Why are U.S. coins Canadian-compatible?

Have you ever noticed that U.S. dimes and quarters work in Canadian vending machines, and vice-versa? This causes a lot of chagrin for Americans, since their coinage is worth about 50% more than the Canadian equivalent – and many American banks scowl at you if you dare to give them a coin from the Great White North.

Anyhow, why are the coins all precisely the same size?

I can tell you that Canadian quarters do notwork in the video games where I life. Dammit, I would’ve beaten the final boss if my last f***ing quarter had been American (sob). OTOH, in Michigan, most stores will take a single Canny coin at face value without complaining.

“I had a feeling that in Hell there would be mushrooms.” -The Secret of Monkey Island

Avoiding the main thrust of the OP…

Actually, nost US banks will scowl equally at coins from Canada, Mexico, France, Russia, etc. You can purchase or redeem foreign currency fairly easily, but coins are too heavy and labor intensive to make the sale/redemption worth the effort.

The overwhelming majority of people have more than the average (mean) number of legs. – E. Grebenik

I’ve never had a Canadian coin work in a US vending machine.

I was rather pissed earlier this year when all I had were Candian quarters. Then I took a closer look and asked, “When did Delaware move to Canada?” I then realized that they were 1999 quarters with states’ designs on them.

Whenever I do get a real Canadian coin, I can usually pawn it off fairly easily.

After my first trip to the Great White North, I thought I could make a living cashing US $20 bills for Canadian quarters (getting the exchange rate of $22.50 [at the time]), then coming back south and getting US value for the quarters. Then I’d return north and do it again. After only 10 trips I would have doubled my money. Then I realized how hard it was to get rid of Canadian coins en masse, so I never embarked on the project.

I’ve been in a major retail store in Wisconsin that that called in to the bank for the exchange rate on a Canadian quarter. They told this person it was the company’s policy to take the coin, but they had to give the current exchange rate for it.

I was on vacation later that year a couple hundred miles away from there. I purchased something in the same retail chain and was given a Canadian quarter. I immediately returned the quarter to the sales clerk and told them “This is Americia and I need to be given American money which is legal tender in the United States.” I then added that “I know your company policy is to call for an exchange rate if I try to spend that here.” The people in back of me started clapping, and said “Good for you.”

Okay, it appears that something I said in the original post threw us off the main thrust of my question. Maybe Canadian quarters don’t work in some U.S. vending machines.

However, the main point was this: why are the dimes and quarters nearly identical? Were they designed by the same mint?

Incidentally, Canada now has one-dollar and two-dollar coins. Boy, do our pockets get heavy! The dollar coin, by the way, is known as a “Loony”. We Canadians are just wacky.

Oh, just to underline the point a bit more, American pennies are virtually identical to Canadian ones. I believe the same holds for nickels, but I can’t quite recall seeing both side by side.

There must be some kind of conspiracy behind all this. Or UFO’s.

personally, i’ve found that canadian coins work perfectly well in parking meters…
not that i advocate that, but it does get rid of them quickly

Big Secret: Canada is really a U.S. state. We just haven’t bothered to tell them yet.

O.K. now for the facts: The U.S. and Canadian Mints cooperate with eachother. Their coins are designed to be the same size and weight. (Except that the new U.S. dollar coin will not be the same as the Loony). At one time, they had the same approximate value too. Now that the size and weight of the coins has been established, it would be a big deal to change them because of the vending maching changes that would be required. There are some complaints about the new state quarters not working in vending machines but the mint took great pains to prevent this from being a problem. Maybe not great enough though.

Phil: not meaning to pick nits here but could you provide a source for your statement that the mints cooperate in the minting of the coins.

I can see how they might cooperate in the effort to stop counterfeiting but in minting?

Thanks in advance.


I rather suspected that they cooperated with each other. After all, we haven’t been at war since 1812. However, are you saying that they use the same facilities? I’m pretty sure that isn’t right – at least not at this time. Maybe at some time in the past that was true.

Also, this doesn’t really answer the question of why the coins are so similar. Was somebody just being lazy?

Actually, let me be a bit more charitable than that. Let me guess that some artisans designed both sets of coins and simply didn’t foresee the vending machine problem (or parking meter problem, if you wish) because when the coins were designed, there weren’t a whole lot of machines that could appreciate coinage.

If we look at it in that light, then perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that the same denominations have the same dimensions. The designers were simply being consistent, and fostering mutual understanding between our two great nations. Zowie!

It’s not necessary to tell us that, because we already know. The U.S. economy dominates ours. All we can do to “retaliate” (if that’s the right word) is to send cold fronts down to plague you. Oh, and we send you most of your decent comedians. So you win some and you lose some. We chill you with our frosty air, and warm you with laughter.

In the past (19th century) U.S. coins were legal tender in Canada. I would imagine for this reason, Canada got used to making its coins similar to US coins.
Since the economies are so closely linked (and even more so now with NAFTA), it makes sense (to me at least) that the countries have similar coinage.

Bob: Shhh! You’ll get the governments thinking about a western hemisphere version of the Euro! What to call it, though? The Americo? Would that give rise to a slang word for it, the Vespuccio?

A) The reason is that coins used to have roughly their value in silver, so the exchange rate used to stick pretty close to 1-to-1, and it was simpler for people living near the border to just use the two currencies interchangably. Now that both currencies are token currencies backed only by faith in the two governments, they wobble around much more, but neither country wants to mess around and screw up their vending machines.

B) By the way, the same thing happened in the USA 200 years ago. The US dollar is based on the old Spanish dollar, which was more common in the newborn US than guineas were.

John W. Kennedy
“Compact is becoming contract; man only earns and pays.”
– Charles Williams

Oh sure, now I have to actually back up my statements. You guys are really getting demanding. Unfortunately, it will take me a little while to find the chapter and verse. I read that the U.S. and Canadian mints cooperate in an article in Coin World magazine. As I said though, I’ll have to dig a little to get the specifics. The article did not in any way, imply that the two mints share facilities. They do however, compare new designs for compatibility. I’ll get back to you with the slightly bent dope.

John W. Kennedy said:

You mean 95% of the Canadian population? :wink:

Well, if the two mints cooperate, how come Canada made polygonal quarters but the US never did?

Ray (And you’d figure that one of the countries, one of these days, would have cents (?) enough to stop making pennies.)


I think you mean polygonal nickels. I don’t think we ever had quarters that were other than round. Even the strange nickels were only around for a short time.

the pennies are now polygonal as well - I think it’s to help visually-impaired tell them apart from the dimes.

Ok, I still haven’t turned up any conclusive proof but I did post the original question on Coin World’s web site and I got a reply saying that Canada initially followed British currency but because their mint facilities were lacking, a lot of U.S coins filtered over the border and were readily accepted. Eventually, Canada opted to model their coinage after the U.S.

This is obviously not the proof that I was hoping for, only one guy’s explanation but it makes sense. I have some Canadian large cents which were minted until 1919. In 1920, Canada switched to the small cent which is the same size as the U.S. one cent coin.