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Loonies and Toonies - Canadian Dollar Coins

By July 22, 2008

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I have just returned from a wonderful 10-day trip to Nova Scotia and the Canadian outback, and as a dedicated numismatist, I couldn't help but observe the way that the Canadian populace dealt with their money, particularly their coins. Canada has pretty much the same denominations that the U.S. has: Cents (that don't buy much, and which nobody picks up off the ground just like in the U.S.,) Nickels, Dimes, Quarters, Dollars (called "Loonies" because the standard design depicts the bird called a Loon,) and Two-Dollar bi-metallic coins (called "Toonies," apparently named in honor of the One Dollar coin of which Canadians are very fond.) The various Canadian coins are all the same sizes as their U.S. counterparts although they are made of very different metals.

The Canadian Penny has been made from copper-plated steel since 2000. The circulating Canadian Nickel, Dime, and Quarter are all currently made from nickel-plated steel, although the Dime was made of pure nickel from 1968 to 2000. Like the U.S., Canada has a Half Dollar denomination that very rarely circulates, and which is only struck for Mint sets currently. The Canadian Dollar coin is very nearly the same size and color as its U.S. counterpart, but again made from very different metals. The One Dollar "Loonie" is 11-sided and made from an alloy the Royal Canadian Mint calls "aureate" (bronze-plated nickel.) As noted before, the Two Dollar "Toonie" is bi-metallic, having an outer ring of pure nickel, with a center made of a primarily copper alloy.

The Loonies and Toonies circulate in Canada as if things had always been this way. If I spent 89 cents and handed over a $5 note, I was as likely to get 2 Toonies, as I was 1 Toonie and 2 Loonies in my change, although I never got 4 Loonies. I noticed that most Canadian cash drawers don't have enough slots for all the coins (one of the big complaints we hear from U.S. Dollar coin skeptics is, "where will cashiers store the coins since there's no room in the cash drawers?") Canadian cashiers merely toss the Loonies and Toonies together in the same compartment, as they are easy to distinguish from each other, being of different sizes and colors. If Canada ever does away with its Penny, an issue that is as thorny for Canadians as it is for Americans, I suppose cashiers would use the empty coin spot to separate the $1 and $2 coins.

So, how did the Canadians succeed in getting these Dollar coins to circulate? Simple, they merely stopped producing the $1 banknote and it was a done deal. There was very little controversy or complaining; the government simply took action and people adjusted as needs must. Why Americans can't seem to take a similar step is a curious statement about our society. Even as we continue to hem and haw, the Canadians I asked said they'd be happy to see a $5 coin, too. Once they started using the higher-value coins, the Canadians I spoke to immediately saw the benefits and actually consider the paper $5 to be a nuisance now!

Another interesting observation during my Canadian trip was how U.S. currency circulates side by side with Canadian specie in many places, especially in transit centers and border cities. The Canadian and U.S. Dollars are about equal in value these days, and most Canadian merchants were taking U.S. Dollars at par value to Canadian Dollars for smaller purchases, although for a larger purchase I made, the merchant checked the Web for the latest exchange rate and did an exact calculation (but didn't charge any percentage for the transaction.) When purchases were made with U.S. Dollars, Canadian change was always given, with the Dollar notes being stashed under the change drawer. The merchants I asked said they didn't usually take U.S. pocket change unless it was all someone had, and they didn't mix it with their Canadian coinage. Since Canadian Dollars are worth more than U.S. Dollars these days, I was a little surprised not to see merchants trying to dump U.S. currency off on people who spent U.S. currency. (As of this writing, the Canadian Dollar is worth about 99 U.S. Cents.)

My single, most enduring impression of executing commerce in Canadian money was the ease with which the Loonies and Toonies changed hands. Indeed, it was a hassle to dig out my wallet to extract a $5 bill when it turned out that I didn't have a couple of Toonies in my pocket!

Have you visited Canada recently, or are you a Canadian who has visited the U.S.? Are the Loonies and Toonies easier or harder to use than paper money? Share your experiences with the different forms of Dollar currency in the Comments below.

Comments

July 22, 2008 at 11:48 pm
(1) Derek says:

I don’t have any experience with the Loonie or Toonie, but I used to use ¥100 and ¥500 coins (about $1 and $5) in Japan. They were especially handy in vending machines, which rarely ever needed a bill acceptor. Maybe that’s why they have so many vending machines over there.

July 23, 2008 at 8:25 am
(2) Sandra says:

In the European Union, they have 1E and 2E coins. Germany used to have 1 mark, 2 mark, and 5 mark coins, before they switched to the Euro. I think that the coins are heavier to carry around in my wallet, and I find it a little strange as an American to have “real” money — several dollars worth — on hand when I don’t have any bills. In general, I don’t see a big advantage or disadvantage one way or another — unless it’s putting money into an automated machine, which is much easier with coins.

July 23, 2008 at 8:31 am
(3) Scott B says:

I believe the US is the only “first world” nation that still uses paper for its unit currency. There may be two others that do, but they are considered “third world” nations. The US is the only one of the G8 in that regard.

July 23, 2008 at 11:58 am
(4) gdnp says:

The only place I’ve seen dollar coins circulate with regularity is on the Boston subway system, where the fare was $2.00 and required exact change. Machines at the stations dispensed coins for bills, and 2 dollar coins sure was easier than 8 quarters.

July 23, 2008 at 12:42 pm
(5) Dave says:

When the loonie came in there was an expression on the go, “we used to have currency in Canada now we have loonacy” Of course people got used to the coins, what choice did they have? Forced down our throats by a make-believe democratic government. Coins can get pretty heavy in a pocket and they do pile up. In the US its no problem using one’s from a wallet.

PS – I still pick up pennies. 100 made a dollar last I checked.

July 24, 2008 at 7:10 pm
(6) Mark says:

The last time I was in Canada I brought back several Loonies and Toonies. I now teach the Coin Collecting Merti Badge for my son’s Boy Scout Troop and we spend some time talking about the cost of $1 bills. I like the Loonie and Toonie. I use a Toonie as my ball marker in golf.

July 26, 2008 at 1:36 pm
(7) Connie G. says:

I don’t think $1 coins will ever take off in the US unless they just stop making dollar bills….

July 29, 2008 at 7:38 pm
(8) Mark says:

I agree with Connie G.

August 10, 2008 at 9:11 am
(9) BERNIE says:

COINS CARRY ALOT LESS GERMS THEN PAPER LOOK AT THE AVERAGE 5 DOOLAR BILL COMPARED TO THE 2 OR 1 DOLLAR COIN WHICH ONE LOOKS CLEANER

August 15, 2008 at 11:23 pm
(10) Bonaparte says:

There’s this pretty amazing coin-holder that Canadians have been using for all their coins called Portsou™. It holds about 8 Presidential coins plus .25ct / .05 / .10 and pennies.

Check it out http://www.portsou.com

August 23, 2008 at 11:19 pm
(11) jm says:

I have a Portsou for my presibux.

December 12, 2008 at 9:51 pm
(12) Cody says:

I have to say that we Americans are about as stubborn as they come. I am not just talking about dollar coins and pennies, I am talking about the Metric system and many other beneficial things that we are afraid of. For those who think that the dollar coin is a nuisance, try spending you change instead of letting it rip a hole in your pocket, and try spending the two dollar bill. They aren’t rare and are being made in ever increasing quantity with more people being interested. Thats why the loonie succeded was because of the two and the ending of the ace. I would really like to see the penny ended, prices rounded down on everything, and a new set of coins in a cheaper metal denominated as 5(optional), 10, 20, and 50 cent that are more easily handled. I also would like to see the hundred and fifty be used more widely in circulation, a dollar in 1950 is worth ten now and the twenty if anything was more common then.

April 8, 2009 at 8:37 pm
(13) Robert says:

I recently visited Prince Edward Island, and I must say that I didn’t have much trouble at all using CAD, after a day or two slapping a toonie down for a purchase felt pretty natural. I think the biggest monetary shock was finding out that generic ATM’s often would not take my US bankcard, making me schlep all the way to ScotiaBank to get pictures of the Queen.

August 28, 2009 at 3:51 pm
(14) Cindy says:

I am Canadian. I would prefer to have the dollar bill back.
Problem with the loonies and toonies, the weight of them in your change purse, which still hasn’t changed to accommodate the new coin. A positive side, throw them into a piggy bank and the dollar amount accumulates very quickly, unlike small change.

September 5, 2009 at 12:24 pm
(15) Benjamin says:

It’s interesting what Cody said. The coin denominations he mentioned were exactly those of the euro. I whole-heartedly agree with everything he said except for a 20 cent coin. That seems silly. 25+25=50. I know 10 does not equal 25, but…..

I also think the 1 and 2 euro coins look alot like the toonie. Did they take the idea from us, or are bi-metallic coins more common?

PS I’m Canadian. We do pick up Pennies!!!!

September 7, 2009 at 1:31 am
(16) Ken says:

I have a unique perspective as I am an American who has recently moved to Canada.

I hate the one and two dollar coins. I, like any man, have a small billfold in which I keep my money, license and credit cards. I never was good with change, I would always throw it into an empty coffee can and then take it to the bank when it was full. I find that I will come home with $20 or so in coin in my pocket. I go to fish out my house keys and, guess what?? Yup, the change goes everywhere. On the rare instance that I remember that I have them, like at a coffee shop, I end up having to take everything out of my pocket with impatient customers in line, just to get them out. They might be nice for a change purse but not in tight pocket of fitted jeans.

October 20, 2009 at 5:49 am
(17) John says:

The real reason why America’s dollar coin has not succeeded is simply because all US coins are minted in the states and belong to the people. The dollar bill or Federal reserve note is printed at the treasury, but only with the approval of the central bank( federal reserve bank is not a federal institution and cannot mint coins under the Constitution) they also charge a 7% tax on all dollars printed, Coins cannot be taxed because they are out of the Feds hands. thats why the word Liberty appears on all coins and never on the paper currency

November 5, 2009 at 2:01 pm
(18) dianna says:

I need to know why the canadian nickel had 11 sides?

November 28, 2009 at 2:37 pm
(19) josh says:

it had eleven sides to be easily distinguished from the other coins, and also cut down on the weight, therefore, cheaper to make.

March 28, 2010 at 12:39 pm
(20) Terri says:

I’m American and my boyfriend is Canadian thus we visit each other’s country often. I actually like the coins but I can see how a man would not care for them. I guess you just have to remember to spend them and not allow them to accumulate in your pocket.

AS for me…I bring back all loonies and toonies and put them in my grandaughters’ piggy banks. Their parents can’t easily spend the money (smile) and as someone above mentioned it adds up quickly. — College money in the making for the University of Alabama! –

April 16, 2010 at 10:40 am
(21) Lee Brewer says:

The main problem, though, with the Loonies and Twonies is what I herd from my Canadian friends when they heard the US was going to make dollar coins. The banks do not like the $1.00 coins in Canada b/c for the bank to get higher denomination notes from their suppliers, it is more costly to ship the metal coins (due to weight) than what it was to ship paper!

One banker in Canada that I talked with asked why the US would be stupid enough to make the same mistake. And, I agree, when the dollar is accepted as pocket change, just like they did in Canada when the Looney was introduced, costs will inflate since it is only pocket change.

Another problem I have heard from Canadians, and witnessed this myself quite a few times, is the heavy pocket-load of change these coins invariably produce. The twonies appraoching the size of the old US silver dollars.

BTW – I like the Canadian coins from a numismatic perspective – I just do not want to see the same thing happen here in the US!

April 20, 2010 at 7:15 pm
(22) SC says:

I hate the loonie! Even though I grew up with the loonie they are heavy. The toonie was even more idiotic and look like play money.I’m always asking to change into fives. Canada is moving towards plastic money which lasts much longer, maybe they’ll actually get the brains to reintroduce the dollar bill (would be cheaper and last just as long) I can guarantee that the loonie would disappear.

September 19, 2010 at 8:30 pm
(23) Em says:

When you said:

“When purchases were made with U.S. Dollars, Canadian change was always given”

…what exactly were you expecting to get back? American change? Seriously? I mean, just because we, being a Canadian myself, are kind enough to allow your currency to be used in Canada, does not mean we should be giving you back change in your currency. And another thing, the fact that you are even using American dollars in Canada is border line rude. Canadians could never even joke about using their currency beyond our borders… even if only on our neighbors land…

Just a thought….

November 10, 2010 at 9:12 pm
(24) gina alexander says:

I used to live in Ottawa canada years ago. And at a young age you get used to loonies and toonies so much you can hand your change over blind folded. Since its part of the Canadian culture
I think people in Canada don’t think twice about whats in their pocket. As for non Canadians you feel like you have weights in
you pocket. I came home from Canada one year forgot I had loonies and toonies in my pocket and couldn’t for the life of me remember what I had in my pocket. Felt more like I was carrying around rocks. now if we could only get rid of the penny and round everything off to the nearest nickel that would be great.

November 14, 2010 at 4:01 pm
(25) K. Sylvia says:

For those who complain that Loonies and Toonies get too heavy in your pockets: there is no need to be carrying more than $5 worth of those coins at once (5 loonies, 3 loonies and a toonie, or 1 loonie and 2 toonies).
If something costs, say, $14, just use the coins along with the paper bills rather than just handing over a $20. Even if you don’t have two $5s or a $10 to add to the $4 of coins to equal $14, just hand over that $20 you have along with $4 of coins and the cashier can give you back the $10 in paper bills.
The weight of the coins has never been a problem for me.

January 1, 2011 at 3:45 pm
(26) Barbie Ann Fournier says:

I love to travel to Montreal but, at the end of the day from shopping my purse was filled with loonies and townies. It was real heavy by than. WOW if I save all the change I received daily I would be rich.

January 11, 2011 at 8:41 pm
(27) andy says:

see like someone said canada is becoming loonacy, in my opinion its true but america on the other hand has always been idiocity from day one. its the only country that permotes drugs guns and violence. seriously if there the best of the best then why do they suck on the left nuts?

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