(Trade silver, eighteenth century
Manufactured in Europe and North America for trade with the Native peoples, trade silver came in many forms, including ear bobs, rings, brooches, gorgets, pendants, and animal shapes.)
According to Adam Shortt, the great Canadian economic historian, the first regular system of exchange in Canada involving Europeans occurred in Tadoussac in the early seventeenth century. Here, French traders bartered each year with the Montagnais people (also known as the Innu), trading weapons, cloth, food, silver items, and tobacco for animal pelts, especially those of the beaver.
In 1608, Samuel de Champlain founded the first colonial settlement at Quebec on the St. Lawrence River. The one universally accepted medium of exchange in the infant colony naturally became the beaver pelt, although wheat and moose skins were also employed as legal tender. As the colony expanded, and its economic and financial needs became more complex, coins from France came to be widely used.
(France, double tournois, 1610 Originally valued at 2 deniers, the copper "double tournois” was shipped to New France in large quantities during the early 1600s to meet the colony’s need for low-denomination coins.)
Because of the risks associated with transporting gold and silver (specie) across the Atlantic, and to attract and retain fresh supplies of coin, coins were given a higher value in the French colonies in Canada than in France. In 1664, this premium was set at one-eighth but was subsequently increased. In 1680, monnoye du pays was given a value one-third higher than monnoye de France, a valuation that held until 1717 when the distinction was abolished and all debts and contracts in Canada became payable in monnoye de France.
(France, 15 sols, 1670
In an attempt to address perennial coin shortages in France’s North American colonies, Louis XIV ordered the production of three denominations in 1670, including the "double d’amerique” (a base-metal coin), a 5-sol piece, and a 15-sol piece. The "double” was never issued, and the others proved unpopular since they could not be used to pay taxes.)
An inability to keep coins in circulation in French colonies in the Americas led to the minting in 1670 of silver and copper coins designed specially for the colonies. These coins could not be circulated in France on pain of confiscation and punishment. While apparently intended primarily for the West Indies, a small number of these coins are believed to have circulated in Canada.
(Mexico, 8 reals, seventeenth century Called "cobs” from the Portuguese cabo meaning "bar,” these irregular-shaped coins, struck in silver cut from large ingots, were common in the European colonies of North America during the 1600s and early 1700s.)
Spanish dollars (piastres) also began to circulate in the French colonies during the mid-1600s owing to illegal trading with English and Dutch settlers to the south, who used them extensively. Because these coins were of uncertain quality, an "arrкt” of 1681 required that foreign coins be weighed. In 1683, foreign coins had to be individually appraised. Full-weighted Spanish dollars were stamped with a fleur-de-lys and were valued at four livres, while light coins, depending on their weight, were stamped with a fleur-de-lys and a Roman numeral I, II, III, and IIII, with the lightest coin assigned a value of only 3 livres. Arguably, these overstamped Spanish dollars (and parts thereof) represent the first distinctive Canadian coins. They also foreshadowed the use of Spanish dollars in what was to become British North America.