Canada’s first one-cent piece expected to fetch $900 at auction

A penny these days can't buy anything, but there will be some very valuable ones at the Toronto Coin Expo

While some will be happy to see the penny disappear, others will be hoping to pick one up at the end of the month for thousands of dollars.

Among the many coins that will be auctioned off at the inaugural Toronto Coin Expo will be three one-cent coins from 1858 and organizers expect them to fetch about $900, according to a statement.

Pennies these days mostly weigh down pockets, are left in tip jars and cost the Canadian government $11 million a year because they actually cost 1.6 cents to produce.

Even Finance Minister Jim Flaherty joked he couldn't buy anything with a penny when he was a kid.

"The time has come to make the sensible decision to end production of the coin, which is underused by Canadians, no longer vital to commerce and ultimately a burden on Canada's balance sheet," said Finance Minister Jim Flaherty to The Canadian Press late last week.

However, this wasn't always the case.

Canada's first penny was struck in 1858 at the Royal Mint in England and shipped to the Province of Canada (Ontario and Quebec) by boat. That year, 421,000 one-cent pieces were put into circulation.

But that first penny didn't look like the penny we know today. It was much larger, weighed more and featured Queen Victoria on one side and a vine circle of maple leaves on the other. In 1858 the one-cent piece was 25 millimetres in diametre compared to the 19 millimetre we see today and it weighed 4.5 grams compared to 2.35 grams today. The weight was actually 1/100th of a pound, allowing people to use the coins to measure weight as well as pay for goods.

The first penny struck in Canada was produced in Ottawa in 1908.

The 1858 coins are "not super rare but they are tough to come by, and in great condition they're not easy, either," said Jared Stapleton, owner and manager of the expo, to the Toronto Star. "It's a neat piece of history."

While this may seem like a lot for a penny, it is far from the most expensive Canadian penny sold in the world. In 1936, the Mint produced three pennies with a special dot and one of them sold at auction for more than $400,000 in January 2010. All three of them are in private collections and not at the Ottawa Currency Museum.

Also up for auction over the two days are a 1867 Commercial Bank of Newfoundland $20 bill expected to fetch up to $10,000, a 1859 Canada One Cent Pattern estimated to sell for $30,000 and a 1858 Province of Canada One Cent Trial estimated to sell for $10,000.

If all this talk of expensive old pennies has you thinking you should stockpile some from this century and pass them down for 154 years, that may not be the best idea. Stapleton told the Star he doesn't think they will ever fetch more than face value.

The final Canadian penny was made last Friday, but it will take a while to go out of circulation.

The auction at the Toronto Reference Library is in conjunction with the Toronto Coin Expo and will run May 31 and June 1. People can also make bids online.

(Photos from