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Tunisian 20 Francs

Tavex is pleased to offer one of the most sought-after historical gold coins from North Africa, the Tunisian 20 franc gold coin. Also referred to as the Tunisie 20 francs, it was issued by the Paris  mint  from 1891 to 1904 after Tunisia had become a French protectorate. This coin  is made from a durable 21.6 karat gold alloy and is embellished with Arabic legends and well-formed arabesque decoration. Tunisian 20 franc gold coins are relatively scarce and, coupled with the enthralling history they relate about the endeavour of major colonial powers to gain control  of  Tunisia,  they  make  fascinating  coins  for  collectors  or  serve  as  an  alternative currency for those who conduct business in a country of the Sahara region.

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  • We sell 1-20221.70 €
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  • Tunisian 20 franc gold coins are scarce. Only 3 million pieces were minted from 1891 to 1904, and since then many have been melted down or have gone missing. Due to their relative scarcity, they are popular with collectors.
  • Tunisian 20 francs are well suited for coin collections. These coins have an interesting history to tell about the power struggle between three colonial powers that sought to conquer the lands of Tunisia. 
  • Tunisian 20 franc coins were part of Europe’s first monetary union. The size and constitution of the Tunisian 20 franc was set to equal the French gold franc which became the basis for the Latin Monetary Union, Europe’s first major currency union.
  • Tunisian 20 francs are among the most recognised gold coins in North Africa. With the French Empire encompassing large parts of Africa, the franc gold coins became the most prominent and consequently the most sought-after coinage in the Saharan Africa region. 
  • Tunisian 20 franc gold coins are money. They are exempt from Value Added Tax, and as such are exchangeable throughout Europe by bullion dealers and investors alike.

Tunisia – an outpost for African gold

Long  before  the  first  20  franc  gold  coins  were  introduced  in  the  Tunisian  economy,  the country had an extensive and captivating history related to this precious metal. It began when Phoenician traders colonised Tunisia’s coast sometimes around 1100 BC, and established the memorable city of Carthage. This city became the centre of a great maritime empire and one of the  dominant powers in  the  Mediterranean.  According  to  ancient  authors,  Carthage  was considered one of the richest cities in the known world that flourished because of its extensive trade in gold, silver, tin, iron and slaves.   

As the  legendary warrior of Carthage, Hannibal,  failed to conquer Italy after occupying  its territories  for 15  years,  a  series  of wars  between the  Romans  and the  Carthaginians  ended with  the  total  destruction  of  the  city  of  Carthage.  Nevertheless,  the  city  was  rebuilt  and together with the territories of Tunisia, was incorporated into the Roman Empire around 50 BC where it flourished and became one of the most important cities of the Empire.  

Following the Arab conquest of Tunisia in the 7th century, Carthage was once again levelled to the ground, never to be rebuilt again. Instead, a close neighbour to the fallen city, Tunis - capital of today’s Tunisia, took centre stage and became an important Arabian trading outpost and  naval  base. During Arabian rule that lasted until the 16th century, Tunis prospered and became an important hub in the Trans-Saharan gold trade.  

The Trans-Saharan trade route connected the Mediterranean countries  in need of gold with sub-Saharan Africa where this  metal was abundant. Camel caravans transported the gold to trading outpost like Tunis, where it was exchanged for salt, beads, cloth and other materials. This  trade  was  of  especial  interest  to Northern  Islamic  states  and  Spanish  and  Italian merchants that needed raw gold to mint coins. The land-based “gold route” was in place until the  1500s  when Portuguese  sailors  established  the  more  efficient  sea  routes  between  West Africa and Europe.

With  the  decline  of  Trans-Saharan  trade,  Arab  influence  diminished,  which  enabled  first Spanish  and  then  Turkish  dynasties  to  gain  control of  Tunisia’s territories.    By  the  early 1700s,  Tunisia  had  become  virtually  an  independent country  administered  by  local  Beys (chieftains) under the domain of the Turkish Empire. The most prominent of the Beys came from the Husainid Dynasty that ruled over Tunisia for more than 250 years until 1957. The Tunisian 20 franc gold coins carry the calligraphic signature of two of these chieftains, Bey Ali III from 1891 to 1902, and Bey Muhammad IV from 1903 to 1904.

Tunisia becomes a French protectorate  

In the 19th century, the ruling Bey sought to overhaul the Tunisian economy by borrowing heavily  from  Europe.  The  funds  were  spent  lavishly on  the  country’s infrastructure,  on expanding public projects, on upgrading the  military, and on the  Beys themselves for their personal use. With the funds borrowed at unfavourable terms, and coupled with poor returns on the investments they made, the debt and interest payments became unmanageable.  

By 1869, it was clear for the cash-strapped Bey government that the only option left was to declare Tunisia bankrupt. With the country in default, an international financial commission, led by France, Britain and Italy, took control of Tunisian finances.

It  was  of  no  surprise  that,  following  the  takeover of  Tunisia’s  financial  affairs,  the  three European powers that shared the same colonial mindset began a decade-long furtive quarrel over the rights over Tunisian territories. Italy justified its claims to Tunisia by pointing out that it had more investments in the country and that its nationals constituted the majority of European settlers living in Tunisia at that time. France, on the other hand, saw Tunisia as a natural extension of its African possessions, given that it bordered with Algeria, which at the time  was  a  French  colony.  Finally,  Britain,  which  possessed  the  island  of  Malta  near  the Tunisian coast, did not want to have a single nation controlling the Strait of Sicily (the water-lane between Tunisia and the island of Sicily).

At  the  Congress  of  Berlin  in  1871,  Britain  and  France  made  a  secret  agreement  that designated  France’s  right  to  Tunisia  in  exchange  for  Cyprus  that would  fall  under  British influence. In 1881, a small Tunisian tribe raided French Algeria and became a pretext, or a “political window of opportunity”, for the French to invade Tunisia with  more than 35,000 men, prompting the Bey to come to terms with the French. A treaty was signed that stipulated that the Bey continued as the head of state, albeit limiting his authority to internal affairs only, whilst all other aspects of policy were handed over to France, making the country a French protectorate. Following France’s invasion of Tunisia, Italians with substantial interest in the country  protested,  although  they  were  not  prepared to  risk  a  military confrontation  with France.

Franc gold coinage rejuvenates the Tunisian economy

In  1884,  as  a  first  step  to  put  Tunisia’s  economy  back  on  track,  the  French provided  125 million gold francs to pay off Tunisian state debt. A little while later, Tunisian 20 franc gold coins, in conjunction with other French gold, silver and copper coins, were introduced into the economy with the goal of promoting trade and stabilising the country’s monetary system. The infused  coinage,  in  conjunction with  crucial  infrastructural  investment  that  included  the construction of railways, highways, and seaports, coupled with the building of new mines that for the first time profitably extracted a plethora of different minerals, and the expansion of the agricultural sector, put the economy on the road to growth.

During  Tunisia’s  time as  a  protectorate,  extensive improvements  were  made  to  its  social infrastructure  that  included  the  erection  of  schools,  public buildings,  sanitation facilities, hospitals were built, and clean water was supplied. Although being a French colony brought many  benefits  to Tunisia,  it  was clear that the  European  settlers  were clearly  privileged  in contrast to the  local population. This discrimination fuelled opposition to colonial rule that culminated in a crescendo of resistance that led to Tunisia’s independence in 1956.

Tunisie 20 franc gold coins - part of Europe’s first monetary union

Since Tunisia was a protectorate of France, it was logical for the Tunisian 20 franc gold coin to have the same size and metal composition as French gold coins. This uniformity and the fact that France was a member of the Latin Monetary Union meant that the Tunisian 20 franc gold  coin  was  freely  interchangeable with  coinage of  other  countries  that  were  part of this union.  

The  Latin  Monetary  Union  was  Europe’s  first  major  currency  union,  founded  in  1865  by Italy, France, Belgium and Switzerland. This union was an attempt to unify those countries’ money  into  a  single  uniform  currency.  The  founding members  of  the  union  agreed  on  a uniform fineness and weight of their coinage, which was set to equal the French silver and gold  franc,  and  they  agreed  to  interchange  each  other’s  gold  and  silver  coinage  at  parity, irrespective of whether it carried another design, effigy or name. 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. 

Face value descriptionDiameterFinenessGold weight in gramsProduct weight in gramsGold weight in Troy ouncesManufacturer country
20 franc21.159005.806446.45160.18668Tunisia

The obverse depicts the text “TUNISIE”, the denomination of “20 FRANCS”, the year of release, and the mark “A” for the Paris mint, surrounded by rhythmic linear patterns of scrolling, also known as arabesque decoration.

The reverse portrays the calligraphic signature of Tunisia’s ruler, Bey Ali III or Bey Muhammad IV al-Hadi, followed by Arabic legends for the country, the denomination and the date according to the Hijri Islamic calendar. An olive and a date palm twig embrace the inscription.

 Each coin is individually packaged in a hard plastic capsule if desired.

Your order is fully insured and delivered by ELS Express. After we have received your payment, the products will be dispatched within 24 hours. Delivery time is within 1 or 2 working days. The ELS courier will contact you via phone. If you wish, you can also personally pick up your order at one of our offices in Tallinn or Tartu the same day we receive your payment. In cases where we are unable to send your order right away, we will always inform you about the time delay.

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