In the early 19th century, coinage in Britsh North America consisted of scarce English coinage combined with coinage from other countries such as Spain, Mexico and the U.S., as well as privately issued coins. It was clearly time for the colonies to have their own coinage issued. To that end, Sir Francis Hicks helped to introduce a series of acts, starting in 1850 that evenutally led to the issuance of Canada's own currency - including a decimal-based penny! The 1858 and 1859 pennies featured a very youthful looking Queen Victoria with a laurel wreath in her hair. The design of these coins was done by Leonard C. Wyon.
Half a million coins were minted in 1858 with ten million more minted in 1859. This vast quantity of coins kept circulation so high that a new minting wasn't required until 1876 - almost 20 years later! These early coins were 1 inch in diameter, and are referred to as large pennies. In 1859, some dies were reused from 1858 and the date was overpunched to read 1859. This resulted in four different looking date stamps for 1859 - and because of the differing numbers, today those coins carry different values:
1859 Penny - 9 punched over 8
1859 Penny - Narrow 9
1859 Penny - Double Punched 9, Version #1
1859 Penny - Double Punched 9, Version #2
You can use the guide above to try and figure out what kind of 1859 penny you might have. As mentioned, the coins resumed being minted in 1876, and then again took a break until 1881. At that point, more or less regularly, the coins were minted every year (with a few exceptions in the 1880's). In 1891 there was once again major differences among the coins minted:
1891 - Large Leaves
1891 - Small Leaves
In 1911, the penny and other coins (nickle, dime, quarter and 50 cent piece) were missing DEI GRATIA ("by the grace of God") and the public took notice and complained. These were referred to as "Godless" coins, and in 1912 the words DEI GRA appeared (an acceptable abbreviation).
In 1920, the coins changed from a large diameter of 1 inch to a small diameter of 3/4 inch (19.05mm) in order to save copper and to have the Canadian penny be the same size as the American penny.
Over the years, many versions of the Canadian penny have a small "H" located somewhere on the reverse side of the coin (the side opposite to the image of the King or Queen) - these are Heaton issues which were produced at the Birmingham Mint instead of the Royal Mint in London (the coins of which had no such marking).
In 1947 some pennies have a small maple leaf after the date, signifying these coins were actually struck in 1948. This happened when there was a pressing demand in early 1948 for coins of all denominations, yet the mint was still waiting on the revised dies for 1948. Thus, it was decided to modify the 1947 die with the small maple leaf, to allow coins to be produced.
1947 Maple Leaf Penny
Starting in 1953 and then for the two years following, there were two different versions of Queen Elizabeth on the coins. The initial issue had a high relief portrait on the queen that did not strike well. The relief was lowered and the design enhanced to improve the strike. The result was that the should strap of the Queen's dress was almost invisible in the first issue, and quite noticable in the second issue. The differences in value of those coins depend on whether the should strap is present or not. (no photos available yet)
In 1965 there were a couple of variables on the coins. The beads that go around the outside of the coin had a large bead version and a small bead version. Additionally, the "5" in 1965 could either have a slightly pointed top to the 5, or a blunt top. Variations mixing both variables exist, so 4 different combinations are present. (no photos available yet)
Again in 1985 there was a blunt 5 and a pointed 5. What is with these guys and years ending in 5??
This history has initially been compiled to assist those using the "What is my penny worth?" page as there are variations of pennies within certain given years. I will expand this history to be more inclusive as time goes on. Thank you!