Canadian and American coins

Why are they so damn similar?

Our quarters, dimes, nickels and pennies seem nearly identical with respect to diameter, thickness and colour. I constantly find American coins in my change, and for Canadians I’m sure this is a fact of life.



The temptation here is to say that this has something to do with vending machines, but would they really design a nation’s currency around not having to make adjustments to vending machines between the two nations?

I guess it is because Canadian currency is based on American currency in the first place.

I don’t think vending machines have anything to do with it. I’m sure the coin sizes were set long before vending machines were invented.

My WAG is that the coins were based on weight of silver. For years, the US and Canadian dollars were quite close to par, and twenty-five cents worth of silver in either currency would make a similar-sized coin. Same for ten cents’ worth of silver (the dime), fifty cents’ worth of silver (the half-dollar), and the silver dollar. Problem is, this WAG doesn’t explain the nickel and the penny, unless we’re looking at five and one cent’s worth of nickel and copper, respectively. Anyway, after coins stopped being made with silver, the sizes remained–I presume because there was no good reason to change them. Thus US coins are about the same size and weight as their Canadian counterparts. Just a WAG, but it seems a sensible one.

According to this site…


    * The Currency Act of 1841 makes British sovereigns and American 50c, $1, and $10 coins legal tender in the Province of Canada. 


    * The Currency Act of 1853 allows the Province of Canada to keep accounts in both British pounds and American dollars. 


    * The first Canadian coins are minted, in denominations of 1 cent, 5 cents, 10 cents, and 20 cents. 

(month unknown)

    * The first silver 5-, 10-, 25-, and 50-cent pieces of the Dominion of Canada are issued. 

(month unknown)

    * The first one cent coins of the Dominion of Canada are issued. 


    * The Ottawa Mint Act received royal approval, permitting Canada to mint its own coinage. 


    * The Ottawa branch of the British Royal Mint is opened. Governor General Earl Grey strikes the first coin, a 50-cent piece.

Nice link, lynxie, but your citations talk only about the denominations. The OP is wondering about why the sizes, shapes, colors, etc, are so similar.

I think it is an excellent question. I suspect that vending machines is NOT the answer. My family vacationed in Canada several times in the late 60s, and I noticed that although the dimes and quarters were interchangeable in vending machines of either country (and pennies were also identical, except that even then, vending machines did not accept pennies) the nickel were a big exception.

USA five-cent pieces are called “nickels” because they contain a lot of nickel. But the Canadian five-cent pieces were (almost?) pure nickel, and would stick to a magnet. They worked in Canadian vending machines, but not in American ones.

Besides, the exchange rate at the time was about 10% off. I really doubt that an American vending machine operator liked the idea that his machines were willing to dispense 50c worth of products in return for Canadian coins that bank would give him only 45c for.

Yeah, but as “close to par” is not the same as “equal”. Even a 10% difference would have been detectable by the vending machines, no?

The OP shows pretty pictures of the coins. But can someone find exact weights for them?

According to Wikipedia, a US quarter weighs 5.670 grams, with a diameter of 24.26 mm and thickness of 1.75 millimeters.

Also according to Wikipedia, a Canadian quarter weighs 4.4 grams, with a diameter of 23.88 mm and thickness of 1.58 millimeters.

Hmmm… The Canadian quarter is almost 29% heavier, yet 10% thinner. I would think this to be noticeable. Wikipedia could be wrong (but I went into the “History” section there, and the same figures have been there for several months). I can’t imagine that vending machines wouldn’t notice the difference. Can someone near the border report back to us on this?

Before the changeover to the Euro I noticed that certain European coins were of the same size and worked interchangeably in vending machines. The only one I can recall is that the Irish 10p and some Maltese coin worth twice as much worked interchangeably. The other day I got a bag of 1 Euro coins from the bank and one of the coins was Argentinian. It looked very similar.

I see in your figures that it is lighter, not heavier.

Vending machines (and arcade games) throughout my childhood have never accepted any denomination of Canadian coin. It was always something to look out for when desiring to use vending machines, because for practically every other purpose, they were accepted on par with US coins, even with the exchange rate difference, in pocket-change-level quantities.

Without looking up exact weights and measures, I certainly tell that Canadian dimes and quarters have substantially less mass than the US counterparts. Pennies and nickels, I’m not sure of, nor for the dollar coin equivilents (I don’t ever use enough of the US versions to get a feel for them). Pennies may be lighter… or I only imagine it because the quarters and dimes are lighter.

I worked with vending machines through my early years. You are correct. Unless someone disabled the “slug rejector” in the machine (a counterweight that was only allows US coins to pass), Canadian coins would not work.

That makes a lot of sense to me. Actually, I believe the Canadian dollar was pegged at par to the American dollar for a long time.

I’ve checked the Wikipedia article, and it seems that the Canadian dollar was pegged to the American dollar, either at par or at the rate 1 US$ = 1.1 CA$, until 1950 when it was finally allowed to float. (The Canadian dollar was again fixed in value to the American dollar from 1962 to 1970.)

Thanx. I guess my memory was faulty.

Some of the old Irish and UK coins were very similiar; I remember infrequently getting Irish coins in change, especially in London.

While it’s true that Canadian coins don’t work in US vending machines, you sometimes get them in change from vending machines around here in Western New York. I guess when the vending machine operator puts in the “float,” there are Canadian coins mixed in, and they get dispensed in change. It’s also annoying to go through the self-checkout at a grocery store here and get Canadian coins in change…which, of course, you cannot put back through the machine and usually end up in a change jar somewhere.

Of course, at that point weren’t they still both pegged to gold? The U.S. dollar was until 1971, so it would have been fixed up to that point against anything also pegged to gold.

Probably the most striking difference in metal content is, or used to be, that Canadian nickels were magnetic since they contained more actual nickel. Since the quarters aren’t silver, I wouldn’t be surprised if they are also magnetic, as so many non-American coins seem to be. I think the reason the U.S. mint has always come up with such horrible looking coin compositions is the unwillingness to use a non-tarnishing ferrous metallic alloy. Everyone talks about how ugly the dollar coin alloy is, but what should we expect from an outfit that gave us cupro-nickel “sandwich” in 1965?

A few things:

I grew up in the 50s and 60s in upstate New York, in an area with a lot of Canadian travelers visiting or passing through, and hence with Canadian coins circulating. And of course the two dollars were about at par at the time. In our area, Canadian silver would almost always be accepted by vending machines. Not so, the nickels, which were of heavy nickel content, as the U.S. five-cent-piece was not despite the nickname. (Samclem, when did U.S. nickels stop containing nickel?)

My father and I began collecting coins together in the mid-1950s, and one of the most interesting things ere the occasional Newfoundland pennies that we’d run across. (Never, as far as I can remember, nickels or silver, but a few pennies a year.)

It’s also interesting that Nfd. continued to issue 20-cent pieces until after World War I, when they switched to quarters. (Newfoundland was a self-governing colony, or perhaps dominion, until the Depression, and only joined Confederation and became a part of Canada in 1949.)

THESE days, you’d PREFER the Canadian coins. They are worth more. :smack:

Not true today… it was just a phase. The US dollar is now worth a whopping $1.03 Canadian.

Oops. Yeah - I just thought this was the relative line…

August * The Currency Act of 1853 allows the Province of Canada to keep accounts in both British pounds and American dollars.

It seemed to me that they may have kept the similar look because the people were already used to it. The rest was just interesting. :slight_smile:

The US nickel contains 25% nickel and has since 1866 except for most of WWII (the war nickels were made of a copper-silver-manganese alloy). The rest of the coin is copper.

The Canadian nickel currently contains only token amounts of nickel – it’s primarily made of iron these days. The nickel is plated on, just like the copper in the US penny.

Canadian coins no longer circulate in any significant amount in the US these days. Sometime in the 80s or 90s when the exchange rate dropped to something like .60 USD = 1 CAD, the Fed stopped accepting them. That meant that banks stopped accepting them and so retailers wouldn’t take them either. You’ll occasionally get a Canadian penny in your change, but that’s about it.