The franc (Dutch: frank, French: franc, German: Franken) was the currency of Belgium until 2002 when the euro was introduced into circulation. It was subdivided into 100 centiem (Dutch), centimes (French) or Centime (German).
The conquest of most of western Europe by revolutionary and Napoleonic France led to the French franc's wide circulation. In the Austrian Netherlands (now Belgium), the franc replaced the kronenthaler. This was in turn replaced by the Dutch gulden when the Kingdom of the Netherlands was formed.
Following independence from the Kingdom of the Netherlands, the new Kingdom of Belgium in 1832 adopted its own franc, equivalent to the French franc, followed by Luxembourg in 1848 and Switzerland in 1850. Newly-unified Italy adopted the lira on a similar basis in 1862.
In 1865 France, Belgium, Switzerland and Italy created the Latin Monetary Union (to be joined by Greece in 1868): each would possess a national currency unit (franc, lira, drachma) worth 4.5 g of silver or 290.322 mg of fine gold, all freely exchangeable at a rate of 1:1. In the 1870s the gold value was made the fixed standard, a situation which was to continue until 1914.
In 1926, Belgium, as well as France, experienced depreciation and an abrupt collapse of confidence, leading to the introduction of a new gold currency for international transactions, the belga worth 5 francs, and the country's withdrawal from the monetary union, which ceased to exist at the end of the year. The belga was tied to the British pound at a rate of 35 belgas (175 francs) = 1 pound and was thus put on a gold standard of 1 belga = 209.211 mg fine gold. The 1921 monetary union of Belgium and Luxembourg survived, however, forming the basis for full economic union in 1932. In 1935, the Belgian franc was devalued by 28% to 150.632 mg fine gold and the link between the Luxembourg and Belgian francs was revised to 1 Luxembourgish franc = 1¼ Belgian francs.
Following Belgium's occupation by Germany in May, 1940, the franc was fixed at a value of 0.1 Reichsmark, reduced to 0.08 Reichsmark in July, 1940. Following liberation in 1944, the franc entered into the Bretton Woods system, with an initial exchange rate of 43.77 francs = US dollar set on October 5. This was changed to 43.8275 in 1946 and then to 50 following the devaluation of the British pound in September 1949. The Belgian franc was devaluated again in 1982.
Like 10 other European currencies, the Belgian/Luxembourgish franc ceased to exist in January 1, 1999, when it became fixed at 1 EUR= 40.3399 BEF/LUF, thus a franc was worth € 0.024789. Old franc coins and notes lost their legal tender status in February 28, 2002.
Initially, the currency was monolingual in French. However, Dutch language coins were introduced from 1869. Some later coins featured inscriptions in both languages. When the two languages appeared on either side of the same face of a coin, two versions were still produced, one with Dutch to the left and French to the right, and one with the alternate arrangement. Banknotes became bilingual in the 1880s and, from 1992, banknotes were introduced which were trilingual, with either French or Dutch on the obverse and German and the remaining language on the reverse. Some commemorative coins were issued with German inscriptions but none for circulation.
Use of Luxembourgish francs in Belgium
Between 1944 and 2002, 1 Luxembourgish franc was equal to 1 Belgian franc. Both francs were legal tender in the two countries. Nevertheless, payment with Luxembourgish banknotes were commonly denied by shopkeepers in Belgium, either by ignorance or by fear that their other customers would refuse the banknotes (again, either by ignorance or fear of being denied payment with it later), forcing them to go through the hassle of a trip to their bank to redeem the value of the banknote.
Between 1832 and 1834, copper 1, 2, 5 and 10 centime, silver ¼, ½, 1, 2 and 5 franc, and gold 20 and 40 franc coins were introduced. Some of the early 1 and 2 centimes were struck over Dutch ½ and 1 cent coins. The 40 franc was not issued after 1841, whilst silver 2½ francs and gold 10 and 25 francs were issued between 1848 and 1850. Silver 20 centimes replaced the ¼ franc in 1852. In 1860, cupro-nickel 20 centimes were introduced, followed by cupro-nickel 5 and 10 centimes in 1861. The silver 5 franc was discontinued in 1876. Between 1901 and 1908, holed, cupro-nickel 5, 10 and 25 centime coins were introduced.
In 1914, production of the 1 centime and all silver and gold coins ceased. Zinc 5, 10 and 25 centimes were introduced in the German occupied zone, followed by holed, zinc 50 centimes in 1918. Production of 2 centimes ended in 1919. In 1922 and 1923, nickel 50 centime and 1 and 2 franc coins were introduced bearing the text "Good For" ("Bon pour" in French, "Goed Voor" in Dutch). Nickel-brass replaced cupro-nickel in the 5 and 10 centimes in 1930, followed by the 25 centime in 1938. Nickel 5 and 20 francs were introduced in 1930 and 1931, respectively, followed by silver 20 francs in 1933 and 50 francs in 1939.
As a consequence of the German occupation in 1940, the silver coinage was discontinued. In 1941, zinc replaced all other metals in the 5, 10 and 25 centimes, and 1 and 5 francs. In 1944 the Allies minted 25 million 2 franc coins at the Philadelphia Mint using leftover planchets for the 1943 steel cent. In 1948, cupro-nickel 5 francs and silver 50 and 100 francs were introduced, followed by silver 20 francs in 1949 and cupro-nickel 1 franc in 1950. Bronze 20 and 50 centimes followed in 1953 and 1952, respectively. The silver coinage ceased in 1955.
Cupro-nickel 25 centime coins replaced the 20 centime in 1964. Nickel 10 francs were introduced in 1969 (only struck until 1979), followed by bronze 20 francs in 1980 and nickel 50 francs in 1987. Aluminium-bronze replaced cupro-nickel in the 5 franc in 1986, whilst nickel-plated iron replaced cupro-nickel in the 1 franc in 1989.
Between 1835 and 1841, notes were issued by the Société de Commerce de Bruxelles, the Banque Legrelle, the Société Génerale pour Favoriser l'Industrie Nationale, the Banque de Belgique, the Banque de Flandre and the Banque Liègeoise et Caisse d'Épargnes in denominations which included 5, 10, 20, 25, 50, 100, 250, 500 and 1000 francs.
In 1851, the National Bank of Belgium began issuing paper money, in denominations of 20, 50, 100, 500 and 1000 francs. 1, 2 and 5 franc notes were introduced in 1914. The Société Génerale de Belgique issued paper money in the German occupied areas between 1915 and 1918 in denominations of 1, 2, 5, 20, 100 and 1000 francs.
The treasury took over production of 5 and 20 franc notes in 1926. In 1927, notes were introduced by the National Bank with denominations given in both francs and belgas. These were 50, 100, 500, 1000 and 10,000 francs (10, 20, 100, 200 and 2000 belgas).
In 1944, following liberation, new banknotes were introduced (dated 1943 and printed in the U.K.) in denominations of 5, 10, 100, 500 and 1000 francs (1, 2, 20, 100 and 200 belgas). These were the last notes to bear denominations in belgas. Treasury notes for 50 francs were introduced in 1948, followed by 20 francs in 1950, whilst the National Bank continued to issue 100, 500 and 1000 francs. 5000 franc banknotes were introduced in 1971, with the 20 and 50 franc treasury notes replaced by coins in 1980 and 1987, respectively. 10,000 franc banknotes were introduced in 1992, the same year that production of the 5000 franc note ceased. 2000 franc notes were introduced in 1994.
Unlike coins, banknotes removed from circulation in 2002 may be exchanged into euros for an indefinite period of time.
The text on this page has been made available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License and Creative Commons Licenses