The franc (represented by the franc sign F or more commonly just "F") was a currency of France. Along with the Spanish peseta, it was also a de facto currency used in Andorra (which had no national currency with legal tender). Between 1360 and 1641, it was the name of coins worth 1 livre tournois and it remained in common parlance as a term for this amount of money. It was re-introduced (in decimal form) in 1795 and remained the national currency until the introduction of the euro in 1999 (for accounting purposes) and 2002 (coins and banknotes).
Before the French Revolution
The franc was introduced by King John II in 1360. Its name comes from the inscription, Johannes Dei Gratia Francorum Rex ("John by the grace of God King of the Franks"), and its value was set as one livre tournois (a money of account). Francs were later minted under Charles V, Henry III and Henri IV.
Louis XIII of France stopped minting the franc in 1641 (replacing it with the Écu and Louis d'Or), but use of the name "franc" continued in accounting as a synonym for the livre tournois.
The decimal "franc" was established as the national currency by the French Revolutionary Convention in 1795 as a decimal unit (1 franc = 10 decimes = 100 centimes) of 4.5 g of fine silver. This was slightly less than the livre of 4.505 g but the franc was set in 1796 at 1.0125 livres (1 livre, 3 deniers), reflecting in part the past minting of sub-standard coins.
However, the circulation of this metallic currency declined during the Republic, which exchanged the old gold and silver reserves (needed to finance wars and try to solve the shortage of food supplies by importing them) against printed assignats, initially designed as bonds based on the value of the confiscated goods of churches, but later declared as legal tender currency.
Too many assignats were put in circulation (by largely overvaluing the value of the "national properties"), and the silver franc rarefied to pay foreign providers, and the unpaid governmental national debt caused decreasing trust in this secondary unit, shortage of silver supplies for producing metallized francs, hyperinflation, even more food riots in the population, and severe political instability and termination of the First French Republic (the political fall of the French Convention, the economic failure of the Directoire that replaced it, then a coup d'tat that lead to the Consulate during which only the first Consul progressively gained all the legislative powers against the other unstable and discredited consultative or legislative institutions).
French Empire and Restoration
In 1803, the "germinal franc" (named after the month Germinal in the revolutionary calendar) was established, creating a gold franc containing 290.32 mg of fine gold. From this point, gold and silver-based units circulated interchangeably on the basis of a 1:15.5 ratio between the values of the two metals (bimetallism). This system continued until 1864, when all silver coins except the 5 franc piece were debased from 90% to 83.5% silver without the weights changing.
The currency was retained during the Bourbon Restoration.
Latin Monetary Union
France was a founding member of the Latin Monetary Union (LMU) in 1865. The common currency was based on the franc germinal, with the name franc already being used in Switzerland and Belgium, whilst other countries used their own names for the currency. In 1873, the LMU went over to a purely gold standard of 1 franc = 0.290322581 g gold.
World War I
The outbreak of World War I caused France to leave the gold standard of the LMU. The war severely undermined the franc's strength, as war expenditure, inflation and postwar reconstruction, financed partly through the printing of ever more money, reduced the franc's purchasing power by 70% from 1915 to 1920 and a further 43% from 1922 to 1926. After a brief return to the gold standard (1928 to 1936) the currency was allowed to resume its slide, until it was worth in 1959 less than a fortieth of its 1934 value.
World War II
During the occupation of France, the franc was a satellite currency of the German Reichsmark. The coins were changed, with the words Travail, Famille, Patrie (Work, Family, Fatherland) replacing the Republican triad (Liberty, Equality, Fraternity) and the emblem of the Vichy regime added.
At the liberation, the US attempted to impose use of the US occupation franc, which was averted by General De Gaulle.
After World War II, France devalued its currency within the Bretton Woods system on several occasions. Beginning in 1945 at a rate of 480 francs to the British pound (119.1 to the U.S. dollar), by 1949 the rate was 980 to the pound (350 to the dollar). This was reduced further in 1957 and 1958, reaching 1382.3 to the pound (493.7 to the dollar, equivalent to 1 franc = 1.8 mg pure gold).
In January 1960 the French franc was revalued at 100 existing francs. Old one and two franc pieces continued to circulate as centimes (none of which were minted for the first two years), 100 of them making a nouveau franc (the abbreviation NF was used on banknotes for some time). Inflation continued to erode the currency's value but at a greatly reduced rate compared to other countries. The one centime coin never circulated widely. Only one further major devaluation occurred (in August 1969) before the Bretton Woods system was replaced by free floating exchange rates. Nonetheless, when the Euro replaced the franc on January 1, 1999, the franc was worth less than an eighth of its original 1960 value.
The old franc pieces were gradually withdrawn. They ceased to be legal tender in January 2002 upon the official adoption of the euro.
After revaluation and the introduction of the new franc, many French people continued to speak of old francs (anciens francs), to describe large sums. For example, lottery prizes were often advertised in amounts of centimes, equivalent to the old franc. Multiples of 10F were occasionally referred to as "mille francs" (thousand francs) or "mille balles" ("balle" being a slang word for franc) in contexts where it was clear that the speaker did not mean 1000 new francs. The expression "heavy franc" (franc lourd) was also commonly used to designate the new franc. This usage continued, at least among the elderly, right up to the time when franc notes and coins were withdrawn in 2002.
Many French retail businesses continue to display prices in French francs next to the official euro prices on price tags, at check-out counters, or sometimes in other contexts. Similarly, many Andorran retail establishments continue to show prices in euro and French francs, or in euro.
European Monetary Union
From January 1, 1999, the value exchange rate of the French franc against the euro was set at a fixed parity of 1 EUR=6.55957 FRF. Euro coins and notes replaced the franc entirely between January 1 and February 17, 2002.
The third coins were issued in denominations of 1 and 5 centimes, 1 and 2 decimes (in copper), quarter, half, 1, 2, and 5 francs (in silver), and 20 and 40 francs (in gold). Copper coins were not issued between 1801 and 1848, leaving the quarter-franc as the smallest coin being minted. During this period, copper coins from the previous currency system circulated, with a one-sou coin being valued at 5 centimes.
Bronze coinage was introduced from 1848, and coins worth 1, 2, 5 and 10 centimes were issued from 1853. The quarter-franc was discontinued, with silver 20-centime coins issued between 1849 and 1868. The gold coinage also changed at this time, with 40- franc coins no longer produced and 5-, 10-, 50- and 100-franc coins introduced. The last gold 5-franc pieces were minted in 1869, and silver 5-franc coins were last minted in 1878. Nickel 25-centime coins were introduced in 1903.
The First World War brought substantial changes to the coinage. Gold coinage was suspended, and holed 5, 10 and 25 centimes minted in nickel or cupro-nickel were introduced. In 1920, production of bronze and silver coinage ceased, with aluminium-bronze 50-centime, and 1- and 2-franc coins introduced. Until 1929, these coins were issued by the Chambers of Commerce of France. During the same period, local Chambers of Commerce also issued small change coins. In 1929, silver coins were reintroduced in 10- and 20-franc denominations.
The Second World War also affected the coinage substantially. Zinc 10- and 20-centime pieces were introduced, along with aluminium coins of 50 centimes, and 1 and 2 francs. Following the war, rapid inflation caused denominations below 1 franc to be withdrawn and coin denominations up to 100 francs were introduced by 1954.
In 1960, the new franc was introduced, worth 100 of the old francs. Stainless steel 1- and 5-centime, aluminum-bronze 10-, 20- and 50-centime, nickel one-franc and silver 5-franc coins were introduced. Silver 10-franc pieces were introduced in 1965, followed by aluminum-bronze 5-centime and nickel half-franc coins in 1966.
Nickel clad cupro-nickel 5-franc and nickel-brass 10-franc coins replaced their silver counterparts in 1970 and 1974, respectively. Nickel 2 francs were introduced in 1979, followed by bimetallic 10 and 20 francs in 1988 and 1992, respectively. The 20-franc coin was composed of two rings and a centre plug.
A nickel 10-franc piece was issued in 1986, but was quickly withdrawn and demonetized due to confusion with the half-franc and an unpopular design. The aluminum-bronze pieces continued to circulate until the bimetallic pieces were developed and additional aluminum-bronze coins were minted to replace those initially withdrawn. Once the bi-metallic coins were circulating the aluminum-bronze pieces were withdrawn and demonetized. A silver 50-franc piece was issued from 1974-1980, but was withdrawn and demonetized after the price of silver spiked in 1980. A 100-franc piece, in silver, was issued, and circulated to a small extent, until the introduction of the euro. All French franc coins were demonetized in 2005 and are no longer redeemable at the Banque de France.
At the time of the complete changeover to the euro on 1 January 2002, the coins in circulation (some of which were still produced during 2000) were:
- 1 centime (~ 0.1524 eurocents) stainless steel, rarely circulated (last production stopped around 1982 due to its excessive production cost, and no more demand for it in commerce due to higher inflation and most shop prices rounded to 5 centimes).
- 5 centimes (~ 0.7622 eurocents) aluminum-bronze
- 10 centimes (~ 1.524 eurocents) aluminum-bronze
- 20 centimes (~ 3.049 eurocents) aluminum-bronze
- ½ franc (~ 7.622 eurocents) nickel
- 1 franc (~ 15.24 eurocents) nickel
- 2 francs (~ 30.49 eurocents) nickel
- 5 francs (~ 76.22 eurocents) nickel clad copper-nickel
- 10 francs (~ €1.52) bimetallic
- 20 francs (~ €3.05) trimetallic, more rare (produced for a short period before the euro, the banknote equivalent was much more frequently used)
- 100 francs (~ €15.24) silver, rarely circulated (most often bought and offered as personal gifts, but rare in commercial transactions, this coin has now a higher value than its nominal price at the official conversion rate).
Coins were freely exchangeable until February 17, 2005 at Banque de France only (some commercial banks could still perform it but were not required to offer this service for free after the transition period in 2001), by converting their total value in francs to euros (rounded to the nearest eurocent) at the official fixed rate of 6.55957 francs for 1 euro. Banknotes are officially convertible up to 17 February 2012.
The first franc paper money issues were made in 1795. They were assignats in denominations between 100 and 10,000 francs. These followed in 1796 by "territorial mandate promises" for 25 up to 500 francs. The treasury also issued notes that year for 25 up to 1000 francs.
In 1800, the Bank of France began issuing notes, first in denominations of 500 and 1000 francs. In the 1840s, 100- and 200-franc notes were added, while 5-, 20- and 50- francs were added in the 1860s and 70s, although the 200-franc note was discontinued.
The First World War saw the introduction of 10- and 5000-franc notes but, despite base metal 5-franc coins being introduced after the war, the banknotes were not removed.
In 1944, the liberating Allies introduced paper money in denominations between 2 and 1000 francs. Following the war, 10,000-franc notes were introduced, while 5-, 10- and 20-franc notes were replaced by coins, as were the 50- and 100-franc notes in the 1950s.
The first issue of the new franc consisted of 500-, 1000-, 5000- and 10,000-franc notes overprinted with their new denominations of 5, 10, 50 and 100 new francs. This issue was followed by notes of the same design but with only the new denomination shown. 500-new franc notes were also introduced at this time. 5- and 10- franc notes were withdrawn in 1970 and 1979, respectively.
Banknotes in circulation when the franc was replaced were [dead link]
- 20 francs (€3.05) : Claude Debussy Brown
- 50 francs (€7.62) : Antoine de Saint-Exupéry Blue (introduced 20 October 1993, replacing Maurice Quentin de la Tour)
- 100 francs (€15.24) : Paul Cézanne Orange (introduced 15 December 1997, replacing Eugène Delacroix)
- 200 francs (€30.49) : Gustave Eiffel Red (introduced 29 October 1996, replacing Montesquieu)
- 500 francs (€76.22) : Pierre and Marie Curie Green (introduced 22 March 1995, replacing Blaise Pascal)
Banknotes of the current series as of euro changeover may be exchanged with the French central bank or services like GFC until February 17, 2012. Most older series were exchangeable for 10 years from date of withdrawal. As the last banknote from the previous series had been withdrawn on 31 March 1998 (200 francs Montesquieu), the deadline for the exchange was on 31 March 2008. This means that from this day on, banknotes from older series can no longer be exchanged.
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