An Introduction to French Silver Coins

Posted by on June 18, 2012
350BC Gallien Massalia Oblo Gail Marseille France An Introduction to French Silver Coins

350 BC Obol Gallien Massalia (Gaul - Marseille, France)

The influence of France on the developments of the United States had been a critical and priceless alliance. It is odd that since the agreement signed by Eisenhower to protect French assets as they pulled out of Vietnam that the political and economic tensions between these two seemly inseparable nations has been all but destroyed. Not only did France supply the necessary military assistance to secure the thirteen colonies their independence from England, but also the idea of a decimal monetary system that shaped the United State’s monetary system.

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The French monetary system began long before. Centuries before the Alexander the Great solidified the Greek States and created his Mediterranean Empire for the Ancient Greeks the Galls had consolidated the Celtic Empire uniting all of Europe north of the Alps with extensive trading routes into Asia reaching Siberia, Eastern China and Mongolia. It was not until the middle of the Roman’s Empire that the Celtic Empire reached its critical crumbling point.

BMC 160 An Introduction to French Silver Coins

200 BC circ Drachma Gaul, Allobrogers, Rhone Valley, France

There are four basic categories to consider as far as silver coins in France. The first is the Ancient World, which includes everything up to and through the Roman Empire. From earliest times the Galls had contact with the Ancient Greeks teaching them the domestication of horses and brought the chariot the Egyptians. The ancient Greek “centaur” refers to the earliest of these encounters with Celtic traditions. An “obol” is ancient Greek for “nail” and these early silver coins were 1/6 of a drachma “a handful of grain”. Then “starter” was two drachma.

1721 One French Ecu obverse An Introduction to French Silver Coins

1721 One French Ecu obverse

The second turning point can be set with the establishment of the Paris Mint originally called “Le Monnaie de Paris” which was founded by Charles the Bald in the 800’s AC nearly 1,200 years ago. This second stage of French currency can be though as the Centuries of nobility, from the dark ages of the Fall of the Roman Empire and the rise of European nobility under the Roman Catholic Church. Charlemagne established the livre (a pound of silver) to made up of 20 sous (or sols) and each sou equaling 12 deniers. From 800 AD to 1794 AD there were typically six terms used for coin denominations…

1721 One French Ecu reverse An Introduction to French Silver Coins

1721 One French Ecu reverse

1 denier = 1/3 liard, 1/12 sol (sou), 1/240 livre, or 1/960 écu.
1 liard = 3 denier, 1/4 sol, 1/80 livre, or 1/320 écu.
1 sol (sou) = 12 deneir, 4 liard, 1/20 livre, or 1/80 écu.
1 livre = 240 denei, 80 liard, 20 sous, 1/6 écu, or 1/16 Louis.
1 écu = 960 denier, 240 liard, 80 sous, 6 livre, or 1/4 Loius
1 Louis = 3,840 denier, 960 liard, 320 sous, 24 livre, or 4 écu.

The 1/12 and 1/20 of these older currencies; denier, sol, and livre, echo throughout Europe, as with the British penny, shilling, and pound, these all are rooted in the ancient Roman denominations of denarius, solidus, and libra (Latin for “pound”).

1811 B Rouen 5 French Francs obverse 300x288 An Introduction to French Silver Coins

1811-B (Rouen) 5 French Francs obverse

The third period began with the French Revolution during 1794. Contrary to the Reformation crazy that spread an ugly bloody violence across Northern Europe, the French did not split from the Catholic Church as far as religious views went. The German Nobility had taken the violent expression of Martin Luther literally and the German King formed a pack of slaughter against the unarmed devote massacring over one hundred thousand peasants as they seized the lands and treasures of the Catholic communities the pillaged and burned. The French citizens wised-up, decapitated their nobles on the guillotine, and took the nobles treasures and estates thus maintaining their religious freedom.

1811 B Rouen 5 French Francs 300x288 An Introduction to French Silver Coins

1811-B (Rouen) 5 French Francs reverse

This third phase of the French coinage is the shortest however the significant change is the adoption of the decimal system, however, the French maintained some of the fractional devises including the 1/5 and 1/20. In 1796 the frac was set to 4.5 grams silver, a slight decrease of the 4.505 grams of the livres; 1 frac = 1 livre + 3 deniers. In 1864 gold was dropped from Frances bimetallism and with the exception of the 5 franc coin the silver fineness was dropped from 90% to 83.5% without and change to the coins’ weight.

1 centime= 1/10 decimes, or 1/100 franc,
1 franc= 100 centime, or 10 decimes; (silver) (appr US $0.20)*
1 Napoleon= gold coin = “20 frans” (apr US $4)*

France 1914 Sower 1Franc 300x161 An Introduction to French Silver Coins

1914 One French Franc, "Sower"

The fourth phase began in 1865 when Paris was the site for an event that sought to unify currency and stimulate trade by establishing terms of fiscal accountability and creating coins of equal silver content. This was the Latin Monetary Union (LMU), which disintegrated at the outbreak of the Great War, World War I. Although almost every nation has dropped silver and gold from their nations’ currency, France persisted into the 1970s, several nations including France issue silver and gold bullion.

*This was the approximate exchange rate with the United States’ currency at the time when the LMU formed. The United Stated had experimented with new denominations while the US Congress debated joining the LMU.

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