Robert Wallace McLachlan was born in Montreal on March 9th, 1845. He was educated at Huntingdon Academy, McGill Model School and McGill University. For over twenty years, he was an official in the archives department of the Court House in Montreal from which position he retired in 1924. He was also a notary public for many years.
He began collecting coins when twelve years of age while a pupil at McGill Model School. The headmaster had persuaded all of his pupils to start coin collections. The copper circulating medium of Canada at that time was a heterogeneous collection of tokens, slugs and the coins of many countries. In fact, anything approximating the size and shape of a halfpenny was accepted as change. This proved to be a never failing mine from which a diligent collector could dig up rare and attractive specimens. The other pupils in the school soon lost interest in coin collecting but young McLachlan kept his collection intact and became more and more fascinated by the hobby as the years passed.
About the year 1862 he was permitted to see, what was to him, the wonderful collection of J.L. Brondson who proceeded to instruct his young friend in the best principles of coin collecting. He pointed out the importance of studying each coin, the procuring of a cabinet in which they could be carefully arranged and classified, the rejection of all poor and defaced specimens and the taking up of the Canadian series as a specialty. Acting on and profiting by these suggestions formed a new era for young McLachlan's collecting experience. From that time on he made classification of his coins one of the chief features of his collecting. While still very interested in ancient coins and adding to them when opportunity arose, he started energetically and perseveringly to form as complete a collection of Canadian coins, tokens and medals as possible.
In 1864 he was elected a member of the Numismatic Society of Montreal and over the years served as an officer in every grade save that of President. In 1868 he was elected a member of the Royal Numismatic Society and in 1926 received the award medal from that Society, the only Canadian to receive this award. He was a charter member of the British Numismatic Society and in 1884 he joined the American Numismatic Society. He joined the A.N.A. in 1899 but let his membership lapse and then rejoined in 1908 and in due time filled the offices of 2nd and 1st Vice-President. He twice ran for the office of President of the A.N.A. in both 1915 and 1916 - both times with H.O. Granberg as his rival candidate. He was soundly defeated in the 1916 election after have lost the previous year's ballot by a tiny margin of only 21 votes. He was a member of the Royal Society of Canada and acted as its President in 1915. He was a foreign associate member of La Societe de Numismatique de Belgique which he joined in 1887. He was also a member of La Societe Suisse de Numismatique.
He was a prolific writer on the coins and medals of Canada, his writings appearing in many numismatic periodicals as well as a number published under separate cover. His first published article appeared in the July 1872 edition of the Canadian Antiquarian and he continued to write for the next fifty years. He was without doubt the foremost authority on Canadian numismatics and received many honours as a result of his numismatic research and studies. When the golden era (1860- 1900) of Canadian numismatics was over, McLachlan virtually single-handedly kept the science of numismatics alive in Canada until the next wave of standard bearers took over in the 1920s and 1930s.
In 1922 he sold his entire collection (of about 20,000 pieces) as well as his numismatic library to the Antiquarian and Numismatic Society of Montreal. His collection was an integral part of the Society's holdings and was housed and displayed in the Chateau de Ramezay in Montreal until the collection was sold to the Bank of Canada in 1974. Regrettably, the Bank of Canada did not purchase the museum's library at the same time although it had been offered to them. The library was sold separately to a private collector in 1984 and the material was later sold by U.S. numismatic literature dealer, George Kolbe in the mid 1990s. Thus, Canada's earliest numismatic library (including rare books and original holographic manuscripts) left Canada forever. In fact, some of the museum's publications were later disbound so that pieces which had been bound together could be sold off separately. The library included McLachlan's set of William Elliott Woodward's auction catalogues (the finest set ever assembled - including 108 separate sales).
McLachlan died at his home on Westmount Avenue in Montreal on May 10th, 1926. He was inducted into the A.N.A. Hall of Fame in 1982.
(The information above is primarily from Collectors of Canadian Coins of the Past (1972) by Fred Bowman)
Elizabeth Weir McLachlan
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