World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

French Francs

Article Id: WHEBN0010794641
Reproduction Date:

Title: French Francs  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Salem Prize, Bulgaria during World War I, Issa Hayatou, LIP (company), The Founding Myths of Modern Israel, Luthier (horse)
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

French Francs

French franc
franc français (French)
Error creating thumbnail: File seems to be missing:
Error creating thumbnail: File seems to be missing:
50 and 100 francs200 and 500 francs
ISO 4217 code FRF
Central bank Banque de France
User(s) France, Monaco, Andorra, previously Saar, Saarland (until 1959)
 Since 13 March 1979
 Fixed rate since 31 December 1998
 Replaced by €, non cash 1 January 1999
 Replaced by €, cash 1 January 2002
= 6.55957 F
Pegged by KMF, XAF & XOF, XPF, ADF, MCF
 1/100 centime
Symbol F (Also commonly FF or Fr)

balles[1] (≥1F) sacs (10F)

bâton, brique, patate, plaque (10,000F)
Coins 5, 10, 20 centimes, ½F, 1F, 2F, 5F, 10F, 20F
Banknotes 20F, 50F, 100F, 200F, 500F
Mint Monnaie de Paris
This infobox shows the latest status before this currency was rendered obsolete.

The franc (sign: F, commonly also FF or Fr[2]) was a currency of France. Along with the Spanish peseta, it was also a de facto currency used in Andorra (which had no national currency with legal tender). It circulated alongside the Monegasque franc, with which it had equal value. Between 1360 and 1641, it was the name of coins worth 1 livre tournois and it remained in common parlance as a term for this amount of money. It was re-introduced (in decimal form) in 1795 and remained the national currency until the introduction of the euro in 1999 (for accounting purposes) and 2002 (coins and banknotes). It was a commonly held international reserve currency in the 19th and 20th centuries.


Before the French Revolution

The first franc was a gold coin introduced in 1360 to pay the Ransom of King John II of France. This coin secured the king's freedom and showed him on a richly decorated horse earning it the name franc à cheval (meaning "free on horse" in French).[3] The obverse legend, like other French coins, gives the king’s title as Francorum Rex ("King of the Franks" in Latin) and provides another reason to call the coin a franc. Its value was set as one livre tournois (a money of account). John’s son, Charles V, continued this type. It was copied exactly at Brabant and Cambrai and, with the arms on the horse cloth changed, at Flanders. Conquests led by Joan of Arc allowed Charles VII to return to sound coinage and he revived the franc à cheval. John II, however, was not able to strike enough francs to pay his ransom and he voluntarily returned to English captivity.

John II died as a prisoner in England and his son, Charles V was left to pick up the pieces. And so he did. Charles V pursued a policy of reform, including stable coinage. An edict dated 20 April 1365 established the centerpiece of this policy, a gold coin officially called the denier d’or aux fleurs de lis which had a standing figure of the king on its obverse. Its value in money of account was one livre tournois, just like the franc à cheval, and this coin is universally known as a franc à pied. In accordance with the theories of the mathematician, economist and royal advisor Nicolas Oresme, Charles struck fewer coins of better gold than his predecessors. In the accompanying deflation both prices and wages fell, but wages fell faster and debtors had to settle up in better money than they had borrowed. The Mayor of Paris, Etienne Marcel, exploited their discontent to lead a revolt which forced Charles V out of the city. The franc fared better. It became associated with money stable at one livre tournois[4]

Henry III exploited the association of the franc as sound money worth one livre tournois when he sought to stabilize French currency in 1577. By this time, inflows of gold and silver from Spanish America had caused inflation throughout the world economy and the kings of France, who weren’t getting much of this wealth, only made things worse by manipulating the values assigned to their coins. The States General which met at Blois in 1577 added to the public pressure to stop currency manipulation. Henry III agreed to do this and he revived the franc, now as a silver coin valued at one livre tournois. This coin and its fractions circulated until 1641 when Louis XIII of France replaced it with the silver Écu. Nevertheless, the name "franc" continued in accounting as a synonym for the livre tournois.[5]

French Revolution

The decimal "franc" was established as the national currency by the French Revolutionary Convention in 1795 as a decimal unit (1 franc = 10 decimes = 100 centimes) of 4.5 g of fine silver. This was slightly less than the livre of 4.505 g, but the franc was set in 1796 at 1.0125 livres (1 livre, 3 deniers), reflecting in part the past minting of sub-standard coins. Silver coins now had their denomination clearly marked as “5 FRANCS” and it was made obligatory to quote prices in francs. This ended the ancien régime’s practice of striking coins with no stated denomination, such as the Louis d'or, and periodically issuing royal edicts to manipulate their value in terms of money of account, i.e. the Livre tournois.

Coinage with explicit denominations in decimal fractions of the franc also began in 1795.[6] Decimalization of the franc was mandated by an act of 7 April 1795, which also dealt with of weights and measures. France led the world in adopting the metric system and it was the second country to convert from a non-decimal to a decimal currency, following Russia’s conversion in 1704,[7] and the third country to adopt a decimal coinage, also following the United States in 1787.[8] France’s first decimal coinage used allegorical figures symbolizing revolutionary principles, like the coinage designs the United States had adopted in 1793.

The circulation of this metallic currency declined during the Republic: the old gold and silver coins were taken out of circulation and exchanged for printed assignats, initially issued as bonds backed by the value of the confiscated goods of churches, but later declared as legal tender currency. The withdrawn gold and silver coins were used to finance wars and to import food, which was in short supply.

As during the "Mississippi Bubble" in 1715-20, too many assignats were put in circulation, exceeding the value of the "national properties", and the coins, due also to military requisitioning and hoarding, rarefied to pay foreign suppliers. With national government debt remaining unpaid, and a shortage of silver and brass to mint coins, confidence in the new currency declined, leading to hyperinflation, more food riots, severe political instability and termination of the First French Republic and the political fall of the French Convention. There followed the economic failure of the Directoire : coins were still very rare. After a coup d'état that led to the Consulate, the First Consul progressively acquired sole legislative power at the expense of the other unstable and discredited consultative and legislative institutions.

French Empire and Restoration

In 1800 the Banque de France, a federal establishment with a private board of executives, was created and commissioned to produce the national currency. In 1803, the Franc germinal (named after the month Germinal in the revolutionary calendar) was established, creating a gold franc containing 290.32 mg of fine gold. From this point, gold and silver-based units circulated interchangeably on the basis of a 1:15.5 ratio between the values of the two metals (bimetallism) until 1864, when all silver coins except the 5 franc piece were debased from 90% to 83.5% silver without the weights changing.

This coinage included the first modern gold coins with denominations in francs. It abandoned the revolutionary symbols of the coinage 1795, now showing Napoleon in the manner of Roman emperors, first described as “Bonaparte Premier Consul” and with the country described as “Republique Française”. The republican pretense faded fast. In 1804 coins changed the obverse legend to Napoleon Emperor, abandoning his family name in the manner of kings. In 1807, the reverse legend changed to describe France as an empire not a republic. In analogy with the old Louis d'or these coins were called Gold Napoleons. Economically, this sound money was a great success and Napoleon’s fall did not change that. Succeeding governments maintained Napoleon’s weight standard, with changes in design which traced the political history of France. In particular, this currency system was retained during the Bourbon Restoration and perpetuated until 1914.

Latin Monetary Union

France was a founding member of the Latin Monetary Union (LMU) in 1865. The common currency was based on the franc germinal, with the name franc already being used in Switzerland and Belgium, whilst other countries used their own names for the currency. In 1873, the LMU went over to a purely gold standard of 1 franc = 0.290322581 g gold.

World War I

50 centimes

The outbreak of World War I caused France to leave the gold standard of the LMU. The war severely undermined the franc's strength: war expenditure, inflation and postwar reconstruction, financed partly by printing ever more money, reduced the franc's purchasing power by 70% between 1915 and 1920 and by a further 43% between 1922 and 1926. After a brief return to the gold standard between 1928 and 1936, the currency was allowed to resume its slide, until in 1959 it was worth less than 2.5% of its 1934 value.

World War II

During the Nazi occupation of France (1940–44), the franc was a satellite currency of the German Reichsmark. The exchange rate was 20 Fr for 1 RM. The coins were changed, with the words Travail, Famille, Patrie (Work, Family, Fatherland) replacing the Republican triad Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité (Liberty, Equality, Fraternity) and the emblem of the Vichy regime added.

At the liberation, the US attempted to impose use of the US occupation franc, which was averted by General De Gaulle.

Post-War period

After World War II, France devalued its currency within the Bretton Woods system on several occasions. Beginning in 1945 at a rate of 480 francs to the British pound (119.1 to the U.S. dollar), by 1949 the rate was 980 to the pound (350 to the dollar). This was reduced further in 1957 and 1958, reaching 1382.3 to the pound (493.7 to the dollar, equivalent to 1 franc = 1.8 mg pure gold).

New franc

In January 1960 the French franc was revalued, with 100 existing francs making one nouveau franc. The abbreviation "NF" was used on the 1958 design banknotes until 1963. Old one- and two-franc pieces continued to circulate as centimes (no new centimes were minted for the first two years). Inflation continued to erode the franc's value, but much more slowly than that of some other countries. The one-centime coin never circulated widely. Only one further major devaluation occurred (in August 1969) before the Bretton Woods system was replaced by free-floating exchange rates. When the euro replaced the franc on 1 January 1999, the franc was worth less than an eighth of its original 1960 value.

After revaluation and the introduction of the new franc, many French people continued to use old francs (anciens francs), to describe large sums (in the 1980s, some older people were still referring to the old franc, confusing other people). For example, lottery prizes were often advertised in amounts of centimes, equivalent to the old franc. Multiples of 10NF were occasionally referred to as "mille francs" (thousand francs) or "mille balles" ("balle" being a slang word for franc) in contexts where it was clear that the speaker did not mean 1,000 new francs. The expression "heavy franc" (franc lourd) was also commonly used to designate the new franc.

All franc coins and banknotes ceased to be legal tender in January 2002, upon the official adoption of the euro.

Economic and Monetary Union

From 1 January 1999, the value exchange rate of the French franc against the euro was set at a fixed parity of 1 EUR=6.55957 FRF. Euro coins and notes replaced the franc entirely between 1 January and 17 February 2002.


Before World War I

In August 1795, the Monetary Law replaced the livre ("pound") with the franc, which was divided into 10 decimes ("tenths") and 100 centimes ("hundredths"). Copper coins were issued in the denominations of 1 centime, 5 centimes, 1 decimes, and 2 decimes, designed by Augustin Dupré. After 1801, French copper coins became rare.

The 5-centime copper coin was called a sou, referring to "sole" (fr. Latin: solidus), until the 1920s.

An Imperial 10 decime coin was produced in billon from 1807 to 1810.

The first 1 franc coin was struck in An XI ("Year 11 of the Republic" - 1803), during Napoleon's rule as First Consul regime. Silver franc coins were issued in quarter (¼), half (½), 1, 2, and 5 franc denominations. Gold franc coins were issued in 20 franc and 40 franc denominations.

The 5-franc silver coin was called an écu, after the six-livre silver coin of the ancien regime, until the 1880s.

Copper coins were rarely issued between 1801 and 1848, so the quarter franc was the lowest current denomination in circulation. But during this period, copper coins from earlier periods circulated. A Napoleon 5 centime coin (in bell metal) and Napoleon and Restoration decime coins were minted.

A new bronze coinage was introduced from 1848. The Second Republic Monetary Authority minted a 1 centime copper coin with a 1795 design. 2, 5 and 10 centime coins were issued from 1853. The quarter franc was discontinued, with silver 20-centime coins issued between 1849 and 1868 as the smallest silver coin produced in France.

The gold coinage also changed. 40 franc coins were no longer produced after 1839. 5, 10, 50 and 100 franc coins were introduced. The last gold 5 franc pieces were minted in 1869, and silver 5 franc coins were last minted in 1878. After 1815, the 20 franc gold coin was called a "napoléon" (royalists still called this coin a "louis"), and so that is was the colloquial term for this coin until the present. During the Belle Époque, the 100-franc gold coin was called a "monaco", referring to the flourishing casino business in Monte Carlo.

Nickel 25-centime coins were introduced in 1903.

World War I

World War I brought substantial changes to the coinage. Gold coinage was suspended, and holed 5, 10, and 25 centime coins minted in nickel or cupro-nickel were introduced. In 1920, production of bronze and silver coinage ceased, with aluminum-bronze 50 centime, 1 franc, and 2 franc coins introduced. Until 1929, these coins were issued by local merchants' associations, bearing the phrase bon pour on it (meaning: "good for"). At the beginning of the 1920s, merchants' associations also issued small change coins in aluminum. In 1929, the original franc germinal of 1795 was replaced by the franc Poincaré, which was valued at 20% of the 1803 gold standard.

In 1929, silver coins were reintroduced in 10 franc and 20 franc denominations. A very rare gold 100 franc coin was minted between 1929 and 1936.

In 1933, a nickel 5 franc coin was minted, but was soon replaced by an aluminum-bronze 5 franc coin.

From World War II to the currency reform

The Second World War also affected the coinage substantially. Zinc 10- and 20-centime pieces were introduced, along with aluminium coins of 50 centimes, and 1 and 2 francs. Following the war, rapid inflation caused denominations below 1 franc to be withdrawn and coin denominations of 5 in aluminium and aluminium-bronze, 10 in copper nickel then aluminium-bronze from 1950, along with a 20 and 50 franc also in aluminium-bronze, the copper-nickel 100 francs were introduced in 1954.

In the 1960s, 1 and 2 (old) franc aluminium coins were still circulating, used as "centimes".

New Franc

In 1960, the new franc ("nouveau franc") was introduced,[9] worth 100 of the old francs. Stainless steel 1- and 5-centime, aluminium-bronze 10-, 20- and 50-centime, nickel one-franc and silver 5-franc coins were introduced. Silver 10-franc coins were introduced in 1965, followed by a new aluminium-bronze 5-centime and a new nickel half-franc coins in 1966.

An attempt to introduce a nickel 2-franc coin in 1960 failed.

Nickel-clad cupro-nickel 5-franc and nickel-brass 10-franc coins replaced their silver counterparts in 1970 and 1974, respectively. Nickel 2 francs were introduced in 1979, followed by bimetallic 10 and 20 francs in 1988 and 1992, respectively. The 20-franc coin was composed of two rings and a centre plug.

A nickel 10-franc piece was issued in 1986, but was quickly withdrawn and demonetized due to confusion with the half-franc and an unpopular design. The aluminium-bronze pieces continued to circulate until the bimetallic pieces were developed and additional aluminium-bronze coins were minted to replace those initially withdrawn. Once the bimetallic coins were circulating, the aluminium-bronze pieces were withdrawn and demonetized.

A silver 50-franc piece was issued from 1974–1980, known as the largest silver coin ever mint in France, but was withdrawn and demonetized after the price of silver spiked in 1980. Then, in 1982, a 100-franc piece, in silver, was issued, and circulated to a small extent, until the introduction of the euro.

All French franc coins were demonetized in 2005 and are no longer redeemable at the Banque de France.

At the time of the complete changeover to the euro on 1 January 2002, coins in circulation (some produced as recently as 2000) were:

  • 1 centime (~ 0.15 eurocent) stainless steel, rarely circulated (last production stopped first in 1982, then in 1987 due to high production cost, and lack of demand due to its very low value).
  • 5 centimes (~ 0.76 eurocent) aluminium-bronze
  • 10 centimes (~ 1.5 eurocent) aluminium-bronze
  • 20 centimes (~ 3.05 eurocent) aluminium-bronze
  • ½ franc (~ 7.6 eurocent) nickel
  • 1 franc (~ 15.2 eurocent) nickel
  • 2 francs (~ 30.5 eurocent) nickel
  • 5 francs (~ 76 eurocent) nickel clad copper-nickel
  • 10 francs (~ €1.50) bimetallic
  • 20 francs (~ €3) trimetallic, rarer (produced for a short period before the euro, the banknote equivalent was much more frequently used)
  • 100 francs (~ €15) silver, rarely circulated (most often bought and offered as personal gifts, but rare in commercial transactions, now worth more than its face value).

Euro exchange

Coins were freely exchangeable until 17 February 2005 at Banque de France only (some commercial banks also accepted the old coins but were not required to do so for free after the transition period in 2001), by converting their total value in francs to euros (rounded to the nearest eurocent) at the fixed rate of 6.55957 francs for 1 euro. Banknotes remained convertible up until 17 February 2012.[10] By that date, Franc notes worth some 550 million Euro remained unexchanged, allowing the French state to register the corresponding sum as revenue.[11]


The first franc paper money issues were made in 1795. They were assignats in denominations between 100 and 10,000 francs. These followed in 1796 by "territorial mandate promises" for 25 up to 500 francs. The treasury also issued notes that year for 25 up to 1000 francs.

In 1800, the Bank of France began issuing notes, first in denominations of 500 and 1000 francs. In the late 1840s, 100- and 200-franc notes were added, while 5-, 20- and 50- francs were added in the 1860s and 70s, although the 200-franc note was discontinued.

The First World War saw the introduction of 10- and 5000-franc notes. The chambers of commerce 's notgeld ("money of necessity"), from 1918 to 1926, produced 25c, 50c, 1 F, 2 F, 5 F and 10 F notes.

Despite base metal 5, 10 & 20 F coins being introduced between 1929 and 1933, the banknotes were not removed.

In 1944, the liberating Allies introduced dollar-like paper money in denominations between 2 and 1000 francs, as well as a brass 2-francs coin.

Following the war, 10,000-franc notes were introduced, while 5-, 10- and 20-franc notes were replaced by coins in 1950, as were the 50- and 100-franc notes in the mid-1950s.

The first issue of the new franc consisted of 500-, 1000-, 5000- and 10,000-franc notes overprinted with their new denominations of 5, 10, 50 and 100 new francs. In 1959, Banknotes in circulation when the old franc was replaced by the New franc were:

This issue was followed by notes of the same design but with only the new denomination shown.

A 500-new franc note is also introduced in 1960 representing Molière, replaced in 1969 by the yellow Pascal type (colloquially called a pascal).

A 5-franc note was issued until 1970 and a 10-franc note (showing Hector Berlioz) was issued until 1979.

Banknotes in circulation when the franc was replaced were:[12]

Banknotes of the current series as of euro changeover could be exchanged with the French central bank or with other services until 17 February 2012.

Most older series were exchangeable for 10 years from date of withdrawal. As the last banknote from the previous series had been withdrawn on 31 March 1998 (200 francs, Montesquieu), the deadline for the exchange was 31 March 2008.

Banknotes of the French franc (1993-1997 issue)
Image Value Equivalent in Euro Obverse Reverse Watermark Remark Date of issue
[1] 50 francs €7.62 Antoine de Saint-Exupéry; Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince); "Latécoère 28" airplane "Breguet 14" biplane Antoine de Saint-Exupéry Name of Saint-Exupéry irregularly spelled as Éxupéry at upper left on front October 20, 1993
[2] 50 francs €7.62 Antoine de Saint-Exupéry; Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince); "Latécoère 28" airplane "Breguet 14" biplane Antoine de Saint-Exupéry Name of Saint-Exupéry spelled in the usual manner as Exupéry at upper left on front October 20, 1993
[3] 100 francs €15.24 Paul Cézanne Fruit (by Paul Cézanne) Paul Cézanne EURion constellation on the upper right corner of the note's reverse consisting of 100s spread across. December 15, 1997
[4] 200 francs €30.49 Gustave Eiffel; truss of the Eiffel tower Base of the Eiffel tower Gustave Eiffel October 29, 1996
[5] 500 francs €76.22 Marie Curie and Pierre Curie Laboratory utensils Marie Curie March 22, 1995

International reserve currency

Main article: Reserve currency

See also


External links

  • Overview of French franc from the BBC
  • Banknotes of France
Template:France topics

This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.