Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Relics of the Fur Trade #2

This blog series imagines Chester Huff's crew of Dumpdiggers working in secrecy somewhere on the north shore of Lake of the Woods (near Bigsby's original Rat Portage).

If Dumpdiggers unearthed a forgotten fur trading post, what kind of relics could they expect to find?

The second artifact in this series was selected because of its value in today’s marketplace. If Dumpdiggers were lucky enough to find just one of these items, it would indeed confirm their location as a genuine Hudson’s Bay Company fur trading post (and should probably be reported to qualified archeologists as soon as possible, Chester).

The first Europeans to trade with Native Canadians must have realized immediately that their gold and silver coins were worthless to First Nations and Inuit people. The indigenous people wanted blankets, copper kettles, and exotic colored glass beads. Above all else they traded for metal goods such as knives and axes. Prior to European trade they had only sharpened stone and sea-shell blades - these utensils did not last as long and could not be easily sharpened.


Eventually the beaver pelt itself became currency, and the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) established a system that calculated how much one "made" beaver pelt was worth compared to other furs and goods so that HBC traders and aboriginal hunters and trappers would not try to get more than the standard allowed.


Relics of the Fur Trade #2

Extremely collectible, this token is part of the National Currency Collection, Bank of Canada.

Hudson’s Bay Company
‘One Made Beaver’ Trade Token

There are many different types of Hudson's Bay Company trade tokens, but the most coveted are the "East Main" brass tokens issued in 1857 under Chief Factor George Simpson McTavish for the East Main District (South and East of the Hudson’s Bay). This metal 1 Made Beaver token was widely circulated the 1860s and 1870s and would certainly have been used in and around Lake of the Woods.

In addition to providing more incentive to trappers to trade with HBC year after year, the distribution of uniform coinage with the company crest enhanced the Hudson's Bay Company's fiscal reputation. More importantly, the metal coinage provided HBC with a method of structuring trade at their posts; the ½ and 1/8 made beaver tokens streamlined the process by which fur traders could give accurate change to fur trappers.

The token is made of brass and stamped with the letters HB (Hudson’s Bay Company), EM (East Main District) and MB (Made Beaver) and the denomination. In fact, instead of MB the letters NB were stamped in this particular coin series due to a die-cutter’s error. This is another reason why this relic is prized above all others.

Before metal tokens came into use, locally produced tokens of ivory, stone, bone and wood were used at some Hudson's Bay Company posts. There is some dispute about when these brass token were first issued; the experts at the National Currency Collection believe this particular coin was struck in 1857.

I'm told however that Larry Gingras of the Royal Numismatic and Canadian Numismatic Research Societies,who published Medals, Tokens and Paper Money of the Hudson's Bay Company, in 1975, lists another date of origin for the brass HBC 'East Main' 1 Made Beaver token.


What's a relic like this worth today? Let’s have a look at a recent eBay auction of an HBC 1 Made Beaver coin. Don't feel like clicking away to eBay, well the auction closed at $600.00 US.


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