Rediscovering the NCC’s treasure troves
With over 100,000 artifacts in the National Currency Collection, it shouldn’t be surprising that some things are forgotten about. Take for example the “treasure troves,” coins that have been salvaged from shipwrecks.
During the “Age of Discovery,” the likes of Christopher Columbus, Vasco da Gama, Amerigo Vespucci and Jacques Cartier petitioned the European rulers to back their voyages through unchartered waters in search of new trade routes to the Far East. There were thousands of shipwrecks. Most were Spanish galleons, loaded with gold and silver from Central and South America; perishing at sea due to treacherous weather, pirates and armed conflict. Over a 400-year span, Spaniards had been draining the American continents of their mineral wealth. It is estimated that there were over 32,000 trans-oceanic voyages in this era.
Many of the notable shipwrecks discovered to date have been found off the coast of Florida. During the late-summer hurricane season, the stretch of water along Florida’s east coast and out toward the open seas was notorious for claiming many ships. Even during the 1950s and 60s, the area, which became known famously as the Bermuda Triangle, was the site of the mysterious disappearance of many aircraft and ships. Sailing vessels leaving the Caribbean bound for Europe had to follow the Florida coast north to find the favourable trade winds to bring them east across the Atlantic Ocean.
The coin featured above was salvaged from the so-called 1715 Treasure Fleet. It was in fact a combination of two fleets: one from Mexico and one from South America, totalling some 12 or 13 ships. The fleet was carrying over 1,000 people and 14 million pesos in coins (14 million dollars at the time). On June 30, 1715, off the east coast of Florida, the ships encountered a hurricane that destroyed the whole fleet. Hundreds of the crew and passengers were lost, along with the entire cargo of coinage. Modern salvage of the 1715 Fleet shipwreck began in the 1950s. Today, divers and salvagers continue to find coins from those wrecks.
Canadian waters have also claimed their fair share of treasure ships. The HMS Feversham was a 32-gun British warship on its way from the Gulf of St Lawrence to New York with provisions and cash to assist the British campaign against the French (Queen Anne’s War, 1702–13). The Feversham, along with three other ships, sank off Scatarie Island near Louisbourg, Nova Scotia during a storm on October 7, 1711. Many souls perished in that storm and survivors bribed French fisherman to take them to New York. Attempts were made to salvage the wreck, but it lay untouched for centuries. Famous Canadian salvager Alex Storm’s diving team lifted the ships’ treasures in 1968. Subsequent searches of the wreck yielded more booty for fortunate divers. Below are a couple of Spanish cobs from that wreck. Spanish coins were so abundant and readily accepted, that it was not unusual to find them in the cache of a British ship.
In 1725, the rocky shores of Cape Breton’s east coast claimed another ship when the French man‑of‑war Le Chameau, bound for Louisbourg, was caught in a storm and driven onto the rocks off the coast. On board was 80,000 livres (about $12,000 in 1725 dollars) of French gold and silver coins destined for Québec. It was the loss of ships like this that forced the Intendant of New France, who was responsible for the colony’s finances, to issue playing‑card money as a temporary measure to pay the troops until more coinage arrived. The wreck of Le Chameau was discovered in 1961 and a salvage expedition begun in 1965. The contents of the stricken ship were sold at auction in 1971. These French gold louis and silver ecu coins are from among a couple of hundred the National Currency Collection acquired at a sale. Over the years, salt water had severely damaged the silver coins, yet the gold coins have remained completely intact, proving the metal’s resilience and value.
There have been thousands of shipwrecks, many of which, by any standards, carried enormous wealth. Treasure hunters have combed the beaches and oceans to uncover the rich treasures of gold and silver coins from the vast mines of Latin America or from European colonial powerhouses like France, Great Britain and the Netherlands. I would like to think that rediscovering the treasure trove coins in the National Currency Collection has been my own treasure hunt and that I can now share the wealth of knowledge about these fascinating coins with our curious and inquisitive visitors.
The Museum Blog
Teaching math using money
From skip counting to making change, working with money is a great way for students to practice math skills.
Caring for your coins
Coin collecting can be a fun and fascinating hobby. But there are a few things you should know to keep your collection safe and in good condition. Because coins aren’t as robust as you might imagine.
Security is in the bank note
Security printing is a game of anticipating and responding to criminal threats. Counterfeiting is a game of anticipating and responding to bank note design. This cat and mouse relationship affects every aspect of a bank note.
Teaching art with currency
From design to final product, bank notes and coins can be used to explore and teach art, media and process.
New Acquisitions—2022 Edition
It’s a new year—the perfect time to look back at some notable artifacts the Museum added to the National Currency collection from 2022. Each object has a unique story to tell about Canada’s monetary and economic history.
Money: it’s a question of trust
The dollars and cents we use wouldn’t be worth anything to anybody if we didn’t have confidence in it. No matter if it’s gold or digits on a hard drive, public trust is the secret ingredient in a successful currency.
The day Winnipeg was invaded
People on the street were randomly stopped and searched, and some were even arrested and imprisoned in an internment camp. Even German marks replaced Canadian currency in circulation—in the form of If Day propaganda notes.
The imagery on the Bank of Canada’s 1935 note series depicts the country’s rich industrial history.
Army bills: Funding the War of 1812
In 1812, British North America had no banks and little currency. With the prospect of war drying up supplies of coins, the government of Lower Canada decided to issue legal tender notes called “army bills” to pay for troops and supplies.
Between tradition and technology
What was proposed was a complete about-face from the philosophy behind recent security printing. If photocopiers could easily deal with the colours and designs of the current series, then the next series should be bold and simple.
Teaching the green economy
From windmills and solar panels to electric cars, signs of the green economy are all around us. Check out our resources for how to teach about the green economy.
Talk to your kids about money
Introduce important financial skills to your children, and help them plan for their futures with free resources from the Bank of Canada Museum and others.
Teaching inflation during the COVID-19 pandemic
COVID-19 has had an unprecedented effect on the economy: closing businesses, driving down demand and interrupting supplies. With news stories and popular culture addressing inflation and supply chain issues, now is the perfect time to explain this key economic concept to your high school students.
Queen of the bank notes
Few of us have ever met her, and it’s likely none of us are even remotely related to her. Yet, Canadians have carried her picture in their wallets for generations now. She’s Queen Elizabeth II and has been our monarch for over 70 years.