A gold coin found in Newfoundland is the oldest European coin ever found in Canada. The coin was discovered on a beach on the south coast of Newfoundland this summer by local amateur historian Edward Hynes. He reported the find to provincial archaeologists as required by Canadian law and experts identified it as a quarter noble minted in London between 1422 and 1427, during the reign of King Henry VI. It therefore predates the arrival of Europeans on the island by 70+ years. The previous oldest-known European coin discovered in Canada, a half groat found at the Cupid Cove Plantation Provincial Historic Site, dates to 1491.
John Cabot explored the area at the behest of King Henry VII in 1497, and European fishing boats soon followed, lured by the enormous shoals of cod in the northern Atlantic waters. Portuguese explorers claimed Newfoundland and Labrador for the nascent Portuguese Empire in 1501-1502. Seasonal cod fishing camps were used by Basque, English, French and Portuguese fishermen thereafter until the first permanent European colony on Newfoundland would be founded by Britain in 1583, 160 years after Elizabeth’s great-great uncle minted the quarter noble.
The mystery of how the coin came to be where it was discovered is likely to remain for some time.
“It’s difficult to explain at this point why it’s there, who dropped it. It’s not the sort of thing that you’d expect to be hanging out of the pockets of migratory fishers,” says Brake.
According to the former curator of the Bank of Canada’s Currency Museum, Paul Berry — who worked with the team studying the find — it was likely no longer in circulation when it was lost, but that doesn’t help provide answers as to how it got there.
Once conservation and study of the coin is complete, it will go on public display, likely at The Rooms museum in St. John’s. The find site, which is being kept secret to prevent would-be looters from harrying it, has not been archaeologically excavated yet, but may be in the future.