By Andrew Robinson
A rare Newfoundland token which is approximately 170 years old fetched a high price at an auction in Chicago last month.
Made by a dry goods merchant in St. John’s named Peter McAuslane, it sold for $41,250 at the World’s Fair of Money auction.
“It’s widely known as one of the rarest Canadian coins,” said Rod O’Driscoll, owner of East Coast Coins in St. John’s.
O’Driscoll was among those who took part in the initial online auction for the rare token, which is believed to be one of 100 made in the early 1840s. His highest bid for the token was $8,000, but O’Driscoll stopped bidding once the price continued to rise. Its price peaked at $32,000 in the online auction before it proceeded to the floor auction.
“The bidding just kept going and kept going and kept going,” he said. “Nobody really knew where it was going to end, because it’s so rare.”
According to O’Driscoll, McAuslane’s Water Street store failed to survive the great fire of 1846. Many of the tokens were believed to have been lost along with it. The Bank of Canada’s National Currency Collection in Ottawa has two of the tokens.
Another token was dug up from the ground in Prince Edward Island and sold at an auction in 2002 for more than $6,000.
O’Driscoll said that piece was badly corroded in comparison to the token sold last month, which was in a private collection for the last 61 years. O’Driscoll classified its condition as “extra-fine in collecting terms.”
O’Driscoll was interested in bringing the token back to Newfoundland and Labrador. He suspects it was snapped up by a buyer in the United States.
“There seems to be a very big interest in Newfoundlandia throughout the U.S.,” he said.
“A lot of repatriated Newfoundlanders, they moved away, but they still have a love for home, so they’re buying collectibles from Newfoundland.”
He doubts a token like this will appear on the open market again anytime soon.
“If you want a complete collection of Newfoundland tokens and coins, it might be another 40 or 50 years to get one of these.”
Unlike coins, which are produced by government as a freely exchangeable form of currency, tokens are typically made to strictly serve as promotional items. O’Driscoll said they are often made of cheaper metals like copper and brass.
In the case of the McAuslane tokens, it is believed they were used to help advertise the merchant’s store.
While the token sold last month may have proven pricey, O’Driscoll says there are Newfoundland coins in existence worth even more.
“There’s a Newfoundland anomaly, an 1871-dime, that if somebody walked into my store (with it), I’d pay over $100,000 for it.”
The only recent sale involving Newfoundland currency with a comparable auction price that O’Driscoll could think of was a Newfoundland $50 bank note sold last year for almost $50,000. The Union Bank of Newfoundland issued it in the late-1800s.
The McAuslane piece wasn’t the only Newfoundland token sold at the Chicago auction. A ship token from 1858 sold for $5,800. According to O’Driscoll, the highest price paid for currency at the auction was $3.88 million for an 1804 American silver dollar.
“People could have that sitting around in their dresser — they don’t know,” joked O’Driscoll.