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The Flameng 5,000 franc banknote

Reading time: 5'44"

The Flameng 5,000 franc banknote, type 1918, can be found on a short list of just seven 5,000 franc banknotes issued by the Bank of France between 1846 and 1959.

However, this banknote in particular is remarkable from all points of view: its talented creator, its exceptional aesthetics, which make it probably one of the most beautiful ever issued in France, its low circulation, and, last but not least, its extraordinary story. 

As such, it was only fitting to post a note on it!

The Flameng 5,000 franc banknote

I – The Flameng school

As you may already have guessed, this exquisite banknote is named for its creator: François Léopold Flameng, an engraver, painter, and illustrator – just like his father, from whom he learned his craft. 

François Flameng was born in Paris in 1856 and died there in 1923 at the age of 66.

Initially a student at the École des Beaux-Arts de Paris art school, he later became a professor there in 1905. It was in this auspicious year that he also became a member of the Académie des Beaux-Arts.

Carnival of Venice by François Flameng

"The carnival of Venice" by François Flameng (Undated) (Public domain)

We have him to thank for (among others) a series of portraits of members of the Russian imperial court under Czar Alexander III, the painting of the Paris panel at the famous Le Train Bleu restaurant in the Gare de Lyon railway station, a multitude of historical canvases, illustrations for literature and magazines, and a series of paintings of the front line of World War I during his time as a war artist.

Our story, however, begins a little earlier than that, as it was in 1891 that he produced the first sketches for a 1,000 franc banknote.


II – An extraordinary story

The 1,000 franc note he was working on was intended to be the very first printed in four colors (CMYK) instead of two, as was previously the case due to technical limitations.

Following a few modifications, the first trials were produced in 1892, and the final version was printed in 1896.

However, this 1,000 franc banknote would never enter circulation, and one million notes were destroyed after printing. 

The Flameng 5,000 franc banknote

There were two main reasons for this. 

The first was pragmatic in nature, as the new techniques employed, a guarantee of security, could have been viewed as a privilege for holders of high-denomination banknotes, given that lower denominations did not feature the same techniques.

The second was less rational – the banknote’s splendid art nouveau aesthetics could have eclipsed the “monetary seriousness” attached to the primary function of a banknote: a means of payment.

The banknote was thus put in reserve by the Bank of France.

It was not until August 1914 that it resurfaced, when the need for rapidly available large denominations arose. Not one, not two, but 5,000 francs!

The face value of the banknote quintupled, the colors were changed, a watermark was added, it was printed, and was ready for a second chance.


Well, no...back to the reserve.

It was not until September 20, 1938, no fewer than 42 years after its first version appeared, that the banknote FINALLY entered circulation. The main reason for this was the devaluation, which necessitated the rapid issuing of large denominations. 

Banknote France

5000 Francs, 5 000 F 1918 ''Flameng'', 1918, 1918-01-24

Another type of 5,000 franc banknote was also put into circulation on the same date: the 1934 Victory type.

Banknote France

5000 Francs, 5 000 F 1934-1944 ''Victoire'', 1941, 1941-07-10

Only 600,000 copies of the Flameng 5,000 franc, type 1918, were issued and it was in circulation for just seven short years, which explains its value, its rarity, and the fact that it is highly sought-after by collectors. It was withdrawn from circulation on June 4, 1945.


III – Unparalleled aesthetics

This exceptional banknote is distinguished not only by its story but equally by its artistic aesthetics (which probably did it a disservice at first sight).

It remains the largest banknote ever issued in France, measuring 25.60 centimeters in length by 12.80 centimeters in height.

Flameng' banknote - Obverse

In art nouveau style, both its obverse and reverse feature scenes which are veritable miniature paintings. While the first version was vibrantly colored, the shades of the final version are more matte. The compositions and decorations are lavish, and symbolic representations abound.

On both faces, the main illustration is framed by an ornamental frieze, to the sides of which are two cherubs appearing to hold the value 5,000 suspended by ribbons. Flameng’s signature can be found in the bottom left corner and that of the engraver, Jules Robert, in the bottom right corner. Three cartouches draw attention to the strict penalty imposed for counterfeiting (life in prison). 

In the top left on the obverse is a couple representing the alliance between Work, personified by a blacksmith in front of an apiary, and Science, personified by a woman holding a caduceus.

The Flameng 5,000 franc banknote
The Flameng 5,000 franc banknote

On the right is Cupid standing next to a plow and holding a set of scales over his rear. In his left hand is a large shield emblazoned with the words “Sagesse et Fortune” (Fortune and Wisdom) – a reference to the Bank of France’s motto: “La sagesse fixe la fortune” (Wisdom fixes fortune).

Flameng banknote - Obverse - Detail - Fresco

At the bottom, below the official information, is a hatched fresco with allegorical representations: (from left to right) the sciences, arts, industry, agriculture, and trade. 

This is in brief a summary of the whole spirit of the work completed for this banknote: a visual and allegorical synthesis of France’s economic resources.

The Flameng 5,000 franc banknote - Reverse

On the reverse, the eye is treated to a true masterpiece with the Île de la Cité in Paris, the Pont Neuf, and a barge in the background. In the foreground, on the left, we rediscover the allegory evoked on the obverse. Work (a man) holds Fortune (a blindfolded woman) by the arm on its wheel. A ribbon floating above them reads “Le Travail et la Fortune” (Work and Fortune). Behind them is Cupid. 

In the center, there is a globe and an open book. On the right, taking up the theme of resources again, a man dressed in ancient robes like a philosopher with a compass and a writing case. By his side, a peasant with a scythe is sitting on a sack.

Banknote France

5000 Francs, 5 000 F 1918 ''Flameng'', 1918, 1918-01-17

This banknote impresses with its charm, powerful symbolism, abundance of both characters and decorative elements, exceptional richness, and an extremely well-thought-out and balanced visual structure.

Between a work of art and a banknote and despite, or rather thanks to, the whims of a story worthy of a novel, the Flameng 5,000 franc banknote enthralls with its originality and is sure to delight banknote lovers and art lovers alike.

Translated from the French by: Michael Wright


  • "Portrait of François Flameng", postcard, Félix Potin et Cie (circa 1900) (Public domain)
  • "The carnival of Venice" by François Flameng (Undated) (Public domain)


Selection published on 28/04/2023