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McIntosh Given Numismatic Nod
1996 canadian mcintosh apple coinBy Mark Fox, World Coin News
June 30, 2010
1996 canadian mcintosh apple coin

This article was originally printed in World Coin News.
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The year 1996 was a noteworthy one in Canadian numismatics, at least for one commemorative silver dollar from the Royal Canadian Mint. This coin wasn’t minted out of a futuristic metal like niobium or a substance like crystal, nor did it glow in the dark or was it designed to replace a missing coat button. But it was a novel issue, nonetheless. This coin commemorated, above all things – an apple. The McIntosh apple to be exact.

Unlike Red Delicious, which has suffered the indignation of losing a mass of its devotees to the Honeycrisp invasion of recent years, McIntosh apples still quietly make their annual rounds in farm markets and supermarkets as of old. In fact, McIntosh predates Honeycrisp by almost 200 years and Red Delicious by over a half century. While Mac’s fan base might be seen as rather modest in comparison to either rival, it is nevertheless firm. Advertisers tote the good looks of Red Delicious and the delicious crisp taste of Honeycrisp, but arguably, McIntosh is both good looking and tasting, on top of its culinary abilities. (This is not to say Honeycrisp is without any cooking or baking potential, but with the variety going for a little over three ounces of pure silver a bushel nowadays, who really wants to bake a pie out of them?) McIntosh is probably the only apple in the world that has added a silver dollar, in addition to a computer, to its name.

The Coin

The Coins of Canada 1901-2000
The Coins of Canada 1901-2000

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It may surprise some Americans to know that McIntosh actually originated in Canada. This variety is hailed in the 2007 Charlton Standard Catalogue of Canadian Coins as “Canada’s most important commercial apple.” For the Royal Canadian Mint, this was sufficient reason to immortalize this variety of apple in coin form, symbolizing once again the pioneering spirit that separates Canadian commemorative coins from their often blander, American cousins.

In 1995, the mint commissioned a native of Toronto to design a commemorative silver dollar honoring the McIntosh apple. The artist was Roger Hill, a talented freelance illustrator and designer. His work spans 16 Canadian postage stamps and an endless array of commercial artwork for such noteworthy clients as Coca-Cola, Kodak, and Kraft Foods. The result of Roger’s numismatic assignment was a reverse design displaying a ripe cluster of three McIntosh apples (with an apple blossom for artistic purposes – the two seldom coexist on a real tree) dangling from a branch and overlooking an apple orchard. Covering a part of the apple cluster is a ribbon proclaiming the apple variety’s name. An inscription along the lower edge of the coin reads, “1796 CANADA DOLLAR 1996.” More about this inscription later. The actual engraving was done by mint engraver Sheldon Beveridge. On the obverse we find Dora de Pédery-Hunt’s familiar portrait of Queen Elizabeth II.

The McIntosh dollar is quite normal, as modern Canadian silver dollars go. It measures 36.07 mms and weighs 25.18 grams, a little smaller and lighter than a U.S. silver dollar. Unlike the 80 percent silver dollars that Canadians once found in their change, the McIntosh dollar was struck in rich sterling silver (92.5 percent).

A total of 133,779 proof McIntosh dollars were sold, while demand for the uncirculated version was satisfied by a measly 58,834 pieces. According to the 2007 Charlton Standard Catalog of Canadian Coins, the proofs register around $40 in Proof-67 and $10 more in Proof-68. That works out to about $10-20 above their issue price of $29.95. (I am quoting Canadian dollars here, which at the time were about par with the US buck.) A more recent assessment is $24 for a proof in average mint condition according to the 2009 Standard Catalog of World Coins 1901–2000, a reflection of little or no change. On eBay, however, proof Macs were commonly trading in April 2010 at $16 a piece – less than $3 above their melt value.

The proofs were issued in a black leatherette case housed in turn by a silver cardboard sleeve. Inside, sunken into a fancy maroon insert, is the encapsulated coin, underneath a Certificate of Authenticity card. In late 2007, I was able to snag a beautiful proof, case and all, for the issue price on eBay. The high cost of silver even then (around $15 an ounce) seemed to hardly influence the price of these coins. Uncirculated specimens were quoted by the same Charlton guide at $20 for a MS-65 and $30 for a grade higher, again having strangely appreciated little from their issue price of $19.95. They reportedly came housed in humbler apparel, each in a plastic capsule with a silver sleeve.

The Apple

Like many famous coin rarities, the story of the McIntosh apple is steeped in legend and mystery. Our lead character is John McIntosh. He was born in the Mohawk Valley of New York State, on Aug. 15, 1777, to Alexander and Juliet McIntosh. His parents immigrated to the region from Inverness, Scotland, about four years earlier and were loyalists during the Revolutionary War. When he was about 19, John moved to Ontario (then known as Upper Canada), apparently after a disagreement with his parents. There he married Hannah Doran in 1801. Together they farmed along the St. Lawrence River for about 10 years.

Around 1811, John exchanged farms with his brother-in-law, Edward Doran. The new farm was several miles away from the river, in present-day Dundela, in Dundas County. A small area of the land was cleared sometime before 1811, but was once again overgrown with brush. While clearing the area for the second time, several wild apple trees were found – although it is possible they may have been the result of a few apple seeds someone had planted and later abandoned. People today would likely have cut the trees down right along with all the other brush, but in those days apple trees were precious commodities. Apparently the trees John found were fairly young because he moved them next to his house. One of them, transplanted just 15 feet away, soon began bearing apples that were exceptionally tasty, not just to the McIntosh family, but to their neighbors as well.

Whether John had intended to be an apple grower or not, he was already growing seedlings from this tree for sale in about 1820. Unfortunately, none of their fruit would closely resemble the original. He had yet to learn that most kinds of apples grown from seed will grow up to be completely new varieties. This is because two different apple trees are almost always needed to successfully pollinate and bear a crop. The solution to this dilemma was grafting, but no one in the McIntosh family knew how until some nameless wanderer taught the family the ancient art in 1835.

With grafting, someone could take a little twig from one apple tree and literally attach it to another, called the rootstock. In this way virtually identical clones of many kinds of apple and other fruit trees could be raised. This is how most fruit trees are grown today, although grafting had been practiced with great success since ancient times.

The McIntosh apple nursery soon became well-established, centered on promoting the tree that produced the beautiful red, semisweet and juicy fruit some years before. Yes, this was the very same McIntosh variety we enjoy today, but it was largely thanks to the enthusiasm of John’s sons, Allen (1815-1899) and Sandy, aka “Sandy the Grafter” (1825-1906), that this apple has become as widely grown as it is. Shortly after learning how to graft, they took over their father’s nursery business. Some accounts even claim that Allen was responsible for the original discovery of the McIntosh, but this would be very unlikely if he was indeed born in 1815 as the reports say. John lived on the same farm until his death in mid-1845 or early 1846.

At first the apple was called Granny’s Apple, a probable elusion to Hannah’s important role in the nursery. Another catchy name was Gem, but the name that eventually won out was McIntosh Red, shortened nowadays to just McIntosh and commonly described by its nickname, Mac. Much can be said of its hardiness. By 1830, for instance, it was the only apple tree left alive from the original trees John transplanted.

Among McIntosh’s not-so-good points, though, is its high susceptibility to apple scab, a minor fungus disease that leaves unattractive blemishes on the skin. Apple historians believe it was for this reason that it was not exceptionally popular with most farmers during the 1800s. Its first known appearance in a printed reference was in Fruits and Fruit Trees of America by A. J. Downing in 1876. That same year, though, Ontario fruit growers failed to display the apple at the International Exhibition in Philadelphia. But by 1900, with the advent of the first scab sprays, McIntosh was suddenly in demand and has been ever since. Apples: Botany, Production, and Uses (2003) by David Ferree and Ian Warrington describe it as, “the leading cultivar in the north-eastern USA and eastern Canada, and is important in eastern Europe.”

One of the early and probably most energetic promoters of the Mac was the famous Canadian horticulturist, William Tyrrell Macoun. He saw early on that this apple needed, “no words of praise, it is one of the finest appearing and best dessert apples grown.” In fact, Macoun would later have a popular apple named after himself, one crossed between a McIntosh and Jersey Black in 1923 by the Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, N.Y.

This Mac hybrid is not alone. The Michigan State University Press reference, North American Apples: Varieties, Rootstocks, Outlook (1970), listed no less than 30 different McIntosh-type apples at the time of publication. Many have become famous today in their own right, some that you may even know like Spartan (McIntosh x unknown, 1936), Cortland (Ben Davis x McIntosh, 1915) and one of the author’s favorite fresh eating apples, Empire (McIntosh x Red Delicious, 1966). Sadly, a fire burned down the McIntosh house in 1894 and badly injured one side of the original Mac. Allen tried to nurse it back to health, but its life slowly waned. It produced its last crop of apples in 1908. Two years later, the nearly 100-year-old tree fell over. In 1912, a plaque “erected by popular subscription” was placed about 110 yards south of the stump.

Years later when McIntosh apples accounted for 40 percent of the Canadian apple market, the Ontario Archaeological and Historic Sites Board apparently decided that one monument was not enough. So they erected another, more descriptive one in 1962. Reportedly as recent as 2001, the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada raised another plaque in a nearby park, which is also home to a painted mural describing the apple’s history. Appreciation for the plant seems never-ending.

The Date Debate

“The 1996 Silver Dollar celebrates the discovery of the McIntosh apple,” or so said the COA card that accompanied my proof coin. In support of this, one needs only to remember the bicentennial date, 1796-1996, on the coin. Numerous online sources, at least three printed references on apples, and even the first McIntosh plaque also claim 1796 as the year of discovery. Surely there should be no question then. But there is. As we know, John McIntosh didn’t obtain the land that grew the first Mac, hidden among the brush, until about 1811. 1796, as the COA card later goes on to say, was the year that John McIntosh moved to Canada, which is confirmed elsewhere. One soon realizes that the commemoration of John’s immigration to Canada is the event the coin is actually celebrating. It is quite possible that the Royal Canadian Mint was a bit confused, too. I believe the plaque of 1912, erected with a fuzzy recollection of McIntosh family history, has been the major reason for the confusion nowadays.

In the end, whatever one might believe the McIntosh dollar really commemorates, two things are clear: the coin not only recognizes the apple variety that made the McIntosh family famous, it also honors the family that saved and propagated a pomological wonder. One can truly say this coin is the apple of a coin collector’s eye!

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