The French Franc: A Brief History

Posted by on August 25, 2012
GP FR John II  Gold Franc e1345917182294 300x300 The French Franc: A Brief History

1360 French Gold Franc - John II

The first coin of France that was called a ‘Franc’ was the gold ecu, which contains 3.885 grams of gold.  These were minted for the ransom of King John the Good (Jean II le Bon).  After John the Good’s defeat at Poitere on September 19, 1356 King Edward III of England held him to negotiate a peace which, besides the ransom, included various lands of France on the continent.  The term ‘franc’ came from John the Good’s remark on the promised peace after his release on December 5, 1360 and his ransom started being minted.  He used the old French word “franc” which was derived from the Latin for ‘independence’ or ‘autonomy’.  However many will point to the Germanic tribal name ‘Frank’ that the nobles and other peoples of France came from, these people will cite the coin’s legend: “Johannes Dei Gratia Franconum Rex” and franc is short for ‘Franconum’.  Periodically other gold French coins were called francs.

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SC FR 1585 French 1 Franc Henri III 300x168 The French Franc: A Brief History

1585 French 1 Franc - King Henri III

On May 31, 1575 King Henry III had silver coins minted that were called francs.  These first silver French francs (franc d’arrgent) were struck from 1575 through 1586 and later in 1591 through 1594.  King Henry IV authorized the minting of silver half-francs and quarter francs.  In 1641 King Louis XIII replaced the franc with the ecu.  The silver francs continued being used however the ecu were continued to be minted until 1795.  The French Revolution ended the ecu and reestablished the franc to France’s silver currency.

SC FR 1815 French 5 Franc 300x168 The French Franc: A Brief History

1815 French 5 Franc

The French franc had become a standard coin throughout Europe and adopted by many of Europe’s nations.  Even the United States, Canada, and Newfoundland had tried minting twenty cent coins during the nineteenth century to facilitate overseas trade however the silver quarter dollar (twenty-five cents) coins prevailed in North America.

SC FR 1875 French 5 Francs hercules 292x300 The French Franc: A Brief History

1875 French 5 Francs "Hercules" - obverse

The power of the French franc influenced much of Europe’s currency, even with all of its design changes which reflect the political changes of France.  The Germinal system was established after Belgium’s revolution in 1830 Belgium adopted the French franc as its standard for its currency.  The seeds for Belgium’s alliance with France had been set decades earlier because of Belgium’s and France’s Catholic majorities and Great Britain’s perpetual violence due to the mixing of Colonization with the Reformation.  Napoleon’s recklessness set the stage in 1809 when he shamelessly stormed the Vatican and his insistence on continuing France’s expansion.  Secrete plains for bringing back Louis XVIII by Napoleon’s foreign Minister Charles Maurice de Talleyrand.

SC FR 1875 French 5 Francs Hercules reverse 296x300 The French Franc: A Brief History

1875 French 5 Francs "Hercules" - reverse

Switzerland changed its currency in 1848 to match and Italy joined the three in 1848.  The strain of rising silver prices caused its’ end in 1864 when France resisted the other members’ insistence to reduce their coin’s silver content.  It was in Paris were the Latin Monetary Union (LMU) was established on December 23, 1865 when the Germinal partners found an agreement amongst themselves and also added Greece and Bulgaria to their accord.  Other European countries and provinces which didn’t officially join created silver coins to help facilitate trade with the LMU, these include: Austria, Finland, Montenegro, Romania, San Marino, Serbia, Spain, and the Vatican.  The LMU disbanded in 1927 primarily due to the fact that the agreement was bimetallic with a set exchange of gold and silver of 1:15.5 which eventually turned out to be inadequate and over value silver.

SC FR 1906 French 1 Franc 300x150 The French Franc: A Brief History

1906 French 1 Franc

1920 was the last year France minted silver one and two franc coins and the other denominational franc coins continued.  Although silver franc coins of higher denominations persevered until 1980.   The franc was dropped from French currency on January 1, 1999 when they joined the European Union and adopted the Euro as their national currency.

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