World Coins

Royal romance leads to Canada's 1936 Dot cent rarity

King Edward VIII’s abdication of the throne to marry Wallis Simpson in 1936 led Canada to create one of that country’s most famous rarities, the 1936 Dot cent.

Coin images courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

Editor's note: this is the final part of a story by Jeff Starck about Depression-era coins that shouldn't exist but that were issued under strange circumstances. The article originally appears in the December monthly issue of Coin World.

Even rarer yet is Canada’s 1936 Dot cent, which exists only because royal romance interfered with duly planned coinage. 

Canada’s 1936 Dot cent combines pedigree, rarity and mystery, and remains a numismatic enigma. Only three examples of the rarity are known — and all of them can be traced to the same past owner.

Like the coins of so many former British properties, Canadian coinage depicts the reigning monarch, and when there’s a change in rulers, tooling with a new effigy is created. 

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The Jan. 20, 1936, death of King George V spurred mint officials in Britain, Canada and elsewhere to began preparing for the transition to a new obverse portrait, of George’s heir, King Edward VIII, who immediately assumed the throne but, as per custom, was not due to appear on coins until the following year. 

During 1936, Royal Canadian Mint master John H. Campbell decided to completely redesign the circulating coinage. 

While the RCM worked on the new designs, production of 1936 cents with George V’s portrait continued, and by late in 1936 more than 200 dies for various denominations were ready with King Edward VIII’s portrait, to be used for 1937’s new coinage. Then, on Dec. 12, 1936, King Edward VIII abdicated the throne to marry a divorced American woman. Edward’s brother became king instead, George VI. Worried about a coin shortage, officials decided, rather than use the Edward VIII dies, to continue producing the coins of George V using 1936 dies, on into 1937, while preparing dies to bear George VI’s portrait. 

To distinguish the 1937-struck but 1936-dated coins from the otherwise identical 1936 coins, RCM officials placed a small dot on at least some, and maybe all, of the reverse dies. On the cent, the dot was placed just below the date. The raised dot appears to have been placed on the dies by hand with a punch. The RCM did not announce production of the 1936 Dot coins, nor were the coins mentioned in the Mint’s annual report, but the collecting community nonetheless became aware of the Dot coinage as a class around 1940 or 1941 as pieces began to surface.

The dot is extremely tiny and should not be confused with the dot appearing with decorative elements between CENT and 1936. 

The RCM reportedly minted 678,823 cents bearing the tiny dot. But what happened to all those Dot cents? 

Because of a coinage stockpile on hand, low demand and the quick approval of a George VI effigy, the anticipated coinage shortage never materialized and the Dot coins remained in storage. When striking of 1937 coins with the portrait of the new king began before the May 16 coronation, the special-struck coinage became unnecessary and most were melted down.

“Most of the ‘1936 dot’ coins were not needed,” according to James Haxby, writing in Striking Impressions, The Royal Canadian Mint and Canadian Coinage. “A few rare examples of the cent and 10 cents do survive, all of the others apparently having been melted down.” 

Three 1936 Dot cents, with varying Mint State grades, are known, and all were once in the John Jay Pittman Collection. 

Many circulated pieces that have surfaced over the years have not been authenticated, and experts suggest that it is unlikely that any genuine 1936 Dot cents ever circulated. 

Pittman built a large collection of coins by diligently seeking the coins he wanted. And he wanted the Dot cents (among other rarities). After his death in February 1996, Pittman’s collection was sold in a series of auctions, beginning in 1997. 

Lot 1 in the first auction, Oct. 21, 1997, was a Dot cent  graded “Gem Specimen” in the catalog. This cent sold for $121,000. It was later sold in the Chester L. Krause auction Jan. 11, 2004, for $207,000.

The second Dot cent, offered in the third Pittman Collection auction, was Lot 2148 in the Aug. 6, 1999, auction. Akers described it as in “nearly in the Choice category, or possibly Uncirculated.” This example sold in 1999 for $115,000. 

The third Dot cent is part of a complete 1936 Specimen set that also contains the Dot 10- and 25-cent coins and the regular issue coins. In the third Pittman auction, the 1936 Specimen set coins were bought as a set for $345,000. 

The Dot cent in the set is graded Specimen 66 red by PCGS, the highest-graded of the three Dot cents known. The Specimen set coins joined the Sid and Alicia Belzberg Collection of Canadian coinage, which was auctioned Jan. 13, 2003, where the Dot cent individually realized $230,000. That Dot cent thereafter sold in the January 2010 auction of the Canadiana Collection for $402,500.

The most recent sale of a Dot cent appears to be the April 18, 2013, auction by Heritage of the example once part of the Krause collection, where, graded Mint State 63 Red by PCGS, it realized $246,750 including the 17.5 percent buyer’s fee. 

Any way you consider it, that’s one large sum for a tiny dot.

Keep reading about Depression-era coins that shouldn't exist:

Australian cent that shouldn't exist

Depression-era Commonwealth ‘cents’ that shouldn’t even exist, but do: Though not the rarest Australian coin, the 1930 penny has legendary status among Australian commonwealth coins.

1933 Britain penny

Britain’s 1933 penny: another coin that can't be explained: The 1933 penny may be the most famous British coin of the 20th century. In August, Heritage Auctions sold the example once in the Emory May Norweb Collection.

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