By Kerry Rodgers
Robert-Ralph Carmichael, designer of Canada’s celebrated Loonie dollar, died July 16 in Sault Sainte Marie, Ontario.
Carmichael was a major Canadian artist. His works are manifold, with permanent collections held in many art institutes around Canada. His primary theme was the human condition as demonstrated by how humans relate to their environment and to one another. Yet whatever the power of his art, he will long be remembered for a simple scene of nature: a solitary Common Loon swimming on a lake.
In 1986 the Canadian Government announced its intention to replace its dollar note with a coin. It was intended the new coin’s reverse would use the popular voyageur design of its nickel predecessor. However, that design’s master dies vanished while in transit between Ottawa and Winnipeg.
The Royal Canadian Mint believed them stolen and, concerned over the possibility of counterfeiting, approved a new design for the reverse – Carmichael’s work showing a solitary Loon.
Carmichael’s design had not been submitted for the dollar but for a competition in 1978 concerned with Canadian unity. At the time his work was placed second, but it clearly made a lasting impression on the judges. It was the one the mint reached for when a replacement for voyageur was required in a hurry.
Some 40 million of the new dollar coins were released on June 30, 1987. English-speaking Canadians promptly nicknamed then “Loonies.” In Quebec they were christened “Huard” (Loon). And, as they say, the rest is history.
That Carmichael’s design has stood the test of time is no doubt helped by its most striking feature: its simplicity. But undoubtedly its nickname has ensured an ongoing popularity.
It was not the only coin Carmichael would produce for the RCM. Other works include the 1988 blacksmiths’ silver dollar (KM-161), the 1990 Lancaster Bomber $20 (KM-172), the 1998 discovery of insulin gold $100 (KM-307) and the common reverse of the 2004 25 cents (KM-628) and silver dollar (KM-512) marking the 400th anniversary of first French settlement in North America.
Carmichael lived his life in the northern town of Echo Bay, Ontario. In 1992 the citizens saluted their favorite son with a twelve-foot-high, on- ton, rock-faced replica of the Loonie.
That sculpture stands today, an enduring memorial to Carmichael and his art – as are the one billion Loonies struck since 1987.
This article was originally printed in World Coin News.
>> Subscribe today or get your >> Digital Subscription
More Collecting Resources
• Keep up to date on prices for Canada, United States and Mexico coinage with the 2016 North American Coins & Prices guide.
• Check out the newly-updated Standard Catalog of World Coins, 2001-Date that provides accurate identification, listing and pricing information for the latest coin releases.