Portrait of the Artist: Reflections of a Life and Career in Modern Coin and Paper Money Hoards

by Oliver D. Hoover

Corinthia, Greece

Kilchurn, Scotland


Among those who closely study coin hoards, the impetus for deposit is often sought in political and economic crises. The Roman hoards of the third century AD and the English hoards of the Civil War period (Fig. 1) are associated with military reversals at the hands of barbarians and Parliament, respectively. Likewise, the deposits of Confederation coppers in the United States are linked to the Coppers Panic of 1789, which destroyed their value (Fig. 2). There can be no question that real political, military, and economic disasters such as these are often the prime forces behind hoarding. Still, it is worth remembering that hoarding behavior can be motivated by much less serious threats and may be heavily informed by the psychology of the hoarder. Unfortunately, information on the personal motives of individual hoarders is almost invariably lost to students of the hoarding phenomenon, as hoards are most frequently discovered well after the death of the depositor(s) and any friends or relatives who might elucidate the reasons that a particular hoard was hidden away by a particular individual. Thus it seems useful to present the several hoards of modern Canadian and foreign coins and paper money left behind by the accomplished Canadian watercolorist Peter Henry Goetz (1917–2007) as a means of illustrating the very personal dimension of hoarding, since documentary and reliable anecdotal evidence still survives to support the interpretation of these hoards.

Fig. 1. England. Charles I. Silver broad, 1631. (ANS 1977.207.25) 39 mm.

Fig. 2. United States. Connecticut copper, 1787 (ANS 1931.58.489) 28 mm.

On August 28, 2007, Peter Goetz died in hospital in Kitchener, Ontario. He first discovered his talent for painting in his twenties, and after studying under F. H. Varley (an original member of Canada’s illustrious Group of Seven impressionist painters), he was elected to the Canadian Society of Watercolorists. In 1966, he joyfully quit his accounting job at B. F. Goodrich to pursue a full-time artistic career. He was especially well known locally for his genre scenes depicting the daily life of the nearby Mennonite (Old Order) community and the beauty of the Canadian winter. However, he also made a name for himself in international art circles by painting landscapes and architectural subjects that he visited on numerous trips abroad. His works have been shown in the National Gallery of Canada, the Galleria International (New York), the Rotunda Gallery (London), La Scala Gallery (Florence), and the Tokyo National Gallery. His work can be found in the collections of Queen Elizabeth II, the London Regional Art Gallery, and other public and private collections.

Below the dam at New Dundee, Ontario.

Burmese temples.

The Canadian Paper Money Hoards

During the review of the Goetz estate, it was discovered that numerous envelopes filled with Canadian paper money had been secreted throughout the house. The earliest envelope contained six disintegrating Canadian $20 notes of King George VI issued in 1937 and was found taped to the inside of a small desk believed to have been constructed by the artist in a high-school shop class. The money probably came from Goetz’s job as a golf caddy and was taped to the desk as a means of hiding it from his parents, Henry (Heinrich) and Justina. As recent Mennonite (New Order) refugees from the Soviet Union who had arrived in Canada in 1929 and who continued to support others fleeing the Stalinist regime, Henry and Justina required any money earned by their son to go into the family coffers. While this hidden money clearly escaped the notice of his parents, it would seem that in time even Goetz forgot that it had been tucked away.

A second phase of paper hoarding took place in the period from 1956 to 1959, when about $800 in folded Canadian $5, $10, and $20 notes of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II were put away in envelopes, along with dated correspondence. Judging from the dates, it is probable that this money represents part of a larger savings hoard that was assembled by Peter Goetz with a view toward purchasing his own home. In 1960, he is known to have paid cash (about $15,000) for the house where he lived out the rest of his life. Previously he, along with his wife Helena and two children, Jean and Peter Jr., had lived in the Waterloo, Ontario, home of his parents. This paper hoarding is mirrored in the separate accumulation of Canadian silver dollars and 50-cent pieces, which also drops off in 1960 and may have been amassed in part as savings for the house (see below).

A final paper hoard, consisting of $5,000 in Canadian $20 notes of Queen Elizabeth II (1979 and 1991 issues) was found in an envelope locked inside a cedar chest where the artist kept his important papers. Anecdotal evidence provided by his son suggests that the money was hidden there in the early 1990s. However, unlike the earlier paper hoards, which can be partially explained in terms of emergency and savings hoarding, the reasons for this late accumulation of money are somewhat more obscure. It is possible that this phase of hoarding was inspired by the recession that gripped Canada from 1987 to 1995, but if this were the sole reason it is a little surprising that no remnants of a hoard relating to the recession of 1970 were found in the estate. It is tempting to think that the severity and length of the 1990s recession may have rekindled old fears of a return to the economic privation that Peter had known in his youth. Since he would have been in his early seventies at the time that the money was hoarded, these fears may have been heightened by the paranoia associated with dementia, the disease that ended his life in 2007.

The Kremlin, Moscow.

Eltz Castle, Germany.

The economic fears that probably drove Peter Goetz to hoard substantial paper money in the 1990s and are likely to have influenced his earlier tendency to hoard at home rather than in banks are entirely understandable in light of his family’s history. In 1929, at the age of twelve, Peter escaped from Russia with his parents on the S.S. Montcalm, the last ship to take refugees to Canada before the iron curtain fell permanently. The decision of the Goetz family to flee in that year was predicated by Stalin’s collectivization of Soviet agriculture in 1928. As a member of the Siberian kulak class of wealthy independent farmers, Peter’s father, Henry Goetz, owned land and a dairy and was therefore counted among the so-called class enemies of the poor Russian peasants. In the interests of personal safety and the desire to retain some of the family’s wealth, flight was the only option. In order to leave the country, Henry was forced to sell off virtually all of the Goetz possessions and property at artificially low prices dictated by the state. The proceeds of this sale were almost entirely used up on the cost of the passage to Canada and the repeated bribery of officials in Moscow. Already some time before, during the Russian Civil War (1918–1921), the family had been forced to dip into its savings in order to secure the life of Henry. While serving as an ambulance driver for the White Army (his Mennonite pacifist beliefs prevented him from actually fighting), he was captured by the Red Army, whose officers would have shot him along with his associates, if not for a substantial bribe paid by Justina.

Notre Dame, France.

Rome, Italy.

Thus when the family finally did get out of the country it had very little money with which to start a new life in Canada. A silver 20-kopek of Tsar Nicholas II dated 1909 (Fig. 3) and found among the other coins in the safety deposit box may possibly survive from what little money the Goetz family was able to carry out of the Soviet Union. There is little reason to think that the coin was acquired during Peter’s return to the Soviet Union as a tourist in 1963, as the only other coins brought back from this trip were eight aluminum kopeks and multiples (10, 15, and 20) dated 1961 and 1962 (Fig. 4), and these were stored together in a separate bag (see the discussion of the “tourist” hoard below).

Fig. 3. Russia. Tsar Nicholas II. Silver 20-kopek, 1909. (ex Goetz hoard).

Fig. 4. Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Aluminum 20-kopek, 1961. (ex Goetz hoard).

The heavy cost of the escape was somewhat brightened by one notable kindness during the Atlantic passage to Canada. During the trip, Justina give birth to Peter’s brother Siegfried, and as a celebratory gift, the ship’s captain gave Henry a $10 gold coin. Unfortunately, this piece was not recovered from the Goetz estate. Presumably it was a Canadian George V issue of 1912–1914 (Fig. 5), since this was the only period in which Canada struck circulating gold coinage. This coin may have been passed on to Siegfried at the death of his father in 1970, but most likely the family spent it during their early years in Canada. It would have been difficult to arrive in a foreign country to begin a new life virtually penniless at the best of times, but Peter Goetz, along with his parents and new brother, had the extreme misfortune of landing in Canada just as the Great Depression was beginning.

Fig. 5. Canada. George V. Gold $10, 1912. (ANS 1913.104.1).

Essentially, for his entire teenage life, Peter suffered from want in some form as a result of political and economic crises over which he had no control. It is therefore not entirely surprising that he should have taken to hoarding money in later years as a form of defense against ever having to suffer such privations again. The fear of returning to the days of financial hardship implicit in the paper money hoards was probably further exacerbated by the artist’s general distrust of banks, many of which had had their assets seized during the Civil War in Russia or had collapsed during the Dirty Thirties in Canada.

The Savings and “Speculation” Coin Hoards

In addition to the hoards of paper money found in the house, a large group of Canadian and foreign coins was found in a bank safety deposit box belonging to Peter Goetz. The material contained therein gives the impression of having been hoarded as a form of wealth, rather than collected for the purpose of enjoying the coins as objects. There is no real pattern to the accumulation of Canadian coins (for the foreign coins, see below), although the artist’s preference was clearly for the precious metal and commemorative pieces.

Obidos, Portugal.

Fountain at San Miguel, California.

Judging from the different patinas, there seems to have been at least four distinct phases of silver hoarding. All but one of the nine Canadian silver dollars dated 1935 (Fig. 6) to 1949 exhibit a very attractive dark grey toning (except for one 1939 piece), which may indicate that they were originally hoarded together in a wooden container (the desk in which the 1937 paper money was found?) for some time before they were removed to the safety deposit box. The sixty-two 50-cent pieces with unbroken dates of 1939 to 1953 (Fig. 7), however, do not exhibit such toning, but only show signs of verdigris in the recesses of the designs, indicating that originally they had been kept separately from the dollars. On the other hand, none of the pre-1967 dollars (1953 [2], 1954 [1], 1955 [8], 1957 [1], 1959 [2], 1960 [1]) and 50-cent pieces (1957 [1] and 1959 [1]) show a thin dull grey toning through which some of the coins’ original luster is still visible. All of the commemorative silver pieces of 1967 (50-cents, 25-cents, 10-cents) exhibit the same type of spotty iridescent toning, which shows that they too were hoarded separately, probably in an envelope of nonarchival paper.

Fig. 6. Canada. George V. Silver dollar, 1935. (ex Goetz hoard).

Fig. 7. Canada. George VI. Silver 50-cents, 1953. (ex Goetz hoard).

Looking at the dates, it is clear that the major period of hoarding took place over roughly twenty-five years from the mid-1930s to 1960, with the bulk apparently put away during the Second World War (1939–1945). The spike in the war years is not surprising, since this was a period of global uncertainty and a time of economic hardship. As a Mennonite, Goetz had conscientious-objector status during the war and was sent to British Columbia, where he worked for the Canadian Forestry Service until the end of the conflict. His time in the Canadian west during the war may possibly account for the unexpectedly large number (five) of 1955 silver dollars in the hoard (Fig. 8). This issue was struck to celebrate the centennial of British Columbia’s establishment as a crown colony. The closure date of 1960 for this phase of hoarding may be significant because, as we have already seen, this was the year that Peter Goetz bought his home for cash. Perhaps the hoarding that already began in his teens continued as a means of saving for the day that he and his family would be able to move out of his parents’ house.

Rothernberg Gate, Germany.

Fig. 8. Canada. Elizabeth II. Silver dollar, 1955. (ex Goetz hoard).

After 1960, no regular hoarding of Canadian coinage seems to have gone on, with the exception of an accumulation of 1967 issues in all denominations (50-cents [19], 25-cents [12], 10-cents [6], 5-cents [8], and cents [5]) struck to commemorate the centennial of the Canadian Confederation. Most Canadians who are old enough to remember the 1967 celebrations have some of these coins in their keepsake boxes (Fig. 9). A U.S. half-dollar of the same date was also mixed in with these commemoratives, but its significance (if there is any) is unclear. Very few additional Canadian coins were hoarded after 1967, no doubt in part because silver was replaced by nickel for Canadian circulating coins in the following year. The relatively large numbers of centennial commemoratives tends to suggest that they were accumulated as a “speculation” hoard in the hope that they would increase in value and become collector’s items. To this group, Peter later added several other Canadian commemorative pieces, probably with the same (vain) hope of future financial gain. These include two 1982 and three 1984 dollars issued to celebrate the return of the constitution to Canada and the 450th anniversary of Jacques Cartier’s landing at Gaspe, Québec, respectively; two 25-cents of 1973 produced for the centennial of the Northwest Mounted Police; and a 2004 25-cents Remembrance Day commemorative. The 2004 piece is notable as the first regular circulating coin issued with a colorized design (Fig. 10). Also included in this group are two wooden nickels produced in 1957 to celebrate the centennial of Waterloo, Ontario (Fig. 11), and a 1-troy-ounce silver ingot of Johnson Matthey Assayers and Refiners.

Fig. 9. Canada. Elizabeth II. Silver 50 cents, 1967. (ex Goetz hoard).

Fig. 10. Canada. Elizabeth II. Cupro-nickel 25-cents, 2004. (ex Goetz hoard).

Fig. 11. Canada. Wooden nickel, 1957. (ex Goetz hoard).

That these coins and possibly some of the pre-1967 issues (i.e., five British Columbia commemorative dollars of 1955 and two steel 5-cents of 1945) were accumulated on the speculation of increased value in the future is shown by the presence in the safety deposit box of a twenty-eight-page booklet entitled Check Your Coins produced by the Toronto-Dominion Bank (Fig. 12). This booklet describes Canadian coins valued by collectors that could still be found in circulation at the time of publication. Although no publication date is given, Check Your Coins cannot have appeared before 1955, the year in which the amalgamated Toronto and Dominion Banks reopened for business as the Toronto-Dominion Bank. It may not have been issued much later than this year, as there is no reference to Queen Elizabeth II (1953–present) or to the Arnprior silver dollar variety of 1955.

Fig. 12. Check Your Coins booklet (ex Goetz hoard).

Two foreign commemorative coins in the safety deposit box were probably also hoarded in the hope of financial gain: a 1962 Vatican City 100-lira of Pope John XXIII struck to celebrate the Second Vatican Council, which was convened in that year, and a 1965 British crown of Queen Elizabeth II issued to commemorate the death of Sir Winston Churchill (Figs. 13–14).

Fig. 13. Vatican City. Pope John XXIII. Cupro-nickel 100-lira, 1962 (ex Goetz hoard).

Fig. 14. Great Britain. Elizabeth II. Cupro-nickel crown, 1965 (ex Goetz hoard).

The “Tourist” Hoard(s)

While the savings and “speculation” hoards discussed above shed light on the personal life and to some degree even the psychology of Peter Goetz, a third class of hoard found in the safety deposit box elucidates his professional life as a painter of subjects in the United Kingdom and Europe as well as the Middle and Far East. His usual method of working was to take numerous slide photographs of interesting scenery, architecture, and people while traveling abroad. Upon his return, the scenes projected onto a door served as the models for his paintings. However, in addition to many rolls of undeveloped film that came back to Canada with him from his numerous trips, like most world travelers, Goetz also came home with some small change from the countries he visited. Since Canadian banks and exchange offices do not usually convert foreign coin, he retained these relics of his travels in small boxes, zip-lock bags, and sealed paper envelopes (often hotel stationery marked with the name of the country of origin) and ultimately placed them in his safety deposit box, where they were later discovered.

The church at Paline, Guatemala.

West Gate, Canterbury.

This type of accumulation of foreign coins, which many well-traveled readers probably have in some form, we might call a “tourist” hoard, because the contents were taken out of circulation abroad and the material shows no sign of having been amassed with a view toward collecting. In the case of the Goetz coins, there is little sign that particular types or denominations were consciously collected and even less suggestion that the coins brought pleasure to their owner as objects (many were sealed in paper envelopes), as one would expect if they had been purposely collected.

The Kremlin, Rostov.

These accumulations of foreign coins are interesting because they provide a snapshot of the circulating coinage (and in some cases paper money) at the time of various trips, some of which were excursions of only a few days out of much larger tours of several countries. Thus, for example, the Greek coins in the hoard represent precisely the money that was circulating in that country (primarily in Athens) between April 8 and 11, 1963, when Goetz made a quick tour of the major sites (Fig. 15). Likewise, the coins of Nepal are the very pieces that were circulating in Katmandu between April 9 and 14, 1976, when he passed through the country as part of a multicountry oriental tour (Fig. 16).

Fig. 15. Greece. Constantine II. Cupro-nickel 10-drachmai (ex Goetz hoard).

Fig. 16. Nepal. Birenda Bir Bikram. Aliminum 10-paisa, 1971 (ex Goetz hoard).

Kweilin, China.

The foreign coins are also useful for establishing the chronology of various Goetz works. Early in his artistic career, the artist came to the conclusion that dates marked on his paintings were an impediment to sales. Because collectors of his work who attended his annual shows preferred the most current pieces to those of earlier years, he finally ceased to date his paintings entirely. For those without access to the artist’s voided passports and the travel diaries kept by Helena Goetz until her death in 1985, it is now very difficult to securely date many later Goetz paintings. The survival of the “tourist” hoard(s) makes it possible to roughly date the paintings by their subject matter. For example, the latest Chinese coin in the hoard, an aluminum 2-fen of 1982, suggests that Goetz’s visit to the People’s Republic of China took place in or soon after that year (he actually visited in April 1982), and therefore the undated paintings in his well-received Chinese series must have been produced in 1982 or later (Fig. 17). Likewise, the coins of Guatemala in the hoard end with a 1-centavo of 1973, providing a terminus ante quem for the Guatemalan painting series (Fig. 18). The artist actually visited from January 1 to 31, 1974. However, differing rates of mint production can result in dating parameters much less precise than those in the preceding examples. The 5- and 10-pyas (Fig. 19) of Burma (present Myanmar) in the hoard are all dated CS 1328 (AD 1966), indicating that Goetz must have visited the country sometime during or after that year, and therefore undated paintings with Burmese subjects must have been produced in or after 1966. He actually visited the country from March 31 to April 6, 1976, but the Burmese mint did not produce any new emissions of denominations below 50-pyas until the 1980s.

People’s Republic of China. Aluminum 10-fen, 1982 (ex Goetz hoard).

Fig. 18. Guatemala. Cupro-nickel 25-centavos, 1971 (ex Goetz hoard).

Fig. 19. Burma. Aluminum 10-pyas, 1966 (ex Goetz hoard).

Conversely, the large accumulations of British and West German coins cannot help much to isolate the periods in which subjects from these countries were painted. As English and German castles were popular subjects for Goetz, he made numerous trips to photograph them from the mid-1960s to the early 1990s. The travel diaries and some expertise in the development of the artist’s style would be required to isolate the periods in which particular British or German subjects were probably painted (Figs. 20–21). There is also some problem for dating subjects in countries that may have been visited on a somewhat less frequent basis. The Greek coins in the “tourist” hoard end with a 1-drachma of 1962, but the paper money ends with four 100-drachmai notes of 1978 (Fig. 22). The former must have been accumulated on a visit known to have taken place in 1963, while the latter was brought back from a tour in 1978. Thus, from the hoard material alone there is no way to be sure whether undated paintings of ancient Greek monuments relate to travel in 1963 or 1978 or to another visit in 1972 that has left no evidence in the hoard.

Fig. 20. Federal Republic of Germany. Bronze 2-pfennig. (ex Goetz hoard).

Fig. 21. Great Britain. Elizabeth II. Cupro-nickel 2-pence. (ex Goetz hoard).

Fig. 22. Greece. Paper 100-drachmai note, 1978.


This review of the several hoards left behind by Peter Goetz should serve as a reminder to students of hoards in any period that the motivations for hoarding behavior—even in periods of economic crisis—can be intensely personal and virtually impossible to reconstruct without some knowledge of the individual hoarder. The “tourist” hoard is also somewhat notable for its usefulness for dating some of the paintings. While it is relatively common in the field of ancient archaeology for coins to provide chronological criteria for other material evidence, the recourse to numismatic evidence for dating is rarely necessary for objects from the second half of the twentieth century. Finally, the Goetz hoards and what they reveal may give pause to many readers who have their own seemingly innocent piles of change in jars and drawers around the house. What stories might be teased out of them once their owners have gone?