French culture and therefore French money goers back more than 2000 years. Gaul- present day French region was annexed by Rome in 51 BC. A culture formed from this Gallo-Roman people. They had their own coins. From the east, the Germanic Franks arrived 500 years later and created the Kingdom of Francia. They had their own money. And after the partition of the Carolignian Empire, the Kingdom of France was formed. And they had their own money. Like many countries with ancient history, France has a long and complex history of its currency. But if we start with the French Franc, the timeline gets shorter.
Origin of Currency in France
The name ‘franc’ was the name for a specific denomination during the late middle ages. Over time, the name franc became synonymous with all currency in France. In 1795 the currency was re-launched as the Franc which was divided into 100 centimes. The Franc remained through wars, governments and depressions. It was still used during WWII when Germany occupied France. It was adjusted to fit German characteristics and it was pegged to the German mark. As a result of a new constitution and the establishment of the 5th Republic, the ‘New Franc’ replaced the Franc in 1960.
The New Franc
The new Francs initially were the higher denomination old francs, just overprinted to drop three zeros. But instead of crossing out 3 zeros, they just printed the new denomination in an ink free area on the front. The notes therefore had 2 denominations on them. How confusing! The 5 New Franc (P-137) is as beautiful as it is confusing. It is colorful- much more colorful than most other countries at the time. The paper has that unique onion-skin feel. The is a portrait of writer Victor Hugo on both sides. The other denominations 10, 50 and 100 Francs had portraits of Cardinal Richelieu, King Henri IV and Napoleon Bonaparte. Interesting group. In 1969, the Bank de France added a 500 Franc note which had a portrait of French playwright Moliere.
France issued 2 additional series after the first new Franc series and before the Euro was adopted. The banknotes were much smaller and easier to fit into a wallet, but the paper still had a thinnest and lack of stiffness compared to other banknotes. The last series, introduced in 1992, have some interesting features. The 50 Franc (P-157) is a baby blue color. The reverse has an image of a bi-plane to match the portrait on the front- Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, an early aviation pioneer. The 500 Franc (P-160) shows Marie and Pierre Curie, the famous husband and wife scientists. The reverse shows a chemistry lab bench and an electron diagram all in a green background.
French banknotes have always been different. The paper is different. They used colors earlier than most, and the colors they used are bright. And they would make pictures using filled areas of ink and not line engraving. One can see the influence of French banknotes and designs on the Euro. The bright colors and the use of holographic security features remind one of the last French Series. I am not a fan of French banknotes, but their creativity and uniqueness has been missed.