| > News > The Napoleon and Other Bonapartist Stories
The Napoleon and Other Bonapartist Stories

The Napoleon and Other Bonapartist Stories

Napoléon Ingres

Illustration : "Portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte as First Consul” (close-up) by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres

If any coin is truly emblematic of French currency, it has to be, without a doubt, the franc germinal.

Established by the Consulate with the passing of the Law of Germinal 7, Year XI (March 27, 1803), the franc was worth 5 grams of silver, with 1 kilogram of gold being worth 15.5 kilograms of silver.

The napoleon was a gold coin with a face value of 20 francs. It replaced the louis d’or, introduced during the reign of Louis XIII, and remained in circulation until...1914. In everyday parlance, it was often referred to simply as a “nap” or a “jaunet” meaning “yellowish” in French. With the exception of the Restoration, when it was of course only proper to return to the good ol’ louis.

During the coin’s century or so of existence, hundreds of millions of napoleons were minted. Some of these are now extremely rare, while others are much less so. Here, we shall be looking in more detail at the coins minted between 1803 and the fall from power of Napoleon Bonaparte.

However, let’s start at the very beginning, with the man who lent his name to this illustrious coin.

HISTORICAL CONTEXT

 

1769 - 1792: Born in Ajaccio, Corsica, on August 15, 1769. Youth and first years in the army

 

Pont Arcole

1795 - 1799

Army general

Illustration: “Bonaparte at the Pont d’Arcole” by Antoine-Jean Gros (1796)
Napoléon Consul

1799 - 1804

First Consul

Illustration: “Ritratto di Napoleone I Bonaparte, Primo Console” – Unknown artist (around 1799-1804)
Sacre de Napoléon par David (détail)

1804 - 1814

Emperor

Illustration: “The Coronation of Napoleon” (close-up) by Jacques-Louis David (1806-1807)

 

1814 - 1815 :Exile to Elba

1815 - 1815:The Hundred Days

1815 - 1821: Exile to Saint Helena, where he died on May 5, 1821, at the age of 51.

 

Monetary Policy

As you probably already know, Napoleon was a man of action and this also applied to far-reaching monetary reforms. The Revolution had left the country with a number of wars, which he dealt with very actively, but also with considerable debts.

With the abundant energy for which he is famed, he set about getting to work, notably with three extensive, fundamental reforms.

 

Banque de France

The Banque de France

 

The first measure aimed at reviving the economy following the utter disaster of the assignats (read here), barely paid off by the Directory, was the founding of the Banque de France. The date was Nivôse 28, Year VIII (January 18, 1800), and Napoleon Bonaparte had only recently been appointed First Consul.

As the economic crisis eased little by little under the Directory, the lack of cash started to make its presence felt. Around the same time, the Caisse des Comptes Courants deposit bank was founded by Jean-Frédéric Perregaux.

It was he who would request the First Consul’s authorization to print banknotes with the aim of being able to increase savings and boost the quantity of money in circulation.

 

As a direct consequence, Napoleon founded the Banque de France by decree on Pluviôse 24, Year VIII (February 13, 1800), which subsequently absorbed the Caisse des Comptes Courants. 

 

The very first notes are printed in black ink on watermarked white paper and on one side only.

As the country had got its fingers well and truly burned by the assignats catastrophe, the printing of new banknotes was initially limited and subject to a condition: The bearer of the note could exchange it for a quantity of precious metal of equivalent value.

For example, at the time, one could exchange a 500-franc banknote for a 2.5 kg sack of silver coins.

As a means of securing these claims for reimbursement, the Banque de France was furnished with 30 million francs at its creation – capital put up by Perregaux and other rich bourgeois. Symbolically, the First Consul himself also contributed funds.

From then on, the Banque de France was the country’s central bank, allowing commercial banks to request funds to finance their loans. By facilitating borrowing, the Banque de France also encouraged the development of business and industry.

Even though the first years were anything but easy, this new system helped restore faith in banknotes gradually and their widespread use increased

 

Cour des Comptes


The Cour des Comptes

 

It was later, in 1807, that Napoleon, who by then had been crowned emperor, founded the Cour des Comptes. Based on the model of the Chambre des Comptes (Courts of Accounts) run under the Ancien Régime, it controlled public finances in a centralized manner.

Initially restricted to the executive, it subsequently extended its sphere of action to include potential irregularities and ensured the proper execution of financial legislation.

While the annual reports were for the emperor’s eyes only during Napoleon’s reign, its publications were made available to the public and provided to Parliament as of 1832.

Photo : "La Cour des Comptes" by Bruno Braquehais (1870)

 

The franc Germinal

 

Napoleon Bonaparte, Premier Consul

The decimal franc was established as the national currency in 1795. 1 franc was divided into 10 décimes or 100 centimes (1 décime = 10 centimes).

Despite this apparent simplicity, the pecuniary situation in France between 1795 and 1802 was extremely complicated, not to mention chaotic: There were louis d’or, écus (crowns), francs made of all sort of metals...

Napoleon thus initiated a far-reaching monetary reform and a complete recasting (in the most literal sense of the word) of the system.

As a result, the founding law known commonly in French as the “Germinal”, Germinal 7-17, Year XI (March 9 to April 7, 1803), gave birth to the franc....germinal.

Opposite : “Napoleon Bonaparte, First Consul” by Anne-Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson

 

The law was composed of 22 articles decreeing the basic principles and a general provision:

“Five grams of silver, nine-tenths fine, constitute the monetary unit, which retains the name of franc.”

Silver therefore became the primary standard a priori and the face value of the coins corresponded to their metallic composition. The legislator no longer defined the value of the money.

NB : There is some debate among historians here: Some historians consider the monetary system at the time to be based on the principal of bimetallism (two metal standards) while others maintain that silver was the sole standard.

 

Almost 900 million 5-, 2- and 1-franc coins were minted in silver. In addition, with the ultimate aim of eradicating the louis d’or from circulation once and for all, a rival was introduced in the form of 2 gold coins worth 20 and 40 francs respectively. These were the famous napoleons.

 

1 Franc, 1803

2 Francs, 1803

5 Francs, 1803

 

All that remained was to establish the protocol for the demonetization of the old monies still in circulation:

“The Law of Germinal 14, Year XI, decrees that, with effect from the day of its publication, clipped or altered gold 24- and 48-livre tournois coins shall no longer be accepted as payment except for by weight.

II – The same shall apply for clipped 6-livres tournois coins

III – The coins named in the preceding articles shall be brought to mints for recasting. There they shall be exchanged for new coins without any production charges being applied.

Translated extract from the “Dictionnaire universel de commerce, banque, manufactures, douanes, pêche, navigation marchande, des lois et administration du commerce” (Universal Dictionary of Business, Banking, Manufacturing, Customs, Fishing, Shipping, Legislation and Business Administration) published in 1805.

In addition, on Germinal 24, a law was published concerning the Banque de France and awarding it the exclusive right to print banknotes. The minimum face value: 500 francs.

Bolstered by the Banque de France’s work to restore faith in paper money, the franc germinal will be, quite ‘franc-ly’, a resounding success and continue to thrive until 1914.

 

The economy recovered bit by bit, inflation was stemmed, the strong currency and faith were restored. One year after the decree, the state budget balanced for the first time since 1738.

 

Even if the effects were not initially immediate, viewed in terms of its history and its longevity, Napoleon’s monetary reform remains a shining example and a success that only the First World War would topple after more than a century.

 

The Napoleon

Napoléon Empereur

At the time of its introduction, the napoleon was still referred to as the louis d’or by force of habit. It would adopt the name louis again during the Restoration before reverting to “napoleon” or “nap” for short, most likely during the Second Empire. By extension, all 20-franc coins would retain that name until 1914. Over the course of one century, more than 500 million in total were minted.

The last gold coins to be minted before it were the standard 24-livre louis in 1792 and 1793 depicting Louis XVI. Some were also minted in 1793 without the king’s portrait.

Following the decree introducing the franc germinal, two gold coins are designed to replace the louis: a 20-franc coin (the napoleon) and a 40-franc coin (the double napoleon).

Opposite: “Napoleon on the Imperial Throne” by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1806)

 

The coins were nine tenths gold and one tenth copper.

According to the law, 157 20-franc coins should weigh one kilogram. Similarly, 77.5 40-franc coins should weigh one kilogram.

Each coin weighed 6.4516 grams and measured 21 millimeters in diameter.

The decision to introduce the alloy was a practical choice: It made it possible to reduce wear by abrasion and thus helped avoid a potential drop in the coin’s weight.

 

First empire series

It goes without saying that the first examples to be minted featured a portrait of the First Consul Napoleon Bonaparte in profile.

 

All symbols of the Revolution such as the Phrygian cap were thus abandoned.

The portrait is signed by Pierre-Joseph Tiolier, recently named Engraver-General of France by Napoleon.

The following year, the decision falls – dictated by current events – to the portrait of the consul....turned emperor. As of 1806, it will be Jean-Pierre Droz, the winner of a competition.

 

The rarest coins are those minted in years XI, XIII and XIV.
 

Note also the deft political step from “Consul” to “Empereur” (Emperor) on the averse and then, in a second step, from “République Française” (French Republic) to “Empire Français” (French Empire) on the reverse.

The “Tête laurée” (Laureate Head) design, depicting the emperor wearing a laurel wreath is a clear expression of power in all its grandeur from 1809.

However, the emperor’s coat of arms does not feature on the reverse.

There are 7 types of Napoléon minted  during Napoleon’s reign.

Here is an exhaustive list so that you can recognize them easily.

 

 

Type Bonaparte Premier Consul

 

Minted: Year XI (1803) and Year XII (1804)

Mintage: 1 046 506


The averse reads “Bonaparte Premier Consul” (Bonaparte First Consul), the reverse “République Française, 20 Francs, An XI” (French Republic, 20 francs, Year XI) and features the mint mark A for Paris. The edge is engraved with “Dieu protège la France” (God protect France).

The engraver was Pierre-Joseph Tiolier, whose signature can be seen on the averse.

 

View in more detail

 

 

 

Type Napoléon, I without wreath

 

Minted: Year XII (1804)

Mintage: 428 143


The averse reads “Napoléon Empereur” (Napoleon Emperor), the reverse “République Française, 20 Francs, An 12” (French Republic, 20 francs, Year 12) and features the mint mark A for Paris. The edge is engraved with “Dieu protège la France” (God protect France).

The engraver was Pierre-Joseph Tiolier, whose signature can be seen on the averse.

 

View in more detail

 

 

 

Type Napoléon I, bare head

 

Minted: Year XIII (1805) and Year XIV (1806)

Mintage: Around 676,000 (sources disagree)

The averse reads “Napoléon Empereur” (Napoleon Emperor), the reverse “République Française, 20 Francs, An 14” (French Republic, 20 francs, Year 14) and features a mint mark, on this example A for Paris. The edge is engraved with “Dieu protège la France” (God protect France).

The engraver was Jean-Pierre Droz, whose signature can be seen on the averse.

 

View in more detail

 

 

 

Type Napoléon I, bare head, 1806 & 1807

 

Minted: 1806

Mintage: 996 367


Here, for example, we see a double napoleon worth 40 francs. 59,000 of these coins were minted.

The averse reads “Napoléon Empereur” (Napoleon Emperor), the reverse “République Française, 40 Francs, 1806” (French Republic, 40 francs, 1806) and features a mint mark, on this example U for Turin. The edge is engraved with “Dieu protège la France” (God protect France).

The engraver was Jean-Pierre Droz, whose signature can be seen on the averse.

 

View in more detail

 

 

 

Transitional type “grosse tête” (large head)

 

Minted: 1807

Mintage: 594 332


The averse reads “Napoléon Empereur” (Napoleon Emperor), the reverse “République Française, 20 Francs, 1807” (French Republic, 20 francs, 1807) and features a mint mark, on this example A for Paris. The edge is engraved with “Dieu protège la France” (God protect France).

The engraver was Jean-Pierre Droz, whose signature can be seen on the averse.

 

View in more detail

 

 

 

Type Napoleon I, laureate head

 

Minted: 1807 and 1808

Mintage: 1 720 451


The averse reads “Napoléon Empereur” (Napoleon Emperor), the reverse “République Française, 20 Francs, 1808” (French Republic, 20 francs, 1808) and features a mint mark, on this example M for Toulouse. The edge is engraved with “Dieu protège la France” (God protect France).

The engraver was Jean-Pierre Droz, whose signature can be seen on the averse.

 

View in more detail

 

 

 

Type Napoleon I, laureate head “Empire Français” (French Empire)

 

Minted: 1809 to 1815

Mintage: 13 833 717


The averse reads “Napoléon Empereur” (Napoleon Emperor), the reverse has changed from “République Française” (French Republic) to “Empire Français” (French Empire).

It also ready “20 Francs, 1809” and features a mint mark, on this example M for Toulouse. The edge is engraved with “Dieu protège la France” (God protect France).

The engraver was still Jean-Pierre Droz, whose signature can be seen on the averse.

 

View in more detail

 

 

These initial designs were followed by numerous others right up until 1914.

 

To start, here we have a coin with the portrait of Louis XVIII from the Restoration. The inscription on the edge revives the Latin “DOMINE SALVUM FAC REGEM” (LORD, SAVE THE KING).

The royal coat of arms has also reclaimed its place on the reverse. And Pierre-Joseph Tiolier is back at work.

The motto “Liberté, égalité, fraternité” (liberty, equality, fraternity) will not make an appearance in its own right until 1908.

But that is another story which survived the exile to Saint Helena...

 


SOURCES

http://classes.bnf.fr/franc/nav/droite/dte_ger.htm
https://www.banque-france.fr/la-banque-de-france/patrimoine/les-anciens-billets-en-francs/breve-histoire-des-billets-de-la-banque-de-france
http://www.vie-publique.fr/decouverte-institutions/finances-publiques/approfondissements/cour-comptes-origine-competences-au-xixe-siecle.html
http://www.sacra-moneta.com/or/Louis-d-or-et-Napoleon.html
https://petrorama.fr/20-francs-or-napoleon-une-piece-en-or/
http://www.lamonnaiebelge.be/blog/innovation-monetaire-napoleon-bonaparte.html
https://www.herodote.net/18_janvier_1800-evenement-18000118.php
https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Napol%C3%A9on_(pi%C3%A8ce_de_monnaie)
https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Napol%C3%A9on_Ier
https://francearchives.fr/commemo/recueil-2003/38864

In short

  • 1799: Napoleon Bonaparte becomes First Consul
  • 1800: Founding of the Banque de France (Bank of France)
  • 1803: Birth of the franc germinal
  • 1804: Napoleon is crowned Emperor of the French
  • 1807: Founding of the Cour des Comptes (Court of Audit)
The Birth of the Franc Germinal

What Should I Read Next?

Written by Alice Girard - 09.04.18 - 19h20.
Keywords : Coinage Coins France History Napoleon
Comments
0
Comment
*Required field.
Print <

Share <
_ NC'S
Journal _ We decipher for you numismatic news,
tracing the greatest moments of
monetary history and feeding you
with our very best advice
to start or complete your collection.

Browsing this website implies you accept Cookies utilisation [More] [Close]

Would you like to display NumisCorner.com in a different language?