France is one of the oldest politically constituted countries in the world. French coins are significantly older, having been first struck around by Greek settlers on the country’s Mediterranean coast several centuries B.C. Through the progression of French coins, collectors have a unique chance to follow the advancement and progress of this influential nation.
France was known as Gaul during the time it was part of the Roman Empire, and legacies from that time still remain. It is known that a great number of Roman coin mints were located in France. Celtic occupation of France produced artistically intricate coins, and the more rudimentary French coins found between 400-700 A.D. were the legacy of invading Visigoths and Vandals.
French coins produced in the era of legendary King Charlemagne were produced with more order and uniformity. All coins were cast according to the same mould, and incorporated the ancient Gallic names of the towns where they were minted.
The first French King, Hugues Capet, was elected in 987. The King only controlled a small part of France and dukes, barons and counts of the land laid claim to their own parts of the country – and subsequently struck their own coins.
The conquest of England by Norman barons prompted an abundance of rare French and Anglo-French coins struck in both England and France. Coins were produced in gold and silver and some remain extremely valuable for collecting today.
The historical significance of the Crusades cannot be underestimated, and this period was also prolific for the striking of new French coins. Coins pictured local barons from exotic locales like Tripoli, Jerusalem and Beirut. Coins were also produced under the names of famous orders of knights of the Crusades – the Order of St. John of Jerusalem and the Order of Malta.
By the time King Henry IV ascended the throne, modern day French coins started to be struck in the same methods which we use today. Feudal coins all but disappeared and portraits of monarchs became more refined and artistic. Subsequent kings introduced the use of machines for striking coins.
The 20-franc gold coin Napoleon created in 1803 (called, modestly, the ‘Napoleon’) became the model for the coins of Switzerland, Spain, Italy, Belgium and Greece throughout the 19th century.
In the 1790s the French franc, first used in 1360, became the world’s first decimal based currency. Francs remained the nation’s currency until the Euro was finally introduced in 2002. Ever discerning, the French considered 1,200 designs before finally selecting those which now grace their Euro coins. Today the Paris Mint makes coins for sale to other countries, and also produces French collector’s coins.