French 20 Francs Napoleon III with Laurel
Tavex is pleased to present a European classic, the eminent French 20 franc Napoleon III gold coin. With a rich history of more than 600 years, the 20 franc gold coin recalls France’s former eminence as one of the great powers of the 19th and 20th centuries. Standardised and authorised by Napoleon Bonaparte himself, the 20 franc is France’s most treasured and sought-after gold coin. Displaying perfect uniformity and accuracy for over a century, the French 20 francs facilitated world trade and became the basis for Europe’s first monetary union. With more than 500 million pieces minted since the 1800s, they are today one of the most liquid and widely recognised classic gold coins available on the European bullion market. Representing an era of French industrial, cultural and social advancement, the 20 franc Napoleon III gold coin comes in an affordable weight, making it appropriate as a collector’s item, a gift, or a tangible gold investment.
- 20 franc Napoleon III gold coins are distinguished French coins. The 20 franc gold piece is France’s most famous coin and likewise one of the most best-known gold coins in Europe.
- 20 franc Napoleon III gold coins are money. French 20 franc gold coins are exempt from Value Added Tax, and as such are exchangeable throughout Europe by bullion dealers and investors alike.
- 20 franc Napoleon III gold coins are liquid. With more than 500 million pieces minted since the 1800s, French 20 franc gold coins have strong liquidity and a guaranteed market.
- 20 franc Napoleon III gold coins were the foundation of Europe’s first monetary union. The French 20 gold franc was the basis for the Latin Monetary Union, Europe’s first major currency union.
- 20 franc Napoleon III gold coins are an excellent way to diversify your portfolio. Gold’s low correlation with other financial assets makes French 20 franc Napoleon III gold coins serve as a portfolio hedge against market risk.
- 20 franc Napoleon III gold coins are the equivalent of savings. French 20 franc gold coins are an ideal choice for any long-term saver who appreciates the security and stability of owning physical gold coins.
The French 20 francs
The French 20 franc coin – the gold standard of Europe
Ironically, Napoleon’s 20 franc gold coin was more successful in unifying Europe in terms of coinage, and consequently trade and prosperity, than what Napoleon sought to accomplish by force. And while the territories Napoleon had conquered were soon lost, the 20 franc gold coin did just the opposite. It prevailed and established itself as the foundation of Europe’s first major currency union under the name “Latin Monetary Union”. The Union was originally formed in 1865 between France, Belgium, Italy and Switzerland, and was an attempt to unify those countries’ money into a uniform single currency. The French gold franc’s peerless uniformity and the attractiveness of the relatively large French economy provided the incentive and the foundation for a new “euro” currency.
The founding members of the union adopted the franc and they agreed to freely interchange each other’s gold and silver coinage at parity, irrespective of whether they carried another design or motif. The ratio of the two precious metals was likewise standardised, with 4.5 grams of silver being equal to .290322 grams of gold, a ratio of 15.5 to 1. The standardisation facilitated and simplified trade among the member countries and was seen as an appealing concept, leading other European countries to join as well. Although the union came with numerous flaws, one of them being that individual governments over-issued paper notes above the stipulated fixed ratio that was set between paper notes and circulating precious metal coinage, they were all the consequence of poor human judgement rather than the failure of the uniform precious metal coinage itself. Nevertheless, the union expanded until the advent of World War I, and came to a formal end a decade later in 1927.
The popularity of French 20 franc gold coins lives on
Napoleon gold coins were widely distributed during the 19th and 20th centuries in Europe and throughout the world. France controlled a large part of Europe in the early 1800s and subsequently rose to its colonial might in the early 20th century. To facilitate trade and investments, the Napoleon 20 franc gold coins became the preferred choice due to their stable uniformity and trustworthiness. Most of the Napoleon gold coins were issued after the 1850s, which coincided with the expansion of the Latin Monetary Union and the height of the French colonial empire. The production of the Napoleon series ended by the early 1900s with the last version being the 20 franc Rooster gold coin. Although Napoleon gold coins are no longer produced, their popularity lives on, and they are in fact today the most traded classic gold coins in several European countries, including France.
The origin of the French gold franc
The fascinating history of the gold franc began in the 14th century during the Hundred Years’ War. This was the time of a series of waged conflicts between France and Britain, and during the Battle of Poitiers in 1356, in France, the French King John II was captured by his English foes. The English sought a ransom for the French king, three million gold coins to be exact. Once the terms were agreed upon, King John was released, and his return from captivity was glorified with the introduction of a gold coin called the franc à cheval, meaning “free on horse”, alluding to how the King rode out as a free man. Although the new gold franc was thereafter used in trade throughout France, its uniformity was often subject to revaluation. This changed when Napoleon Bonaparte came to power at the beginning of the 1800s.
The French 20 franc gold coin was authorised by Napoleon Bonaparte
Considered one of the world’s foremost military leaders, Napoleon Bonaparte, highly skilled in politics, managed during the end of the French revolution to assert himself as the First Consul of the new French government. A staunch proponent of gold, he authorised the standardisation and creation of the Napoleon gold coin in 1803. The new coin was originally minted in two denominations, 20 and 40 francs. Denominations of 5, 10, 50 and 100 francs were later introduced and minted at various times, but the most popular and consequently most minted was the 20 franc gold coin. The 20 franc Napoleon gold coin weighed 6.45 grams, and contained 90% gold, or 5.805 grams of gold. The 20 franc gold coin was last issued in 1914, and although the design and the depicted effigy changed during this period, the coin’s denomination and uniformity stayed the same, contributing to the coin’s reputation and popularity as a trustworthy and accurate gold coin. Consequently, all 20 franc gold coins minted in the 19th and 20th centuries are referred to as “Napoleons”.
Napoleon III depicted on the French 20 franc gold coin
Born in 1808, in Paris, Charles Louis-Napoleon (III) Bonaparte was nephew of Napoleon I. He grew up in exile due to the removal of Napoleon I from power in 1815 and the subsequent ousting of his dynasty from France. During his adult life in exile, Charles Louis-Napoleon constantly hatched plans how to reinstate himself as the rightful heir of the former Napoleonic empire.
In 1848, the window of opportunity presented itself when the French King Louis Philippe, as a result of the February Revolution was overthrown. Charles Louis-Napoleon, who had returned to France, managed to secure a majority of the popular vote in the general election which followed. Consequently, he was sworn in as the president of the new French Republic. During his early tenure, he ruled as a president, but due to being constrained by the French constitution to only one term in power, he would execute a coup and in the process making himself Emperor of France, thus continuing his rule as dictator.
Although governing with authoritarian leadership, Napoleon III proved to be an effective leader who brought dramatic positive changes to the French society. During his two decade of rule, France prospered both economically and socially. His more noteworthy social reforms included giving workers the right to strike and the right to organize, and providing women greater access to public education. His economical policies included opening up the French economy by lowering tariffs, thus stimulating trade. He invested large sums of money into France infrastructure; railways, canals, roads, and seaport were constructed. During his rule, the French fleet grew into the second largest after the British. Likewise, the French industrial and agricultural production increased dramatically, leading to the threat of famine to recede for the first time in centuries.
Even though Napoleon III enjoyed a wide support among the French electorate, he faced a growing internal political opposition. In 1870, Napoleon III was taken capture when his army lost a decisive battle against Prussian forces. Defeated in battle, France surrendered and lost the Franco-Prussian war. Napoleon’s III political foes took advantage of France weakened position and Napoleon III absence, by relinquishing him of his powers as emperor of France. Once the peace treaty was negotiated between France and Prussia, Napoleon III was set free. Even though he was free, Napoleon III was not able to return home because of his deprived political position and the still heated public anger over the lost war. Charles Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte decided to move to Britain with his wife where he stayed until his death in 1973.
The mintage of French gold francs
As the French empire expanded, the need for gold and silver coinage increased. To satisfy the vast demand, gold francs were minted in several mints, and, over the years thatNapoleon gold coins were issued, more than twenty French mints, but also mints in countries under French rule, produced these desired gold coins. Every mint that struck gold francswas obligated to leave a unique identification mark on every coin so that the origin of the gold franc would be more easily traceable. The mark could either be a letter, a symbol, or a monogram. For instances, the letter “A” corresponded to the Paris mint, while the letter R, or the symbol of a crown, was the mark of the Rome mint. Although the production of gold francswas widespread throughout France and Europe, the large majority of these gold coins were minted by the Monnaie de Paris. Founded in 864 by the French King Charles the Bald, the Monnaie de Paris is the largest and oldest mint in France and likewise the oldest French institution. Even though the mint was a government institution and was responsible for the mintage of French circulating coinage, it shared this responsibility for almost a millennium with other French mints, hence the many different mint markings on the Napoleon gold coin.
In 1878, the Paris mint was granted exclusive privilege to be the only French mint to produce circulating coinage and is today the country’s main mint and sole producer of the official French euro coinage.
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The obverse of this coin portrays the effigy of Charles Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, nephew of Napoleon I, with a laurel. Surrounding his effigy is the text “NAPOLEON III EMPEREUR”. Under the effigy is the signature of the master engraver “BARRE”.
The reverse of this coin contains an ornate shield which in the centre portrays the motif of an eagle. Surrounding the shield is the text “EMPIRE FRAN ÇAIS”, which translates as “French empire” and the denomination 20 FR. Under the shield is the year of mintage and the mint mark.
The edge contains the text “DIEU PROTÉGE LA FRANCE”, which translates as “God protect France”.
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