Hand-Picked Gold Coins Steeped in History!
By Brian Zweig
French Gold 20 Franc Set
A common expression among numismatists is that coins are “history in your hands.” They are tangible relics of bygone eras with intriguing backstories, directly tied to landmark events, wars, revolutions, and famous figures. The coins of 19th and early 20th century France are quintessential examples. From 1840 through 1914, the country experienced a surprise coup d’état, regained its status as an empire, had its famous leader deposed, returned to being a republic, and then endured war. All of these episodes are directly reflected on French gold 20 Franc coins from this period. They boast beautiful designs, intriguing symbolism, and some of the richest heritage of any vintage gold coin.
Tumult Brings Change to France’s Money
The 1840s and early 1850s were volatile for the French people. Ruled as a monarchy for several decades, the country experienced a revolution in 1848. Citizens revolted against King Louis-Philipe and adopted a new form of republican government. Immediately, France’s gold 20 Franc was modified to reflect this new governance. Gone were the portraits of Louis-Philipe; his likeness was replaced by an angel writing the French constitution. This symbolized the belief that the republic had divine support and approval. The reverse of the coin featured the motto “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité,” which translates to “Liberty, Equality, Brotherhood.” The republic wanted to make clear that France was operating under a new democratic philosophy.
New Empire, New Emperor, New Coins
This French Republic did not last long. President, Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte was term-limited by the Constitution, and could not seek re-election. Much like his uncle, the famous Napoleon I, Louis-Napoleon was rather ambitious. Rather than step down, he instead staged a coup d’état and designated himself President for life! He didn’t stop there; Louis-Napoleon then dissolved the republic and declared France to be an empire again. Of course, he named himself Emperor and adopted the royal title of Napoleon III.
Just like earlier French rulers, Napoleon III insisted he appear on the country’s coinage. The gold 20 Franc was immediately redesigned with his portrait on the obverse, surrounded by the inscription “NAPOLEON III EMPEREUR.” He also retained a divine element on the new 20 Franc. While subtle, the edge is engraved with the motto “DIEU PROTEGE LA FRANCE” (God protects France). This was meant to suggest that Napoleon III was also receiving the divine support claimed by the now-defunct Republic.
A Move from His Uncle’s Playbook
Napoleon III’s first decade was chaotic and turbulent. He imposed hard censorship on the press, imprisoned his opponents, and dragged the country into numerous unpopular wars. Nonetheless, Napoleon III wanted to project an image of success. He demanded a redesign of his portrait on the 20 Franc, this time opting to show himself with a laureate wreath on his head, symbolizing victory and honor.
This move was not without precedent. In fact, Napoleon III’s uncle made the exact same change a half century earlier. The earliest 20 Franc gold coins struck during Napoleon I’s reign showed the emperor with a bare head. By 1807, however, a laureate wreath was added to his portrait. Ultimately, Napoleon III experienced a similar fate as his uncle. In 1870, the younger Napoleon found himself on the losing end of a war with Prussia. The Emperor was captured and eventually exiled to England. Upon learning of Napoleon III’s defeat, the Second French Empire of 1852 to 1870 was declared over.
The French Republic Gets Its Angel Back
Following Napoleon III’s capture, France switched back to a republic—a status it maintained until World War II. With democracy restored, the famous angel design of 1848 to 1849 was brought back for the gold 20 Franc. This iconic motif remained in use by the French Republic from 1871 through 1898. This is one of very few instances where a coinage design was rolled out, replaced, and then reintroduced again.
The 20 Franc Angel developed a reputation as being a lucky coin. Many believed that carrying this coin would bring the holder good fortune and divine protection. French Navy captains refused to set sail without a 20 Franc Angel in their pockets. Even during World War I, long after the coin was replaced, fighter pilots from Great Britain, France, and the United States would carry 20 Franc Angels with them. Supposedly, this practice even continued during later wars in the 20th century.
A New 20 Franc with an Ancient Symbol
The gold 20 Franc was redesigned once more in 1899, but the theme of nationalistic symbolism continued. This latest version featured Marianne, a mascot of the republic, on the obverse. Much like Lady Liberty on American coins, Marianne serves as an icon of democracy and freedom. Since 1899, she has become a mainstay on French currency and even some newly-issued Euro coins depict her likeness.
The reverse of this coin featured an even older French symbol: the Gallic rooster. In ancient times, the land now known as France was called “Gallus” by the Romans. Amusingly, this was also the Latin word for “rooster.” The bird was soon associated with Gaul (i.e., the Roman territory that would become France) and developed into a national emblem. The French Republic embraced the rooster as a symbol; it was viewed as a reflection of the country’s watchfulness, readiness, and rich agricultural heritage. The gold 20 Franc with the rooster reverse was issued continuously until World War I broke out in 1914.
Today’s Offering—Rare Dates at Common Prices
Today, we have a limited number of high-grade gold 20 Franc sets from this fascinating period of world history. Being over a century old, the coins of this era are often seen in well-worn condition. This is especially true for French 20 Francs, which were among the most widely-used coins in the 19th century. Most specimens grade Very Fine (VF) or Extremely Fine (XF); About Uncirculated (AU) specimens can be challenging to locate. After sorting through thousands of coins over the period of several months, we’ve found a select group of higher-end 20 Francs in excellent condition. All have been graded AU50 or better by the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC) and are in fresh, new holders.
Not only are these 20 Francs in exceptional condition, but we also found dates with shockingly low populations. These low populations are a result of countries like France not wanting to risk their reputations with underweight coins. Any faulty or damaged pieces were melted down and turned into new coins. Decades later, foreign countries (including the U.S.) began melting other nations’ coins and converting them into native currency. It’s believed that millions of 20 Francs were transformed into new coins or bars.
Today, you can add this enchanting set of high-grade 20 Francs to your portfolio for $1,299 per set*. That’s four different, historic, beautiful, and well-preserved coins for under $325 per coin! As an added bonus, if you purchase two or more sets, you will also receive a free display box for your coins.
Each four-coin set contains one of each of the following specimens:
- 1852 to 1860 20 Franc Napoleon Bare Head
- 1861 to 1870 20 Franc Napoleon Laureate
- 1871 to 1898 20 Franc Angel
- 1898 to 1914 20 Franc Rooster
Again, each and every coin in this set grades NGC AU50 or better. Few gold coins can boast such a captivating history. The fact that they survived in such excellent condition—and are now certified by NGC—only adds to their appeal.
Please call us at 800-831-0007 or send us an email to take advantage of this unique offering. Unlike newly-minted coins which can be replenished with ease, vintage coins like these can be difficult to find. We cannot guarantee that more of these superior-quality French gold coins will become available on the market in the future.
*Prices subject to change based on market fluctuation and product availability. Prices reflected are for cash, check, or bank wire. Must purchase two or more sets to receive free shipping and free display box. Offer expires Friday, March 9, 2018, or while supplies last.