French Francs

France has a long and storied history minting gold coins. The first franc was a gold coin that was issued in 1360. After a long period where gold coins fell out of favor, they experienced a resurgence after 1795 when France was one of the first countries to adopt a decimal system for its currency.

The French franc was one of the leading european currencies in the late 19th and 20th centuries. France became the founder member of the the Latin Monetary Union, which created a system to standardize other European currencies to the 20 gold franc. France, Belgium, Switzerland and Italy formed the union which lasted from 1865 until 1927.

20 Franc Gold Coin

The 20 Franc gold coin was first issued under the reign of Napoleon I. Other denominations were later minted in 5, 10, 40, 50 and 100 francs, however the 20 franc was the most common.  While the design changed over the years, the 20 franc gold coin would go on to become the most popular gold coin in France and was minted until 1914.

While many different types of gold coins were minted in France in the 1800 and 1900’s, the 20 franc gold coin is the most common and are the coins we will profile here. All of the 20 franc gold coins have the same weight and dimensions:

Product Specifications 20 Franc Gold Coin (1809-1914)

Weight: 0.1867 gold ounces

Diameter: 21 mm

Thickness: 1.3 mm

Purity: 90% gold

Nominal Value: 20 francs

Napoleon I 20 Franc Gold Coin (1809-1814)

The 20 franc gold coin issued during the reign of Napoleon were the most common gold coins up until the 1850’s. They were often referred to as Napoleon’s and retained this name even when minted under other rulers. While there are editions prior to 1809, they were minted in smaller quantities.

The  motif side of the coin feature a left profile view of Emperor Napoleon wearing a laurel wreath on his head. The inscription around the outer edge reads “NAPOLEON EMPEREUR”. The coin engraver was Jean-Pierre Droz.

The reverse depicts a wreath with the nominal value of “20 Francs” in the center. Around the top outer edge are the words “EMPIRE FRANCAIS”. The date of issue is below the motif. The mint mark is to the right of the year of issue.

20 franc gold coins were struck at many different mints that Napoleon had across the French empire. These mints included:

  • Paris- Mint Mark A

  • Strasbourg- Mint Mark BB

  • Geneva- Mint Mark G

  • Bordeaux- Mint Mark K

  • Marseille- Mint Mark M/A

  • Nantes- Mint Mark T

  • Turin- Mint Mark U

  • Metz- Mint Mark AA

  • Genoa- Mint Mark CL

  • La Rochelle- Mint Mark H

  • Bayonne- Mint Mark L

  • Perpignan- Mint Mark Q

  • Lille- Mint Mark W

  • Rome- MInt Mark Crown/R

  • London- Mint Mark R

  • Rouen- Mint Mark B

  • Lyon Mint Mark D

  • Limoges- Mint Mark I

  • Toulouse- Mint Mark M

  • Orleans- Mint Mark R

  • Utrecht- Mint Mark flag

Napoleon

Napoleon was the French Emperor from 1804 until 1814 and then again during the hundred days in 1815. For more than a decade Napoleon took control of European territories and led forces in the Napoleonic wars. He ended up building a large empire that reigned over much of Europe, before it all fell apart in 1815. He was considered a great military commander and many of his tactics and strategies have been studies all over the world.

Louis XVIII 20 Franc Gold Coins (1814-1824)

The Louis XVIII 20 franc gold coin was issued with two different designs. The first edition was issued in 1814 and 1815 at the beginning of restoration of the monarchy after the fall of Napoleon. The second edition was issued from 1816 through 1824 and depicts a different profile of Louis XVIII.

1814-1815 Edition

Millions of the 1814-1815 were issued at several of the mints located throughout the French empire. The motif side of the coin depicts a right facing profile of King Louis XVIII of France. The portrait includes a shoulder view of the king which is not present in the 1816-1824 design. The inscriptions around the outer edge of the coin read “LOUIS XVIII” and “ROI DE FRANCE” The engraver was Pierre-Joseph Tiolier.

The value side of the coin depicts the French coat of arms during the rule of Louis XVIII. The engravings around the outer edge are the nominal value “PIECE DE 20 FRANCS” and the year of issue. To the right of the motif is the mint mark. The lettering on the edge bar is “DOMINE SALVUM FAC REGEM”

1816-1824 Edition

The 1816-1824 edition were minted in good qualities. The motif side of the coin depicts a right head profile of King Louis XVIII of France. The Engravings around the outer edge read “LOUIS ROI DE FRANCE” Below the portrait of the king is the head of a horse.

The value side depicts the coat of arms of France. Surrounding the coat of arms are oak leaves. Unlike the 1814-1815 edition, there is no lettering around the coins outer edge, except for the date of issue, which is below the motif. To the right and left of the shield is the nominal value which reads “20” and “F”. To the right of the year of issue is the mint mark.

Louis XVIII

Louis ruled France from 1814-1824, except for a short period in 1815 during the Hundred Days when Napoleon returned from exile on the island of Elba. The second restoration of Louis XVIII happened approximately three months later in July of 1815.

About one year after his return to rule, Louis XVIII began minting the newly designed 20 franc gold coin which would be issued until 1824.

Louis was a monarch of the House of Bourbon. During the rule of Napoleon he lived in exile in Prussia, England and Russia. When Napoleon was defeated in 1814, Louis XVIII ascended to the throne and would rule France for just under a decade.

Louis Philippe 20 Franc Gold Coin (1830-1848)

The Louis Philippe 20 franc gold coin also had two designs. The first was issued from 1830-1831. The second was released between 1832 and 1848. The second design edition was minted in higher quantities because there were more years of issue.

1830-1831 Edition

The motif side on the first edition features a left profile of King Louis Philippe of France. The inscriptions around the outer edge read “LOUIS PHILIPPE I ROI DES FRANCAIS” The engraver for this edition was Nicholas-Pierre Tiolier.

The value side pictures a laurel wreath. In the center is the nominal value of “20 FRANCS”. Below the nominal value is the date of issue. On the lower right side of the coin is the mint mark. The majority of this edition was minted at the Paris Mint, which is designated with the mint mark “A”. The edge bar also has lettering which is read as “DIEU * PROTEGE * LA * FRANCE”.

1832-1848 Editions

The motif side of the coin has a different profile of King Louis Philippe. In this edition he is wearing a laurel wreath of his head. The inscriptions around the outer edge are the same “LOUIS PHILIPPE I ROI DES FRANCAIS” The engraver was Joseph- Francois Domard.

The value side depicts a laurel wreath with the nominal value of “20 “FRANCS” in the center. The coin edge bar is also engraved with the words “DIEU PROTEGE LA FRANCE” The mint mark is in the lower right hand corner.

Louis Philippe

Louis Philippe was King of France from 1830-1848. He was made king after Charles X (his cousin) was forced to abdicate. His policies were considered conservative and he promoted friendly relations with Britain. As economic conditions worsened toward the end of his rule, his popularity declined. He would be forced to leave France in 1848 at the start of the French revolution.  

Napoleon III 20 Franc Gold Coin (1853-1870)

Napoleon III 20 franc gold coins were also issued with two designs. The first edition was issued from 1853 to 1860. And the second design ran from 1861-1870.

The two editions feature different designs on both sides of the coin. The mintage was relatively high for both types of designs.

1853-1860 Edition

The motif side of the coin depicts a right profile view of the head of Napoleon III. The inscription around the outer edge reads “NAPOLEON III EMPEREUR” The letters “BARRE” are below the motif, and is the last name of the engraver.

The value side depicts a laurel wreath as the main motif. In the center is the nominal value of “20 FRANCS” and the year of issue. Below the laurel wreath is the mint mark. The engravings around the outer edge read “EMPIRE FRANCAIS”. The edge bar also has an inscription which is “DIEU PROTEGE LA FRANCE”. Most of these coins were produced at the Paris Mint.

1861-1870 Edition

This edition features a right side profile of Napoleon III wearing a laurel wreath on his head. The inscription around the outer edge is the same as the previous edition and reads “NAPOLEON III EMPEREUR”. The name of the engraver also appears below the motif.

The value side depicts a shield with a crown on top and a bird with outstretched wings in the center. On either side of the shield is the nominal value of “20” and “FRANCS”. Below the shield is the year of issue. Surrounding the outer edge is the engraving “EMPIRE FRANCAIS”. Next to the date is the mint mark. Almost all of these coins were produced at either the Paris Mint “A” or the Strasbourg Mint “BB”

Napoleon III

Born as Charles Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, he was president of France from 1848-1852 and as Napoleon III ruled as emperor from 1853-1870. He was the nephew and hair of Napoleon I.

He was elected by popular vote and was the first French leader to hold the title of President. The constitution did not allow for a second term so he dis-solved the French National Assembly and reinstated the French empire and ruled as Napoleon III until 1870.

French Angel 20 Franc Gold Coin (1871-1898)

French angel gold coins were first issued in 1792. King Louis XVI commissioned designer Augustine Dupre to create the motif for the coin. Dupre had an affinity for guardian angels, which gave him the idea for the coin. It was said that the angel design acted as a protective energy and came to be known as a symbol for luck.

The coin was re-introduced in 1871 and was issued sporadically until 1898.

The motif side of the coin features the image of angel writing a on a piece of paper. The writing is believed to be the French constitution. The inscription around the outer edge reads “REPUBLIQUE FRANCAISE” Below the motif is Dupre’s signature.

The value side depicts a circular wreath. In the center is the nominal value of “20 FRANCS” and the date of issue. The engravings around the outer edge are “LIBERTE EGALITE FRATERNITE” which translates as Liberty Equality Fraternity. The mint mark is at the bottom center of the coin.

French Rooster 20 Franc Gold Coin (1899-1914)

Tens of millions of the the French Rooster 20 franc gold coin were minted. Because of this premiums are relatively low for a historical coin like this. Production of the French rooster stopped at the beginning of World War I. However, because of their popularity, some dates were re-struck in 1921.

The Gallic Rooster is one of the national symbols of France. The rooster has also been used as a decoration on French church towers since the middle ages. France hosted the 1998 FIFA world cup and the mascot was a rooster.

The motif side of the coin feature the right side profile of Marianne, which represents liberty to the French people. She is wearing crown of leaves. The engraving around the outer edge reads “REPUBLIQUE FRANCAISE”. The name of the designer, J.C. Chaplain is engraved below the motif.

The value side depicts a Rooster as the main motif. On either side of the rooster is the nominal value of “20”  and “Fcs”. The inscriptions around the outer edge are “LIBERTE EGALITE FRATERNITE”, which translates as Liberty Equality Fraternity. The date of issue is below the motif.

Advantages of French 20 Franc Gold Coins

  • French 20 franc gold coins span a history of over 100 years across many different French rulers. The coins standard specifications have not changed since they were established under Napoleon I.

  • The coins are ideal for both collectors and investors. Some editions were minted in large numbers and will have lower premiums.

  • The French 20 franc gold coin was one of the leaders after France established the decimal currency system for the franc in 1795.

  • The designs are exquisite and represent a part of French and European history.

Product Details

Manufacturer: French Mint
Country of origin: France
Fineness: 900/1000
Alloy: Gold/Copper
Size: French 20 Franc Gold Coin (1809-1914)
Scratch resistance: Good

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