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by Lub Wojtiw

The Bank of Canada notes have been issued since 1935 and these have appeared in five series with different signature combinations of the Deputy Governor and Governor of the Bank of Canada. A general listing of these notes can be found in paper money catalogues, for example, The Charlton Standard Catalogue of Canadian Paper Money or the Standard Catalogue of World Paper Money (known as Pick's catalogue). Although, the Bank of Canada notes are listed in a logical order by series, these notes can be collected in numerous ways. The collector is not restricted to collecting these by the arrangement given in the catalogue, but instead can form a collection depending upon the desired challenge and available financial resources. A wide range of possibilities exist for the Bank of Canada issue with the collector "doing her/his own thing", and still being able to claim to posses a collection of Bank of Canada notes. Some of the ways that the Bank of Canada issue can be formed are examined in this article. It is hoped that the information provided will give some guidance to collectors in defining their collecting interests and objectives. In general, collecting Bank of Canada issues can be divided into five main general groups and these are discussed next.


The simplest collection that can be formed is called a type collection. At one time it was considered that acquiring a note from each design was sufficient to form a type collection. This is no longer true, for now the majority of the collectors regard collecting the various signatures combinations within the design type as a mandatory criteria for a type collection. However, with regards to replacement notes. the collecting community is of mixed opinion whether to include these in the type set. The author believes that these should be included and hence has considered these notes in the number calculations presented. Some collector also include the different printing companies in their type collection. A summary of the number of notes in various denominations and series needed in a type collection is given below (there is no distinction between printing companies in this listing).

Denomination              $1  $2  $5  $10  $20  $25   $50  $100  $500  $1000  Summary


1st - 1935                  2   2   2    2   3     2     2     2     2      2       21
2nd - 1937                  4   3   3    3   3     0     3     3     0      1       23
3rd - 1954-Regular          8   6   6    4   4     0     5     5     0      6       44
3rd - 1954-Replacement      7   6   6    4   4     0     0     0     0      0       27
3rd - 1954-Test             0   3   0    0   0     0     0     0     0      0        3
3rd - 1967-Regular          3   0   0    0   0     0     0     0     0      0        3
3rd - 1967-Replacement      2   0   0    0   0     0     0     0     0      0        2
4th - 1972/79-Regular       3   3   4    6   7     0     3     3     0      0       29
4th - 1972/79-Replacement   3   3   4    6   7     0     3     3     0      0       29
4th - 1972/79-Test          2   1   2    0   0     0     0     0     0      0        5
5th - 1986-Regular          0   3   5    2   6     0     2     2     0      2       22
5th - 1986-Replacement      0   3   5    2   5     0     1     2     0      2       20

Summary                   34  33   37   29  39     2    19    20     2     13      228
Cumulative Total          34  67  104  133 172   174   193   213   215    228      228

Table 1 The distribution of the number of notes for each denomination and series of the Bank of Canada issues. Cumulative totals as of December 1997.

A type collection can be formed by considering the various combinations of the numbers in the table. The ultimate type collection (probably impossible to complete) would require 228 notes. Most collectors, unfortunately, are limited in their financial resources, and thus restrict themselves to either collecting by denomination, by series, or by a combination of the two.

In collecting by denomination there are no restrictions on which series of notes are included or excluded. Collecting notes up to the $20 denomination is common among a few collectors, with the majority restricting their collection at either the $2 or $5 denominations. For a $1 denomination note collection 34 pieces are needed, while inclusion of the $2 denomination increases the size of the collection to 67 pieces. the size of a collection can be easily determined by using the cumulative total number of pieces in Table 1.

The small number of notes needed in the $1 denomination collection would suggest that quite a few complete collections exist for this denomination in Canada. On the contrary, very few collection have all 34 pieces, with many collectors missing the exclusive $1 1954 devil face replacement notes.

A type collection can also be formed by only a specific series with a denomination restriction. For example, a collector may decide to collect only the 1935 issue with notes up to the $100 denomination. In this case, the type collection would contain 17 pieces. Many of the new collectors who have started in the 1970s and 1980s have restricted themselves to just the 5th series.

From Table 1, the collector has a vast number of combinations in forming a type collection depending upon the desired challenge and available financial resources.


Many collectors having restricted their interest to a specific denomination in a type collection found that within a short time period they were able to obtain most of the issues. To continue their interest in the Bank of Canada issues, they decided to expand their horizons and attempt to assemble a collection by the various prefixes. Without a denomination constraint, collecting by prefixes requires thousand of dollars at face value, well beyond the financial scope of most paper money collectors. Hence, in prefix collection many collectors restrict their collections not only by denomination (usually restricted to the $1 and $2 denomination notes) but also by series (the forth series being the most collected). A summary of the number of know prefixes for the various denomination and series is given in Table 2 to provide the reader with a better comprehension of the numbers involved in assembling a type collection of this type. Not to mention the challenge!.

A number of complete collections of the $1 and $2 denomination of the regular notes (4th and 5th series) exists. Most advanced collections are missing one or more of the difficult to obtain replacement prefixes. If one attempts to collect the other series of the $1 denomination the number of notes needed becomes well over 500 pieces. No doubt a tremendous challenge to complete!

A few new collectors, interested in Canadian paper money, have made even further restrictions, that is, they have limited their collection scope to just the triple letter prefixes (these exist only in the 4th series) in the $1 denomination. With time these collectors will probably expand their hobby horizons to include the double letter prefixes of the same series.

Collecting banknotes by prefixes has increased in popularity since the 1970's. However, such collecting is not new, for example, Dr. A. Keller, a well known world paper money collector, wrote many articles in the early 1920's on the German banknote prefixes. It is thought the effort of prefix collectors that much of the history of released Bank of Canada notes has been documented.

Denomination                 $1   $2   $5   $10   $20   $25   $50   $100   $500   $1000   Summary


1st - 1935                    3     2     2     2     3     2     2     2     2     2        22
2nd - 1937                   80    30    27    31    10     0     3     3     0     1       185
3rd - 1954-Regular          220   100    76    72    35     0     7     7     0     0       523
3rd - 1954-Replacement       20     9    14     7     5     0     0     0     0     0        55
3rd - 1954-Test               0     3     0     0     0     0     0     0     0     0         3
3rd - 1967-Regular           17     0     0     0     0     0     0     0     0     0        17
3rd - 1967-Replacement        4     0     0     0     0     0     0     0     0     0         4
4th - 1972/79-Regular       391   107    40   154    60     0    19    17     0     0       788
4th - 1972/79-Replacement    32    11    13    19    19     0     4     4     0     0       102
4th - 1972/79-Test            2     1     2     0     0     0     0     0     0     0         5
5th - 1986-Regular            0   186   178    81    80     0    24    18     0     2       569
5th - 1986-Replacement        0     8     8     3     3     0     1     2     0     2        27

Summary                     769   457   360   369   215     2    60    53     2    13      2300
Cumulative Total            769  1226  1586  1955  2170  2172  2232  2285  2287  2300      2300

Table 2. The distribution of the number of prefixes for each denomination and series of the Bank of Canada issues. Cumulative totals as of December 1997.


In the printing of the Bank of Canada notes each plate used has a specific number assigned to it and indicated in the design of the note. The face of the note has a face plate number, while the back has a back plate number. The front plate number may differs from the back plate number since the front is printed independently from the back, however, for certain prefixes identical front and back plate numbers have been observed.

Probably one of the greatest challenges in paper money collecting is an attempt to obtain the various plate number combinations for the different prefixes (a very specialized form of collecting). It is estimated that several thousand different plate number combinations have been produced for the $1 1973 issue. The author undertook a study a number of years ago to determine the number of different plate number combinations in just the O and N series of the 1973 issue, and found over 500 combinations. This is a minimum estimate in that the study was conducted on notes circulating mainly in Alberta.

A popular issue which has been collected by plate number is the 1867-1967 Centennial dollar notes, (no serial number) A total of 12 million notes were printed, with 60 different plate number combinations recorded. The no serial Centennial notes were printed by both the B.A.B.N. and C.B.N., and it is only by plate numbers that the collector can separate the difference between the two companies.

Very few collectors collect by plate numbers. The unpopularity of collecting plate numbers is due to (a) the vast number of notes needed for a collection, (b) the uncertainty in what combinations have been issued, and (c) the difficulty in seeing the minute plate numbers which are usually well hidden in the design of the note.


Collecting special serial numbers is also popular among many paper money collectors. The type of collecting is based on the serial number of the notes and these can be grouped into a number of different categories: (a) palindromes, or radar notes, (b) solid numbered notes, (c) million notes, (d) ascending/descending notes, (e) low serial numbered notes. and (f) matching numbered notes.

Of the six above categories, palindrome collecting is the most popular, with collectors attempting to put together a collection of the $1 (1973) and $2 (1774) multicolored notes for each prefix. A palindrome (or radar as it is usually called) is a serial number which is the same whether it is read from left to right or right to left. The word radar has been used to mean palindrome because of its simplicity and because the word reads the same from left to right as it does from right to left. For a specific prefix for which 10 million consecutive notes are produced, a maximum of 10,000 notes may be radar. Of these 9 notes may be solid numbered ones (usually considered as a special case of a radar note). The number of notes in a radar is about the same as needed for a prefix collection, but with a greater degree of difficulty for assemblance.

A special type of a radar note is the solid numbered note where the number is made up of all the same number. For example, the numbers 1111111, 2222222, 4444444, and 5555555 are called solid numbers. For every 10 million consecutive notes produced, a maximum of 9 notes may have a solid number. These notes are much scarcer than the radar ones and hence usually sell for a greater premium. Because of the scarcity and high price of these notes, few collectors attempt to make a collection of these special numbered notes.

Million numbered notes although interesting, are less popular than the radar notes, A million number note is one in which the serial number has Six Zeros preceded by any number from 1 to 10. For example, the serial number 7000000 is a million number. Collectors of million numbered notes usually attempt to obtain an example of each of the million notes i.e. a 1000000, 2000000, 3000000,....10000000 without regard to the prefix letters.

Before 1968, ten million numbered notes were printed in the Bank of Canada series. These notes have been documented in the Canadian Prefix Newsletter by Mike Fernley and Herb Bishop. The approximate number of 1937, 1954, and 1967 "ten million" notes is shown in Table 3.

Denomination      $1   $2   $5   $10   $20   $50   $100   $1000


1937              78   28   24    28     7     0      0       0
1954             125   53   49    39    21     1      1       0
1967              13    -    -     -     -     -      -       -

Table 3. Approximate number of Ten Million Notes in the 1937, 1954, and 1967 Bank of Canada Issues.

Table 3 shows that few ten million notes were printed, accounting for their scarcity. The number of million notes can be approximated, with the number being somewhat less than nine times the numbers shown in Table 3.

Ascending or descending serial numbered notes are also saved by paper money collectors and these fall into the special serial number category. In a ten million consecutive sequence of notes, a maximum of ten notes may be called as ascending or descending. These ten notes would have the following numbers.

Ascending Descending

By combining ascending and descending numbers two other variations can occur.

Ascending and Descending Descending and Ascending

Examples of an ascending serial number, and a descending serial number

Example of a ascending and descending serial number.

Example of a descending and ascending serial note

Another group of notes which are collected by paper money enthusiasts are notes with low serial numbers. Generally, it is considered that a banknote with a serial number less that 25 may be classified as a low serial number. These notes are usually collected as matching sets i.e. same serial number for different denominations. This category of notes are usually not circulated but are used for presentation to important people.

The last type of special serial number notes that are discussed here are the matching serial numbered notes. In this case the set of notes of different denominations have the same serial number. A popular series that is collected are the 1954 Coyne-Towers issue (serial number less that 500). and the multicolored series of the 1970's with serial numbers between 500 and 999 (obtained through the Canadian Paper Money Society).

Another case of matching serial numbers is the attempt of some collectors to match radar notes with different prefixes, here obtaining more than three notes is totally based on luck and access to large quantities of uncirculated notes


Error notes are notes which are imperfect due to a mistake in the production process of making and distribution banknotes, and which are subsequently released for circulation. Alan McMurtrie in an April 1981 article of the C.P.N. grouped these notes into four general categories: printing errors, signature errors, serial number errors, and cutting errors. A collection can be formed by obtaining representative examples from each of these categories.

In the category of printing errors, the type of errors that have been identified are (a) creased while printing, (b) blocked printing, (c) skewed printing, and (d) reverse image. These errors have been observed most frequently in the 3rd series (1954 and 1967 notes) and the 4th series (multi-colored) notes of 1973 and 1979, but can be found in most of the Bank of Canada series.

An example of a printing error- here the note was creased while being printed.

Signature errors occurred only in the 3rd series (1954 notes). In this series the note's signature and the serial number were added separately by the Bank of Canada after the notes were printed by the banknote printing company. Two basic types of signature error notes have been documented in the Canadian notes; (a) inverted signature error notes, where the signatures are printed upside down, and (b) no signature. For the latter variety (i.e. the no signature) only notes in high grade would be considered for purchase by collectors, since the signature can be removed chemically leaving the notes usually in low grade. It is estimated that less than 150 notes of either type may be in existence.

The third group of error notes are those with an error in the serial number. Five types of serial number notes have been identified by Alan McMurtrie. The first type are the notes with a mismatched serial number, that is the serial number on the left does not match the serial number on the right. Examples of this type of error have been observed in $1, $5 and $20, in the 1954 issue; $1, 1973 issue, $2, 1974 issue, $5, 1972 issue $20, 1991 issue, and the $100, 1988, issue. For some of these issues only a few examples have been reported, while others (i.e. $1, 1954 and $1 1973) it is believed that several hundred specimens may exist.

An example of a mismatched serial numbered note of the Bank of Canada issue

The second type of serial number error is the slipped digit notes, in which case one of the digits in the serial number only partially changed. This is relatively a minor error, unknown to many collectors except for the specialist.

The third type of serial number errors is the blocked serial number, an error where part of its serial number is missing. This is believed to occur if a foreign object (i.e. a piece of paper) gets in the way between a note and the serial number counter when the serial number is being printed. Few examples of this type of error are believed to exist and these are found thus far only in the 3rd series.

The forth type of serial number error is the one where the serial number has been omitted. A few examples of this type have been documented. The collector should be aware that the serial numbers can be removed from the 3rd series (1954 and 1967 notes) chemically

The last type of serial number error is the misplaced serial number. these are notes that have the serial number in a different location than where they should be. Believed to be caused when a sheet of notes are improperly placed in the serial numbering machine. Numerous examples of this type of error have been observed in the 3rd and 4th series of the Bank of Canada notes.

an example of a misplaced serial numbered note of the Bank of Canada

An example of a cutting error with salvage

In conclusion, the Bank of Canada issues provide the collector a unique opportunity to form a collection of his/her choice depending upon the desired challenge and the available financial resources.

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