Found today in some change: a 1980 Canadian penny with a Mason’s “Square and Compasses” stamp on it, pictured to the right. What can it mean? Have I stumbled onto some bit of DaVinci Code arcana? Alas, my penny seems not to be all that rare–a dime a dozen really. According to one reply on Yahoo, “It’s pretty much just for fun and being noticed. Anyone can buy the tools to stamp this. It used to be that you’d stamp a penny of the year you were made a Mason but now people just stamp them for the heck of it- and I don’t know why they make them stand out like that.
The penny itself has some meaning in Freemasonry, it represents an ancient workman’s wages, back when a small coin such as a penny was a significant amount of money.” The author notes that he is a Mason.
Sure, the Royal Mint of Canada isn’t keen on such stampings, as we read from the FAQs on their website:
Is it illegal to melt or deface Canadian coins?
The Currency Act and The Canadian Criminal Code clearly state that no person shall melt down, break up or use otherwise than as currency any coin that is legal tender in Canada.
But truthfully, no real damage has been done to the penny–it’s still circulating as legal tender, although the Queen is now sporting an impressive Masonic face-mask.
There is a rich history of counterstamping in numismatics, with some examples being more harmless than others. This PDF from http://www.earlyusquarters.com depicts quite a few nineteenth-century American coins marked with various merchants’ stamps (all rather collectible now). In other instances, coins are counterstamped to make a specific political statement. While there are various ancient examples of this, perhaps my favorite is the 1903 English penny to the right, discussed on the British Museum’s blog, History of the World in 100 Objects. On this coin we see counter-stamped across the King’s face the Suffragette slogan, VOTES FOR WOMEN. Nothing arcane about that!
Postscript, January 2014. The founders of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream are sponsoring a contemporary counter-stamping movement with a political agenda–see the “Stamp Money Out of Politics Stampede” website: