Americas studies blog

27 November 2013

The Canadian $4 Bill: Awkward Notes


Image:  Specimen Canadian $4 bill, 1902. (BL reference: F5215)

Our colleague, Jennifer Howes, Curator, Visual Arts, writes:

Have you ever seen a $4 bill? The specimen bank note shown here was from the Canadian $4 bill’s final issue, in 1902. Here are three awkward notes about the $4 bill. 

Awkward note 1 – The picture at the centre shows a ship passing through the Canadian locks of the Sault Ste Marie Canal. Completed in 1895, the canal straddled the Canada-U.S. border, and connected Lake Superior to a major shipping route which lead to the Atlantic Ocean.  The $4 bill’s previous issue, in 1900, mistakenly showed the locks on the American side of the canal. It was swiftly recalled, and replaced with this one, which definitely shows the Canadian locks.  

Awkward note 2 – Canadian money usually features a portrait of Canada’s ruling monarch,  but the $4 bill doesn’t. In 1901 Queen Victoria died, and her son, Edward VII, became King. Instead of picturing him on the $4 bill of 1902, there are portraits of the Earl of Minto, Gilbert Elliot-Murray-Kynynmound (1845-1914), and his wife, Mary. The Earl of Minto was the 8th Governor General of Canada, from 1898 to 1904. In this role, he was the British monarch’s representative in Canada. He went on to become the 17th Viceroy of India from 1905 to 1910. 

Awkward note 3 (the obvious one) – It is simply absurd to have a $4 bill! Perhaps this is why in 1912,  the Canadian $4 bill was removed from circulation to make way for the more sensible $5 bill.

The British Library’s $4 bill will feature, along with a selection of maps, stamps, coins and other bank notes, in a small exhibition in the Maps Reading Room Foyer from December 2013 to March 2014.


 [Team America now makes a note to investigate the Stella]





I've been discussing with a colleague why a $4 bill was circulated. Perhaps it corresponded with a unit used in British currency before decimalisation. In 1900, it might have made sense to have a bill in this denomination if you were a newly arrived British immigrant to Canada. - Jennifer

The four dollar bill was equivalent in value to £1.

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