The dollar and its predecessors (like the peso) have been a staple of trade and economics for years. Dollar coins go in and out of favor as consumer preferences change; sometimes it’s more convenient to carry bills than coins, and other times, coins are preferred.
When the Canadian government decided to reissue their dollar coin in 1987, it seemed like a simple decision. Coins were in increasing demand, and the old dollar coin had been popular, at least at first (a later nickel version of the coin had proved less popular, leading to its demise.) In fact, they initially intended to use the same design. Known as the “voyageur dollar,” this coin had a design of a voyageur (an unlicensed fur trader) and a native man in a canoe on the reverse.
What happened next is a source of some debate. The Royal Canadian Mint insists that the dies for the coins were simply lost in transit on the way from Ottawa to Winnipeg. The dies were last seen when they were handed over to a courier on November 3, 1986. The use of a courier service was, in itself, a “breach of accepted security procedures.”
Many people believe the dies were actually stolen, some going so far as to insist that the courier was a plant, and that the dies were intercepted by a counterfeiting ring. This explanation is given more plausibility given that the courier was never asked for identification. To add insult to injury, both the obverse and reverse dies were sent in the same shipment, instead of being sent separately. Anyone who had the shipment had access to the entire official design.
While we will probably never know who ended up with the dies, or where they are, the government decided to err on the side of caution. The quickly adopted a new design, rendering the missing dies useless for counterfeiting. This new design still featured Queen Elizabeth II on the obverse, but the reverse had been changed to a scene of a loon on a placid lake.
That’s right: the iconic “loonie” only exists because of a massive mistake and a counterfeiting ring.