Coins or cards? Royal Canadian Mint draws inspiration from New France

Playing cards were sometimes used as currency in the 17th century in New France when there was a shortage of actual coins. The Royal Canadian Mint has released a set of coins in the form of playing cards.

'It was widely available at the time so that they could actually keep the economy going'

One of the four newly minted coins released by the Royal Canadian Mint, fashioned in the likeness of 17th century playing cards. (Submitted by the Royal Canadian Mint)

What's old is new again.

Four coins have been released by the Royal Canadian Mint in the fashion of playing cards from the 17th century.

In the late 1600s, coins arriving from France were in short supply. As a result, playing cards were used as currency in New France, including at the Fortress of Louisbourg.

"It took months for these coins to come over and sometimes these coins would just never arrive at all," said Erica Maga, product manager with the Royal Canadian Mint. 

Why use cards as currency?

Maga said the cards were a reasonable solution to shortages at the time.

"It was something they were able to easily identify," said Maga. "They could write on the back and they could inscribe some sort of a value to these pieces of playing cards.

"It was widely available at the time so that they could actually keep the economy going and make sure the soldiers would get paid while they waited for their actual coins to arrive."

The set features four kings, one from each suit.

The new box set of coins released by the Royal Canadian Mint retails for $649. Each piece has face value currency of $25. (Submitted by the Royal Canadian Mint)

Each coin piece contains 1.5 ounces of fine silver. The shape, however, isn't typical for a coin.

"What we've been able to do is take a round coin and make it rectangular and then we've added colour to them as well," said Maga. "So they're reminiscent of playing cards but they're actually metal coins."

She said the mint worked with a historian from the Fortress of Louisbourg, which was founded in 1713, to ensure authenticity.

"Part of our process of developing coins is we have to find an expert to vet these designs and the text and everything that we want to show on the coins and make sure we're being as factually accurate as possible," said Maga.

She said the mint has a group of customers and collectors who appreciate history-themed coins.

The King of Hearts is one of the newly minted coins being released by the Royal Canadian Mint. Cards were used as currency back in the 1600s. (Submitted by the Royal Canadian Mint)

The mint released something similar about a decade ago. Those were a big hit and Maga expects the new box set to be popular as well.

"This is a really interesting story and a piece of Canadian history that is quite local," she said.

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With files from Information Morning Cape Breton