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Circulation coins and numismatic coins: what’s the difference?

Circulation coins. Circulating coins.

Numismatic coins. Collectible coins. Collector coins.

If you have a coin collection, you’ve probably heard these terms from time to time. (You probably even have some of each in your collection!)

But have you ever wondered what they all mean?

This blog will help demystify each type of coin for you — and increase the enjoyment you get out of coin collecting!

Circulation / circulating coins

Circulation coins are the coins you find in your pocket (or wallet) — and they’re circulated around the country, not to mention the world, all the time!

Every year in Canada, more than 1 billion circulation coins are manufactured at the Royal Canadian Mint plant in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Here are a few popular circulation coins in Canada, and some fun historical facts about them:

25-cent coin (aka “the quarter”)

  • Best known for its caribou design; however, the caribou has been temporarily replaced throughout the years with other designs (e.g., in 1999 and 2000, they sported winning designs of the Millennium coin program, and in 2017 they featured artwork by a young Canadian student in celebration of Canada 150).
  • In 2004, it was minted featuring a red poppy — becoming the world’s first coloured coin in circulation.
  • The quarter wasn’t minted in 1997 or 1998. However, in 1999, more than 250 million coins were produced; and almost twice that amount were produced in 2000.


1-dollar coin (aka “the Loonie”)

  • There was a dollar coin before the loonie! The silver “voyageur dollar” was first minted in 1935. However, it didn’t see wide circulation after 1967, when its composition was changed to primarily nickel.
  • The “new” dollar coin (the “Loonie”) went public in 1987, replacing one-dollar banknotes as a governmental cost-saving measure.


2-dollar coin (aka “the Toonie”)

  • Bi-metallic coin featuring the polar bear — with occasional changes to the design to celebrate Canada’s history, culture and values.
  • First introduced in 1996 as a cost-saving measure, replacing the two-dollar bill.
  • The Royal Canadian Mint produced more than 375 million toonies in its first year. The second-highest mintage year was 2012, with 89 million; 1998 saw its lowest mintage year, with “only” five million.
  • The 2-dollar ring is magnetic, the core is not.
  • Stacked one on top of the other, all of the Toonies ever minted would reach about the equivalent of 3,000 CN Towers!


Numismatic /collectible / collector coins

In Canada, numismatic coins — also known as collectible coins or collector coins — are produced in Ottawa, Ontario.

These coins are “struck” (mint-speak for “produced”) one by one (rather than in bulk), and specially designed by Canadian artists.

When you first purchase one from a mint, the coin has never been touched — they are uncirculated and truly in “mint” condition.

Coin themes

In Canada, there are two ways that the Mint comes up with ideas for themes: market research, and suggestions from the public.

(In fact, if you have an idea for a coin, here’s how to submit it to the Royal Canadian Mint!)

No matter what, all coins reflect Canada’s heritage, culture and values — themes of significance to Canada, that commemorate, celebrate and promote the country.

Some key themes and related coins have included:


Innovative designs

Collectible coins come in all metals, shapes, sizes, colours…and then some!

Here are just a few of the most innovative coins developed by the Royal Canadian Mint:


Understanding your coins’ value

When it comes to circulation coins, their value is listed right on the coin. This is referred to as the face value. Occasionally, they will be worth more than their face value (often based on rarity or extremely low mintage).

However, collectible coins are always worth more than their face value.

For example, the Royal Canadian Mint’s pure silver coin commemorating the 100th Anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge has a face value of CAD$3, and an actual value (also called “intrinsic value”) of CAD$19.95.

So why the discrepancy?

When it comes to any coins, the actual value is based on a number of factors that make up the coin, including (but not limited to):

  • The metal(s) used
  • Historical value
  • Year it was minted
  • Overall condition
  • Rarity
  • Collectability


Over time, based on factors listed above and whether or not you take good care of your coin, the actual value of your collectible coins could increase or decrease. Click here for tips on proper coin care.

Using your coins as legal tender

As mentioned earlier, circulating coins are the coins jingling in your pocket — they are used on a regular basis for daily purchases.

Meanwhile, collectible coins manufactured by the Royal Canadian Mint are technically legal tender. However:

  • They’re not really intended for daily transactions; and
  • Businesses and banks aren’t required to accept them as a method of payment.


That said, you really shouldn’t use collector coins to buy things! Why? Because they can only be redeemed at face value — the value listed on the coin, not what they’re actually worth.

In other words, if you’re looking to use your numismatic coins as a cash source, consult a coin dealer. They are much more likely to offer a price above face value.

Learn more about coin collecting!

Want to further your knowledge about numismatics and coin collecting? Click here to read the Royal Canadian Mint’s “Beginner’s Guide to Collectible Coins.

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