Education for Upper Canada reported in its 1858 edition, “The frontier counties will be saved a great deal of trouble by the introduction of this new coinage. Canadian cent pieces, which have been lately thrown off the British mint, possess a remarkable peculiarity. They are not only tokens of value, but also standards of weight and measure; 100 cents weigh exactly 1lb., and one cent measures 1 inch. Thus in the common transactions of life the buyer will have a ready check upon the dishonest dealer.”

Despite their potential utility, the coins were not popular.

Previously, Canadians had used heavier bank tokens. In Striking Impressions: The Royal Canadian Mint and Canadian Coinage, James Haxby wrote, “Two novel features of the Canadian decimal coinage proved to be great mistake. The new cent was expected to be a convenient tool as a weight and measure: its diameter was one inch (25.4 mm) and 100 coins weighted exactly one pound avoirdupois. But this was largely lost on a public who preferred the much heavier and more familiar copper bank tokens. It would be the mid-1870s before the entire coinage of 9.7 million cents could be put in circulation.”

In 1876, when the newly created Dominion of Canada resumed cent production, the weight was increased to 1/80th of a pound – the same weight as a British half penny. Canada continued to produce large cents (first in British mints, later in the Royal Canadian Mint) until 1920, when it switched to smaller cents, the same size as United States cents.

(U.S. small cents can be used, too, to make a reasonably accurate ruler. Line up 16 and you have a foot. The same coins stacked are within a hair’s width of an inch tall.)

  Next: Taking a bite out of coins

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