Canada's rarest coins: Calgary businessman's massive collection heads to auction
George Cook's lifelong passion resulted in incredibly complete trove of dollars, pennies, quarters
George Cook had three passions in his life: his family, his country and his coins.
Cook immigrated to Canada in 1951 from Germany, fleeing "the tragedy of war in Europe," his longtime friend says.
Cook set up a home in Calgary, starting a family with his wife, Margaret.
He also founded a steel fabrication company, Geco Investments — giving him the means to then spend more than 25 years aggressively trying to collect every coin ever produced in this country.
The result is what's likely the most complete Canadian coin collection ever — and it's worth millions.
Cook died in 2018, and his collection heads to auction Aug. 13-17 at the World's Fair of Money in Chicago. There will be a subsequent online auction, as well, through Heritage Auctions.
"He was able to combine the passion for coins and his love for Canada in building this incredible set," friend Cris Bierrenbach told the Calgary Eyeopener on Friday.
[He] set out in this wonderful journey to build the most important and the most significant collection of Canadian coins ever assembled."
The collection contains several rare coins — "what he accomplished is going to be difficult to be replicated," Bierrenbach said.
It's expected to bring in between $4 and 5 million, said Bierrenbach, who works with Heritage Auctions.
'Gave him a lot of joy'
The auction will be more about celebrating the man's accomplishments, his friend said, and "bringing the coins back to the numismatic community, the collecting community."
"The coins gave him a lot of joy. I sat with him in that basement a few times going over with his collection, going over the coins," he said.
Cook carefully researched the coins and frequently spoke with his collecting friends. Sometimes he paid over market value in order to obtain one that was missing in his collection.
"It was a wonderful thing to see. He enjoyed them fully through his last days on this earth," Bierrenbach said.
Here's a look at three of the rarest coins in Cook's collection:
1911 silver dollar
There are only two 1911 silver dollars in existence, and they're considered the "holy grail" of Canadian coins. Only the two were struck in silver.
Cook paid nearly $1 million for that coin alone, the auction house says.
The other one is on loan from the Royal Canadian Mint to the Bank of Canada's national currency museum in Ottawa.
1921 50 cent coin
Cook owned what Bierrenbach calls "a mint-state" and "the finest that exists" of the 1921 50 cent coin.
It's likely worth between 200,000 and 250,000 US.
"The first one is known as 'the king of Canadian coins,'" Bierrenbach said.
The coin had a fairly large mintage in 1921, he said, but is now considered the rarest 50 cent coin.
"But subsequently, we believe that the coins were melted in 1929 for the silver to be used again for the striking of new coins," he said. "So we believe there's about 75 of these in existence today."
The value of coins, like other collectibles, is based on a combination of rarity and quality. This one, because of its careful preservation, is valued quite high as a result.
1936 dot cent penny
The 1936 dot cent penny is considered one of the most famous of Canada's rare coins. It was actually struck in 1937, after the death of King George V but before the moulds, or dies, for King George VI were made.
"It was never put into circulation. There's three that exist, they're very well documented," Bierrenbach said.
"This is the finest in existence."
The 1936 dot cent has two dots, one between two triangles and the other is tiny.
Listen to more from Cris Bierrenbach about George Cook's rare collection:
Bierrenbach cautions against looking for rare pennies, in the hope that one might have gone missed in family attics or basements.
"Something like this is impossible because the three that exist are accounted for and they're well documented," he said.
"It's very unlikely that grandma's jar or grandpa's box of coins is going to have anything of significance that is unknown to the family."
With files from Danielle Nerman and the Calgary Eyeopener