Photo : "Rouen, une vue panoramique de la Seine au premier plan" by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot
The French capital of Paris is not the only city to grace the banks of the River Seine
– as it meanders through the verdant northern region of Normandy, it also traverses the ancient city of Rouen.
Founded by the Romans during the reign of Augustus, the settlement originally went by the delightful name of Rotomagus.
Occupied frequently over the centuries by invading powers ranging from the Vikings to the English – who burned Joan of Arc at the stake in Place du Vieux-Marché one beautiful May morning in 1431 – to the Prussians in 1870, it remained the second-largest city in France (after Paris) for a large part of its history.
Its development into an important trade hub can be largely attributed to its strategic location as a stopover point on the riverway between the capital and the North Sea port of Le Havre. As a result, it was only logical that the country’s second chamber of commerce after that of Marseilles be established there in 1601.
ROUEN CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
It was not until 1703, during the reign of the Sun King, Louis XIV of France, that the name ‘Chamber of Commerce’ was finally adopted.
By decree of the Council of June 19, 1703, regarding the establishment of an own Chamber of Commerce in the city of Rouen, the chamber shall comprise a prior, two commercial court judges, a municipal magistrate and five elected merchants or businessmen, giving nine members in total.
It was this institution, steeped in such rich history, which commissioned NumisCorner to appraise its collection of gold, silver, and bronze tokens and medals last July in the scope of its relocation.
Following this appraisal, we acquired the entire collection amounting to almost 2,000 tokens and medals, the oldest of which dating back to the time of Louis XIV.
A true historical treasure trove.
Opposite picture: "Marché à Rouen" by Charles Hoguet (1859)
Usage, history and remarkable tokens
The popularity of these items had really token off by the reign of Louis XIV, and the examples from this era are distinguished by the superior quality of their engraving. It was therefore only natural that the brand-new Chamber of Commerce should receive its own.
Consequently, the decree of June 29 ordained the creation of director’s fees in the form of tokens, which would be paid to the nine members at the end of each assembly.
A few months later, in February of 1704, 1803 silver tokens were delivered to the Chamber by Nicolas Mesnager, appointed to the Commerce Council at that time.
Token struck to mark the founding of Rouen Chamber of Commerce in 1703. Exceptional bust of Louis XIV. Very rare.
The very first device includes the legend “Ludovico magno commercii protectori” (Louis the Great, protector of commerce) around the bust of Louis XIV on the obverse. Below this are the year of issue (1703) and the initials of the engraver, Thomas Bernard.
On the reverse, above the two cartouches bearing the arms of Rouen and Normandy, are the royal symbols of the sun, the fleur-de-lis and some bees. The sun is enclosed on both sides by the phrase “Sole fovente ditescunt” (They grow rich under the sun).
This legend references the intensive policy pursued by Colbert and Louis XIV aimed at developing the merchant navy and the State’s investment in the same.
Picture: "Vue de la ville, du port et de la cathédrale de Rouen prise de l'autre côté de la rivière" (XVIIIth century - Gallica BNF)
Initially, these tokens were distributed to the royal inspectors and traders who attended the assemblies, then subsequently also to the old priors and commercial court judges. The assemblies became more frequent and numerous.
Each recipient was then at liberty to keep the token or exchange it for cold, hard cash to the tune of one livre (pound) and fifteen sous per token.
At this rate, the first 1803 tokens ran out very quickly and, by February 1706, there was a need for new issues, which were regular from that point onward.
Picture: "Portrait of Louis XIV" by Nicolas-René Jollain Le Vieux (XVIIème century)
As the stock of each token grew short, they seized the opportunity to modify the engraving.
In the two examples above (1707 & 1712), minor modifications were made to the bust of Louis XIV on the obverse, notably to his wig and profile. There is a laurel wreath clearly discernible on the obverse of the 1712 token. The engraver’s initials are not visible on the 1707 token; those on the 1712 one likely belong to Henri Breton.
The reverses of the versions are similarly varied.
These two devices include symbols associated with the Roman god Mercury, the god of financial gain and commerce.
The 1707 design features his caduceus (staff), held by two hands and surrounded by the arms of Normandy and Rouen.
The 1712 token depicts Mercury himself seated atop a crate, his head partially turned, observing the port, the Seine and the city of the Rouen in the background.
Time passes, kings die, and the port of Rouen thrives.
Picture: "Rouen, vue prise du Cours de la Reine" by Eugène Boudin - 1895
In 1719, when he was still very young, and the Duke of Orleans was acting as regent, Louis XV appeared on the obverse for the first time as a child. In 1721, the bust is that of the adolescent future king. Then, finally, that of the adult king appeared, as seen in the example above from 1750.
Louis XV Chambre De Commerce De Rouen, Duvivier, 1752
On this token, cast in bronze instead of silver now, the engraver Duvivier allowed Mercury to take flight and cast his gaze over the city with a caduceus in his right hand and...a horn of plenty in his left.
There is symbolism in every aspect.
Picture: "Mercure" fresco by Cristofano Gherardi (XVIth century)
THE REVOLUTION AND THE FIRST EMPIRE
The arrival of the Revolution sent shudders through the established order.
This token from 1797 includes the modified legend on the reverse “Société du Commerce de Rouen 8 Frimaire An V” (Rouen Society of Commerce, Frimaire 8, Year V”.
The Chamber of Commerce was completely restored to its original function under the Consulate by the decree of Nivôse 3, Year XI (December 24, 1802).
And just six years later, in 1808, only two years after the proclamation of the First French Empire by Napoleon Bonaparte, the production of new tokens is relaunched.
Their creation is entrusted to the engraver general Pierre-Joseph Tiolier, appointed by Napoleon himself and renowned designer of the first napoleons.
Token, Chambre de Commerce de Rouen, Tiolier
He changed their shape to an octagon and revived Duvivier’s image of Mercury on the obverse. Tiolier’s signature is included along the bottom. The reverse reads “Chambre de Commerce de Rouen” (Rouen Chamber of Commerce) enclosed by a laurel wreath and a branch with oak leaves.
Picture: "François Gérard, Charles X of France" - Picture of the pinting by Dguendel, Tau palace in Reims
The monarchy wasn’t the only institution to be restored.
The round design and the portrait of the king were also brought back.
In contrast, the laurel and oak branches enclosing the simple legend “Chambre de Commerce de Rouen” (Rouen Chamber of Commerce) were retained on the reverse.
From left to right: "Louis XVIII Chambre De Commerce De Rouen" (very rare) and "Charles X Chambre De Commerce De Rouen" (very rare)
The token featuring a portrait of Louis XVIII was designed by Depaulis and Depuymaurin. The legend reads “Louis XVIII, roi de France et de Navarre” (Louis XVIII, King of France and of Navarre).
The bust of Charles X is signed Gayrard and the legend returns to Latin “Carolus X Rex Franciae” (Charles X, King of France).
In 1818, the tokens could be exchanged for the sum of 5 francs. Furthermore, their usage continued until the end of the 19th century.
Picture: The suspension bridge of Rouen (1835-1884) - Lithography by I. Deroy, 21 x 30,5 cm, from "La France en miniature tome III, page 67" (circa 1865)
FROM THE SECOND REPUBLIC TO THE PRESENT DAY
After the fall of the July Monarchy in 1848, the use of royal portraits was banished definitively.
The decision was therefore taken to create new coins inspired by the octagonal designs of Tiolier.
Vermeil token, Chambre de Commerce de Rouen, 1802, Lecomte (rare)
The task is entrusted to Lecomte, an engraver in Rouen by profession, who brings a touch of modernity to the Rouen landscape far below Mercury.
For example, we can now see the suspension bridge inaugurated in 1846 with the aim of supporting the industrial development of the left bank. Other new additions include a riverboat, a number of bell towers, and a variety of tall, modern buildings.
In the example above, the legend on the reverse is slightly different, notably including the year of the Chamber’s foundation in Roman numerals. The token is now made of silver-gilt instead of silver.
Thereafter, the only change worthy of note came in the 1960s when Coëffin, an engraver and native of Rouen herself, brought a creative breath of fresh air to the design.
Gold token, Chambre de Commerce et d'Industrie de Rouen, engraved by J. H. Coëffin. Years 1960-1970. Very rare.
Initially produced in silver and then subsequently also produced in bronze in large quantities, the token shown here is made of gold. Very rare and of an exceptional quality (fleur de coin), it shows a profile of the god Mercury on the obverse and on the reverse a dolphin entwined around an anchor, the shank of which depicts Rouen cathedral.
Rather than representing the essential constituent of this extraordinary collection, the tokens are just one part of the exciting ensemble. We shall be taking a closer look at the medals in a future article.
Article composed in collaboration with Steve Achache, a NumisCorner expert
Comptoir des Monnaies Rouen
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