I'll divide the French corpus numismatorum as follows:
1) Greek and Celtic coinage, BCE period
2) Roman coinage, c. 50 BCE - 450 AD
3) Barbarian coinage (including Merovingian), c. 200-751
4) Frankish coinage, 751-987
5) Kingdom of France, houses of Capet & Valois, 987-1589
6) Feudal coinage, c. 900-1700
7) Bourbon coinage, 1589-1792
8) Modern coinage (1789 to date)
9) the extensive exonumia.
Little is known of the aboriginal inhabitants of the large region now known as France. That there was human habitation as far back as 30,000 years ago is attested by the famous cave paintings of Lascaux in the Dordogne. Numerous megalithic monuments are dated provisionally to roughly 2000-1000 BCE. It is theorized that the Basque people of Northern Spain are descendants of the original inhabitants, but to date nothing has been proved.
Greek trading stations were established along the Mediterranean littoral during the 7th century BC. A permanent colony of settlers from Phokis was established c. 600 BC, and this settlement, called Massilia, has become today the city of Marseille. At the same time, or maybe a bit later, Celtic tribes began migrating into the region from the northeast. Both Greeks and Celts were horse using peoples, and they quickly overran the horseless aborigines.
The Massilians formed an early alliance with the Roman Republic, which fact the Romans used later as a pretext to intervene in Gaul and eventually to overrun and annex the territory. Coins were struck by Greek Massilia c. 450-200 BC, consisting mainly of small silver with a few medium coppers toward the end of the run. In my experience they do not turn up very often. Celtic coins as a class are far more common.
Celtic coins are provisionally dated from c. 150-50 BC. I say provisionally because there is very little evidence which can fix their dates, and with many the tribal attribution is conjectural. Virtually all Celtic types are derived from Greek prototypes, and the extent of the falling away from classical Greek style, or barbarization, is traditionally given some weight in establishing provenance and timeline. The coins exist in gold (often base), silver, copper, and potin (tin-lead alloy). In terms of what actually shows up in the market the expensive gold is most common, then expensive silver, then cheap silver, then base metal. On any day of any week you can find Celtic coins at prices over $200.00, while anything less than $100.00 tends to get snapped up before it makes it to a price list. There are often junky small silver coins available. Sometimes they are so crystallized they come apart in your hands, so that you will occasionally find a dealer who will sheepishly show you a hoard of fragments which he bought as coins but which broke on their way to the holder. These bargain hoards typically disappear immediately, someone supposing that art and epoxy will salvage something. Disappointment usually ensues.
One occasionally finds thick little tin "wheels" called "Gaulish wheel money." These are about 15mm in diameter, 6mm high, with a pattern of radiating lines, serrated edges and a big center hole. The last one I saw was about 15 years ago, though I've heard of one recently. I'm reasonably satisfied that they are what they say they are, being simultaneously too rare and too cheap ($40 or so) to make a good subject for a counterfeit.
When, in the second century BC, the Massilians found themselves threatened by Celtic advances, they called on Rome for assistance. The Romans came and stayed. By the start of the first century BC the Romans had consolidated the pacified territories of southern Gaul, including Massilia, into the province of Gallia Transalpina. Narbo Martius (Narbonne) was established as a colonial city in 118 BC and Romanization proceeded at a rapid pace in the south. The whole of Gaul was brought under Roman control by Julius Caesar between 58 and 50 BC.
A mint was opened at Narbo shortly after its foundation, issuing serrate denarii. Evidently the serrati were meant to blend in with the serrated tin wheels which the Celts had been using. The Narbo colonials were struck over perhaps a decade by at least six different moneyers. The mint was then closed until c 85-74 BC, when the General C. Valerius Flaccus campaigned in Gaul, striking non-serrate denarii to pay his troops.. Neither the Narbo colonials nor the Flaccus militaries are standard fare of Roman Republican offerings.
Gallic colonial cities issuing bronze coins in the late first century BC included Lugdunum (modern Lyon), nearby Vienne, Cabellio (Cavaillon), Narbo (Narbonne), Nemausus (Nimes), and Antipolis (Antibes). The most common of this series has to be the Augustus-Agrippa as of Nemausus with the crocodile reverse. The others are moderately scarce.
In the period just prior to the establishment of the Imperium control of the coinage had slipped away from the Roman Senate, with large issues of silver struck by the major players to pay their troops. Control of the mint at Rome was passed around before it closed for a time. When Augustus nailed down the purple he reorganized the coinage and reopened the Rome mint in 23 BC. Around 15 BC he set up a permanent mint in Gallic Lugdunum, which shortly became the sole issuer of precious metal coinage in the empire, continuing in this unique position until the time of Caligula fifty years later.
During this period large numbers of denarii were struck by Lugdunum, along with smaller issues of gold and bronze. The most common types have to be the Augustus denarius with reverse of Caius & Lucius Caesar holding shields, and the so-called "Tribute Penny" of Tiberius. The latter piece was struck for more than 30 years, and would be one of the cheaper denarii were it not for the extra added popularity (and marketability) derived from its biblical associations.
Activity at Lugdunum during the reigns of Caligula and Claudius was spotty if not conjectural. Nero reopened the mint to coin bronze. After his death in AD 68 Lugdunum languished, issuing small quantities of scarcer bronzes under Vespasian and Titus before being closed down by Domitian. It was reopened 195-197 AD by Clodius Albinus to pay for his struggle against Septimius Severus. Clodian coins are rare, and of course the victorious Severus closed down his enemy's mint. Lugdunum had to wait 170 years before the unfortunate Emperor Valerian had it reopened.
The gallic mint struck for Valerian, but Gaul was lost to his co-emperor Gallienus when Postumus successfully rebelled in 259. Lugdunum became for a time the sole mint for the breakaway Gallic Empire before Postumus moved his capital to Cologne. As he ruled well his coins are fairly easy to find. Postumus was succeeded by the short-lived Marius, whose copper coins are tough but not impossible. Then came Victorinus, Tetricus I (and his son Tetricus II Caesar). There have recently been large quantities of small copper antoniniani of Victorinus on the market. These undersize coins usually come in nice condition but poorly struck. They are almost certainly local products rather than of the central mint at Cologne.
In 273 CE the Roman Emperor Aurelian invaded Gaul. Tetricus capitulated immediately, and the unitary empire was restored. Aurelian used Lugdunum as a subsidiary mint, and his gallic coins are much scarcer than his fairly common Italian and eastern issues. This pattern continued under his successors. Tacitus operated a mint at Arelate (Arles) for a time, and the usurper in Britain, Carausius, 287-93 AD), struck rare coins at a mint in Rouen.
Lugdunum retained its mint under the reform of Diocletian, 284-305 AD. Coins were issued there by him and his successors and their relatives down to 423 AD, when the mint finally closed. "PLG" and its varieties are neither the scarcest mintmarks on these late Roman coins, nor the most common. The mint at Arelate reopened in 313, fitfully issuing smaller numbers of coins until the end of the western Empire.
By the middle of the 4th century much of northern Gaul had slipped away from the Empire. Coinage needs were satisfied locally if at all. Older coins were used until they were mere metal blanks, and local imitations in miniature were extensively issued. Today we'd call them counterfeits. Imitations of 3rd century Roman coins are called "barbarous radiates" after the headgear used on the Emperor's portrait. Stylistically these coins range from faithful copies of the originals, though blundered legends, all the way to blobs and lines, and they can be had quite cheaply. 4th century coins were imitated as well, though these are not correspondingly called "barbarous laureates," and they are equally common and cheap.
The end of the Western Empire after 476 AD found no one successor capable of holding together a unified Gaul. In the late 5th century the southwest was held by the Visigoths, the southeast by Ostrogoths, while the northern and central regions were the home of various disunited Frankish and Burgundian tribes. In the 6th century one group living in what is now Belgium put forth a charismatic leader who eventually conquered all of Gaul. This was Clovis, 481-511, the first and greatest of the Merovingian line of Frankish kings. Clovis divided his territory among his sons, so that Merovingian power quickly waned. Even so, he set up a governing system which continued to reliably collect tax revenues from much of Gaul for another 300 years.
For the earliest Merovingian period there are faithful imitations of Byzantine gold coins, mostly tremisses. These were succeeded by pieces with local types and legends citing names of the city of mintage and the moneyer. After a century or so a gradual debasement was carried out, the end point of which was the production of silver "denarii." At least fifty different towns are named on coins of this series, as well as a few pieces bearing names of some of the Merovingian kings. A few ecclesiastical emissions round out the possibilities.
Merovingian coins seem to be unavailable. I've never seen one outside of museums, and can't remember ever seeing an offering in a dealer list or auction catalog.
The personal power of the Merovingian kings waned, but certain aspects of their government apparatus remained functional. The strings of this administrative machine were pulled by the "Mayor of the Palace." This position was fought over by the great families, and in the 7th century the contest had been narrowed to the houses of Austrasia and Neustria. In 687 the Austrasian, Pepin II, found himself triumphant, and inaugurated an illustrious line of hereditary Mayors which culminated in Charlemagne and the rebirth of the Western Empire.
Mayor Pepin III, the Short, 752-68, wrote to the Pope in Rome, asking who should be King of the Franks. The Pope responded that he who held the power should be king. Pepin promptly bundled the last Merovingian king off to a monastery and took the crown for himself. He forthwith proclaimed his status by striking coins in his own name. These are known from some 40 mints. All are rare and expensive.
Pepin was succeeded by Charlemagne, 766-814. Charlemagne issued a few rare gold tremisses and a quantity of broad silver deniers of several types (including his portrait) from more than 40 mints. His coins were issued in large enough numbers that they were widely copied for centuries after. His successors, many of whom were named Charles, imitated his types, to the extent that Charles II the Bald (840-877) employed an identical monogram. Today all Charlemagne's issues are power coins, rarely offered, fetching high prices at auction.
Coins of the successors of Charlemagne are considerably cheaper. A typical piece of Louis the Pious, 814-40 for example, would cost you perhaps $200.00, as opposed to $800 or so as a minimum for a Charlemagne. Coins of the later Carolingian kings are considerably scarcer than the earlier pieces. They are not necessarily more expensive, just offered less often.
FEUDAL & CAPETIAN
Two years before Charlemagne died he had his son Louis crowned king of the Franks. Louis I the Pious, 814-40 presided over a decline of the Empire, which was bearing assaults on all its borders and princely wars within. The Muslims were advancing from Spain along the Mediterranean littoral, Hungarians probed from the east, and Vikings ravaged the north and west. For the entirety of his reign his sons warred over their putative inheritance. The outcome on his passing was a divided empire and the resurgence of the great provincial lords. Son Louis ruled in Germany. Lothair retained the Imperium and Italy, with a strip of territory extending between France and Germany added later. France went to Charles the Bald, known as Charles I of France, 840-77, and upon his election in 875, as Emperor Charles II.
Coinage of the period reflected the confusion of the time. All three sons struck silver deniers and occasional obols in their own names, as well as with the names or monograms of their father and grandfather. Also in this period we find the beginning of the grant of local mint rights in return for administrative or military service by monasteries and local lords respectively. The local devolution of political power (and coinage) was to continue in Western and Central Europe for centuries, assuring an almost continuous state of general war and economic turmoil.
The successors of Charles the Bald were deficient of ability and short of reign. Viking raids were especially fierce. When Charles II the Fat, 884-87, failed to come to the defense of beseiged Paris in 885-6, the regional nobles in council deposed him and named Odo, of family Capet and Count of Paris, as king of France. There followed a century of conflict for the throne as Carolingian challenged Capetian and vice versa while the nobles schemed.
In 987 the Carolingian presence in France was ended with the election of the Count of Paris, Hugh Capet, as king. Hugh had adequate genealogical credentials for the job, but the chief factor in his selection was most likely his political weakness. His holdings were small and poor, and he was in no position to dictate to the great lords who surrounded him.
By this time local control of mint right was widespread, and the next three centuries of war and anarchy saw the great flowering of local coinage in France which we like to call the "feudal" period. One might call it a "Golden Age" of local coinage save that "Billon" is more appropriate. The entire period can be characterised as one of ongoing debasement, as silver became ever scarcer and the local mints competed for bullion.
Political turmoil did not abate. A permanent Viking settlement had been established in the northwest, its lord recognized as a count by the Carolingian Charles III the Simple, 893-923. A later lord of this County of Norsemen, or Normandy, successfully invaded England. With the various twists of feudal inheritance later English kings were able to use their status as Norman counts to advance claims to the French throne, for a time holding, by dint of war and marriage, fully half of the current territory of France. The great nobles intrigued constantly against one another, united only in their resolve to keep the Capetian king a powerless figurehead. The kings struggled to expand their writ and power.
By the 11th century the coinage was thoroughly decentralized. Faustin Poey d'Avant, in his standard work, Monnaies Feodales de France, organized the series by region, within which are to be found any combination of coinages citing great lord or local feudatory, bishops or monasteries, the occasional free town where Imperial traditions held, the king, etc.
The major denomination from Carolingian times through the end of the 13th century was the silver denier, with occasional halves or obols and rare gold. By the end of that time inflation had added a double. The 14th century found the kings and a few of the most independent lords striking larger silver and gold coins, notably gros or 4 deniers, sols (shillings) and fractions, and gold ecus. Border regions frequently were under the economic influence, if not the political control of neighbors. Thus one finds English and Flemish style coins in Artois, Hapsburg types in Burgundy, Italianate pieces in Provence.
Debasement of the deniers was a general rule, but proceeded at different rates in different jurisdictions, so that value relationships developed. Thus in Normandy at the start of the 13th century two deniers of Anjou or of Tours were worth one of Le Mans, while two mansois would get an English sterling.
The types generally started with a Carolingian coin or copy thereof. There typically ensued a barbarization of the type over time which proceeded to total loss of the original meaning. Finally a later die engraver, dreaming about the possible original import of the design, allowed imagination to produce once again a meaning, and a new type emerged.
Most of the local coinages had died out under royal pressure by the 15th century. Some of the great lords held out as late as the 17th century, and there was a small outbreak of aristocratic coinage, mostly in copper, during that period.
I had thought not to go into any detail whatever about the feudal series. Then it occurred to me that a simple annotated list of the major headings in Poey d'Avant's work might be of use in an attempt to make sense of a series which looks at first glance like a bottomless pit.
PROVISIONAL CLASSIFICATION OF FRENCH FEUDAL COINAGE
The boldface headings are regions more or less corresponding to provinces. Numbered entries refer in most cases to issuing authorities, mints and dates follow.
1. Counts coining at Angers, 11-13th centuries.
2. Monastery of St-Florent at Saumur, 10th century.
1. Dukes, then English, then French kings at Bordeaux, Agen, Limoges, Guessin, Poitiers, La Rochelle, and other mints, 10-15th centuries
2. Counts of Fezenzac, 11th century
3. Viscounts of Lomagne, 13-14th centuries
1. Counts, 9-14th centuries, local types by Spanish kings 16-17th centuries
2. Town of St-Omer, 11-13th centuries
3. Seigneurs of Fauquembergues, 13-14th centuries
4. Towns of Bethune and Aire, 13th century
5. Counts of St-Pol and Elincourt, 12-15th centuries
6. Counts of Ligny and Serain, 14th century
7. Seigneurs of Crevecoeur and Wallincourt, 14th century
1. Counts minting at Brioude, 11th century (?)
2. Bishops of Le Puy, 11-12th centuries
3. Bishops of Clermont
4. Seigneury of Riom by Alphonse, created count 1230 by Louis IX
1. Viscounts, 10-16th centuries
1. Counts and viscounts of Bourges, 9-12th centuries
2. Seignieurial coinage at Chateauroux, Issoudun, Gien, Sancerre, Mehun, Celles, Vierzon, St-Aignan, Chateau-Meillant, Brosse, St-Severe, Huriel, Charenton, and Boisbelle et Henrichemont, 11-14th centuries
3. Nevers, Carolingian mint, then Counts 10-14th centuries
1. Souvigny priory, 11-13th centuries
2. Sires of Bourbon, 12-13th centuries
3. City of Montlucon, 13th century
1. Counts of Macon, as Carolingian mint, then for French kings in 11th century
2. Abby of Cluny, 12th century
3. Abby of Tournus, Carolingian through 10th century
4. Counts of Chalon, Carolingians through 13th century
5. Town of Autun, Carolingian and episcopal coinages through 12th century
6. Dukes of Burgundy, 11-15th centuries at Dijon, Chalon, St-Laurent, and Auxonne
1. Dukes, Counts, and royal coinage. Mints at Rennes, Nantes, Guingamp, St-Brieuc, Jugon, Evran, Aurai, Dinan, Guerande, Quimperle, Vannes, Ploermel, Fougeres, Morlaix, Redon, 9-15th centuries.
2. Counts of Penthievre at Guingamp, 11-13th centuries.
1. Bishops of Langres, 9-13th centuries
2. Counts of Tonnerre, 10-14th centuries
3. Counts of Auxerre, 12-13th centuries
4. Counts of Sens, 11-12th centuries
5. Counts of Champagne, 11-13th centuries at Troyes, Meaux, Provins and Sens
6. By the Roman Senate at Provins, 13th century
7. Bishops of Meaux, 11-12th centuries
8. Bishops of Chalons-sur-Marne, 11-12th centuries
9. Archbishops of Reims, 10-14th centuries
10. Counts of Chiny, 14th century
11. Rethel, Counts in 13th century, to Flanders 1346, Princes in 16th century
12. Chateau-Renaud, 17th century
13. Phalzbourg and Lixheim, 17th century
14. Dukes of Bouillon, 16-18th centuries
15. Village of Cugnon, 17th century
1. City coinage of Avignon, 12th century
2. Papal coinage, 1294-1700
3. Counts and Princes of Orange, 12-17th centuries
1. Bishops of St-Paul-Trois-Chateaux, 12-14th centuries
2. Bishops of Valence and Die, 12-14th centuries
3. Counts of Valentinois and Diois, 14-15th centuries
4. Archbishops of Embrun, 14th century
5. Bishops of Gap, 12-13th century
6. Seigneurs of Montelimart, 14th century
7. Bishops of Grenoble 11-12th centuries
8. Arbishops of Vienne, 10-14th centuries
9. Dauphins of Viennois, 13-15th centuries
10. City of Lyon, counts and bishops, 10-14th century
11. Counts of Dombes, 15-17th centuries
1. Cities of Lille, Douai, Cassel, Bourbourg, Beaumont, Agimont, Orchies, Arleux, Bergues, and Aviothe
1.Dukes of France, 861-987, kings after. Mints at Paris, St-Denis, Poissy, Senlis, Melun, Ste-Marie, Etampes, Pontoise, Chateau-Landon, Mantes, Orleans
2. Counts of Dreux, 12-14th c.
3. Royal coinage from 987
1. Counts 10-11th centuries, to Hapsburgs 1482, to France 1678
2. Counts of Chalon-Auxerre, 14th century
3. Seigneurs of Chalon-Arlai
4. Town of Besancon, Archbishops 10-11th centuries, Imperial city under Hapsburgs
5. Chateau Gilley-Franquemont, 16th century
6. Counts of Montbellard, 16-17th centuries.
7. Abbeys of Lure and Murbach, 16-17th centuries
8. Chatelet-Vauvilliers, 16-17th centuries
1. Counts, 13-14th centuries
2. Counts of Angouleme, 10-14th centuries (united with La Marche after 1208)
1. City of Toulouse. Carolingian mint, then Counts 10- 13th centuries. Minor mint at St-Gilles
3. Coins of the Toulousan Marquisate of Provence, 12- 13th centuries
4. Viscounts and bishops of Narbonne, separately and together, 8-14th centuries
5. Counts and viscounts of Carcassonne, 10-12th centuries
6. Counts of Beziers, 11-13th centuries
7. Bishops of Maguelonne, 11-12th centuries
8. Seigneurs of Montpellier, late 13th century
9. Bishops of Lodeve, 12th century
10. Bishops of Uzes, 13th century
11. Bishops of Viviers, 13th century
12. Bishops of Mende, 13-14th centuries
13. Counts of Rodez, 12-14th centuries
14. Seigneurs of Albi, 11-13th centuries. Mints at Albi and Bonafos
15. Bishops of Cahors, 13-14th centuries
1. Viscounts of Limoges, 12th century
2. Abby of St-Martial, 11-12th centuries
3. Viscounts of Turenne, 12-13th centuries
1. Counts 11-12th centuries, kings of France 13-14th centuries.
1.Dukes. Carolingian types and degenerations: anonymous, in name of Richard Lionheart, various Guillaumes, episcopal of St-Romain, and anonymous. Rouen the main Mint, also Talou.
2. Counts of Evreux, 14th century
1. Counts, 11-13th centuries
2. English in Bergerac, 14th century
1. Counts of Amiens, 10-12th centuries, royal coinage in 15th century
2. Bishops of Beauvais, 9-13th centuries
3. Counts of Valois, 12 century at Crepy
4. Soissons, Bishops 11th century, Counts 12-14th centuries
5. Abby of St-Medard, 10-11th centuries
6. Bishops of Noyon, 12th century
7. Bishops of Laon, 10-14th centuries
8. Abby of Corbie, 11-13th centuries
9. Town of Quentovic, Carolingian through 10th century
10. Counts of Boulogne, 11-13th centuries
11. Town of Calais, English 14-16th centuries
12. Counts of Vermandois, 11-12th centuries
13. Counts on Ponthieu, 11-13th centuries
1. Counts, 9-12th centuries, at Melle and Poitou
2. Seignieur of Mauleon, 13th century
1. Kings of Provence, 855-963. Mints at Arles and Vienne
2. Counts of Provence, 12-15th centuries
3. Bishops and Archbishops of Arles, 10-16th centuries
1. Counts, 12th century, then to the kings of Aragon, back to France 1641
2. French occupation of Perpignan, 1462-83 and after 1642
1. Town of Saintes, 10-11th centuries
THE SPANISH MARCH
1. Counts of Urgel, 13-14th centuries
1. Counts at Tours, 11-12th centuries
2. Abby of St-Martin at Tours, 9(?)-13th centuries
3. Counts of Chinon, Blois, Chartres, Vendome, Chateaudun, Remorantin, and Perche, and Mont-Lavi.
A few points to keep in mind when contemplating the list:
1. Poey d'Avant often stated that his attributions were provisional, even guesswork, and frequently cites different opinions.
2. He wrote in the 1850s. Many new pieces have come to light, many opinions have been changed, and many of the pieces he described and illustrated are not known today.
3. Even so his work, is still considered a standard reference, from which later authors such as Jean Lafaurie drew their inspiration..
So what's the market like? A few coins like the degenerate deniers of 12-13th century Le Puy have been around in enough quantity to meet demand for decades. Another very common type is the denier of Hugh V of Burgundy, 1305-15. This has to be the cheapest of the feudal coins. It is made of a wretchedly low grade billon, always miserably struck, and is always found in horrible condition. But it's real cheap. Isolated low grade French feudal coins are always to be found in European junk boxes. An average identified billon denier in "fine" will typically get $10-$30, more if a story can be told. Small hoards of deniers come on the market regularly. Larger coins and gold are all scarce to rare compared with their royal counterparts.
EARLY ROYAL COINAGE
The coins of the early Capetian kings are essentially no different than the feudal issues of their neighbors. In the 10-12th centuries it consisted of deniers and a few obols struck to a continuously declining standard. The English presence dominated French politics. The kings were exceedingly weak and poor and their monetary output was small, making for rare coins today. A general increase in availability of silver occurred throughout Europe in the reign of Philip I, 1060-1108, due to the opening of new mines in the east, and the royal coins from this time on become a bit more plentiful.
French fortunes really picked up during the long reign of Philip II August, 1180-1223. With east-west trade advancing under the stimulus of the Crusades and Venetian commercial ventures there was a lot more money everywhere.
Philip saw his job as the expulsion of the English from the continent. Unsuccessful against Henry II and Richard Lionheart, he eventually prevailed against John Lackland. After decades of intrigue and subversion Philip charged John with un-feudal behavior, John being vassal to Philip for his French holdings. When John did not appear to answer the charges Philip had him judged a felon and seized most of his lands in 1202, which seizure was confirmed by war over the next two years. John came back with his buddy the German emperor in 1214, only to be repulsed again, and from then on the English presence on the continent was an annoyance rather than a threat.
Philip next moved against the south. The rich and powerful counts of Toulouse had gotten involved in a revolutionary religious movement condemned by the papacy as the "Albigensian heresy." Several crusades were called and the French nobles, thirsting for a nice war, flocked to the south to spread mayhem and massacre. Philip was there to pick up the pieces.
Wherever he went Philip spread his royal coinage, suppressing local mints where he had the legal right and boosting the value of his currency over the local effort by edict wherever he could. Coins with his name are known from all over the country, including the numismatically important regal issues from Tours, for this reign is marked by the growing ascendancy of the denier tournois with its castle type. These royal deniers tournois became extremely popular and were imitated widely. They constitute the first real price break in the royal series, and you usually don't have to wait too long to find one.
The brief reign of Philip's successor, Louis VIII, 1223-26, saw a continuation of the politcal and economic trends so forcefully pursued by his father, but due to his early demise his coins are scarce. His 9 year old son ascended the throne, a situation fraught with peril for the nation. But in the event France passed through his minority intact if a bit battered, and he grew up to become St. Louis IX. Under his gentle guidance France grew to become the richest and most esteemed nation in Europe. His coinage mirrored the splendor of the culture he fostered.
By the 13th century several strong kings in succession had established royal supremacy over the feudal lords, making them monarchs in fact as well as name. The luck of the Capetian house faltered with the brief reign of Louis VIII, 1223-26, and the childhood accession of his son Louis IX. Strong regency by the widowed queen, Blanche of Castile, brought France intact through the new king's minority, and he became the most powerful monarch of his time.
Louis IX, 1226-70, conducted internal affairs firmly and wisely, the economy expanded, and peace reigned in the land. He pursued policies of reconciliation with his European neighbors, acting as honest broker in a number of disputes. From a modern perspective he was something of a religious fanatic, and this aspect of his personality caused him to undertake two crusades against the Muslims. Both were miserable failures, the first ending in the capture and ransom of both king and army, the second being the occasion of his death. He was later canonized by his church.
Three three noteworthy numismatic events mark his reign. An edict of 1262 declared the royal money current everywhere, while the seigneurial coins were to circulate only within their own territory. The kings had been working on this for more than a century, but Louis was able to make it stick. A further blow to the feudal coinage was his introduction of the large gros tournois, an idea borrowed from Italy. These big, solid pieces of good silver were dramatically more desirable than the base local deniers. They became extremely popular. The final straw was to be the introduction of the gold ecu. Gold was required in international trade, and Louis enforced the royal monopoly on coinage in that metal, attempting to ensure that all the really big business went through him. Unfortunately, he proved unable to make a profit in gold. The coins went out of the mint, but bullion did not return, and his ecus are now extremely rare..
As you might expect, coins of St. Louis are quite popular. Deniers tournois are usually obtainable at reasonable prices, but his gros, being the first of the denomination, are sought after and carry an emotional premium.
Louis' successor was his son, Philip III the Bold, 1270-85. Philip maintained the administrative machinery established by his father, but he went adventuring in Spain and got himself killed. Coinage continued in the patterns of Louis, with reasonably common deniers and gros and extremely rare gold.
Philip IV the Fair, 1285-1314, ascended on his father's death. He continued the centralizing policies of his grandfather, but he lacked the ethics of his ancestor, and today we would characterize his reign be as dictatorial. He was not a delicate man, and did not shrink from intrigue and war against his neighbors. It was he who finagled the election of a French Pope, later masterminding the move of the Holy See from Rome to Avignon, where the French kings could keep a thumb on the pontiffs.
Philip coined in large quantities. Even some of his gold coins can be found, which is more than you can say for those of predecessors. His later silver was somewhat debased to pay for his wars.
The luck of the Capetians ran out with Philip's death. His son, Louis X the Quarreler, 1314-16, died after a short and ineffectual reign without leaving an heir. His coins are rare, and he did not strike a gros. His uncle was anointed as Philip V, 1316-22. He struck deniers and gros, which can be found, and rare gold. When he too died without an heir another uncle was called to the throne as Charles IV, 1322-28. Yet again there was no heir, ending the Capetian line. Charles struck several types of billon coins, most not uncommon, scarce silver gros and commoner mailles, and a few rare gold types.
THE VALOIS DYNASTY
The son of the Count of Valois, nephew to Philip IV, ascended as Philip VI, 1326-50. His line endured a bit over 250 years. The first 150 were rather dismal times for France. Philip was weak of will and he was up against the ruthless Edward III of England. Edward had a daughter of Philip III for ancestor, and used this descent to claim the French throne, which claim he pressed by an invasion of the mainland in 1337. Successive English kings continued the military venture and the whole sorry mess has come to be known as the Hundred Years' War. To top off the misery the Black Death struck in 1348, and within few years Europe had lost a quarter of its population.
At the start of his reign Philip attempted to reform the debased royal money, but the war set his plans at naught. More copper was added to the billon and the silver gros became lighter and a bit baser. The gold remained relatively pure and the weight tended to fall more gently, but unrealistic official valuations were put on the coins. Representative silver and billon of this ruler are not too hard to find.
The next king, Jean II, 1350-64, was captured in battle by Edward the Black Prince. A special gold coin, the franc a cheval, was struck to pay his ransom. The francs were taken to England where they were reminted as nobles, and today the former are rare while the latter are common as medieval European gold goes. With the treaty of Bretigny in 1360 peace was restored for a time, allowing a successful stabilization of the coinage which held for about fifty years. Jean's coinage followed the general patterns of his father with perhaps slightly lower availability to collectors today.
Jean's son Charles V the Wise, 1364-80, was able to reverse the military situation, winning back all the lost territories except Calais. He resisted debasement throughout his reign, with the result that his silver and billon are rather scarce, while his gold is a bit more common than that of his father.
Charles VI, 1380-1422, had two nicknames: the Well Beloved, and the Mad, both indicating the mental illness which plagued him for most of his adult life. Henry V of England invaded and conquered much of the north. War and changes in bullion values caused many adjustments during his reign, but his major numismatic innovation was the start of mint indicators consisting of "secret" points under certain letters of the legend. More than twenty mints used this system. Another practice begun at this time was the production of piedforts as patterns for administrative approval. There are numerous new denominations: billon liards, patards, blancs, etc., no fine silver, and several different gold types. The availability profile is similar to the preceding kings.
By the treaty of 1420 Henry was to marry Charles' daughter and become king of France on his death, but both kings died in 1422. Both sons claimed the throne, and war ensued. Victory initially going to the English, fortune tilted toward France with the lifting of the siege of Orleans by Joan of Arc. Thereafter the English were pushed steadily back to Calais, and at the end of the reign of Charles VII, 1422-61, France had once again stabilized as a great power.
French style coins were struck by Henry V and VI. These "Anglo-Gallic coins have always been popular with Anglophone collectors, and in recent decades have been somewhat hard to find. The coins of Charles, and his successors Louis XI, 1461-83, and Charles VIII, 1483-97, look a lot like those of Charles VI, with somewhat available billon and rarish gold.
Louis XII, 1498-1515, continued the system of his predecessors through most of his reign. Campaigning in Italy, Louis saw the new heavy silver portrait type "testons" in use there, and he borrowed the idea and took it back to France. These quintessentially renaissance coins are quite rare. Similar pieces of the next king, Francois I, 1515-47, are more common, and his half testons still more so. To Francois is attributed the first silver crown of France, a now unavailable quadruple teston. In his reign the "secret point" mintmarks were replaced by letters.
Late 16th century coinage is much more available today than earlier issues. The billon liards, blancs, douzains, and the silver testons and demis of Henri II, 1547-59, and of Charles IX, 1560-74, are fairly easy to come by. The first dated issues were made during this period, and the practice became normal in the reign of Henri II. The coins of the last Valois king, Henri III, 1574-89, have a similar pattern and availability profile. The principal innovations were the introduction of the large silver franc, and quarter and eighth ecus, also in silver. As opposed to his billon, these are scarce to rare.
The defining characteristic of this period was religious war. During one of the truce periods the sister of Catholic king Charles IX was married to the Protestant leader Henri of Bourbon, king of Navarre. Immediately after the wedding Charles' mother, Catherine de Medici, connived with his son Henri in the murder of thousands of Protestants on St. Bartholemew's Day, 23/8/1572, breaking the truce and restarting the fighting, which dragged on through the entire reign of Henri III. Now Henri did not like women. He liked boys, did not marry, and produced no heir. He was also vicious and impolitic. Finally murdering the wrong rival he fled to the Protestants, where he was assassinated by a monk.
During this period a few of the best connected noble houses obtained the right to coin copper. Local issues continued fitfully until the mid-17th century. Liards from such locations as Rethel, Nevers, Dombes, and Bouillon are more common than contemporary royal issues, and can be cheap if you don't mind low grades.
The Catholic side put forth the Cardinal of Bourbon as Charles X in 1589, and there are few rare coins with his name, but he is not accepted in the roll of the French kings. Henri of Navarre had the best claim, and is numbered Henri IV, 1589-1610. He was not crowned however until he became a Catholic in 1594. His coinage followed the pattern of the time, save that the lowest denominations, the denier tournois and the double, were struck in pure copper instead of billon. These coppers are frequent finds in poor condition in European junk boxes. Henri struck at 29 mints, of which Paris, Rouen, Lyon, Bordeaux, La Rochelle, and Nantes are by far the most common. And he too was assassinated.
Through most of the reign of Henri's son, Louis XIII, 1610-43, the coinage pattern, and current availabilities, remained unchanged. But in 1640 a thoroughgoing reform was begun with the issue of the gold Louis and the silver ecu and their fractions, which system continued unchanged until the Revolution. Louis' coppers are fairly common and cheap. The billon, silver, and gold are rather expensive. He had a few gold crowns of 10 Louis struck to please his vanity, but these are basically unobtainable.
Coinage of the Sun King Louis XIV, 1643-1715, followed the pattern of his father, with copper deniers, doubles, and liards, silver ecus and gold louis, and their fractions. Exigencies of statecraft forced the issue of billon starting in the 1650s. Coins of the Sun King are much more common than earlier issues at all levels. Expensive coins are frequently seen in auctions, while the small silver, billon, and copper are fairly easy to find (in Europe at least) at reasonable prices.
Coinage of Louis XV, 1715-74, and of Louis XVI, 1774-92, is of a piece. Billon was replaced with copper, and the silver and gold maintained their module and value. Specimens of most types are fairly easy to come by, minting technique is at least adequate, and while low grades are the norm, high grade specimens are not unusual. You will note in the SCWC that little distinction in pricing is made among the various mints. I have found that the vast majority of specimens wondering through my inventory have been of just a few mints: A, W, D, H, N. Most of the rest turn up from time to time, but the frequency is perhaps one in ten. In copper, sols and halves are more common than liards, silver ecus and gold louis are more common than their fractions, and the gold doubles seem to be fairly scarce.
REVOLUTION AND NAPOLEON
Coins of this period are hot and one never has trouble selling them no matter how bad they look. The coppers of the Constitutional Period are common, especially the badly made bell metal 12 deniers of "A" and "BB" mints. The angelic scribe types are perhaps the most popular French coins. Minors and low grade pieces never make it to dealer lists, they are always pre-sold. All you ever see of the type are high grade ecus and halves. Everyone would love to get their hands on a holed gold coin.
Copper coinage of the Convention period, 1792-95, is fairly common. The first issue with the tablet of the law is scarcer than the second Liberty type, but all can be found. The grade/price curve is very steep, from a few dollars on the bottom to hundreds at the top. The first 5 franc coin is a power coin, scarce and expensive, but not rare.
Copper types remained unchanged during the Consular period, and pieces from common mints are occasionally found with luster at reasonable prices. The Napoleon portrait pieces are scarce and sought after, rarely seen on dealer lists. There are a lot of Napoleon buffs and his coins are very popular. Even the common billon 10 centimes are instant sellers in low grade at double catalog. Demand is such that common imperial coins such as the 1808-A franc are hardly ever seen. All you have to do is make a phone call and the coin is gone, no matter how ugly, no matter how overpriced.
There is no Bourbon copper of the 19th century. Most common denomination is the 5 franc, followed by francs and halves. 2 francs and quarters are scarce. Gold is available. Louis Philippe is the most common portrait, Louis XVIII the least. The common mintmarks are usually A, K, W, BB, and MA. High grades are very tough.
In the elections following the overthrow of the monarchy of 1848 Louis Napoleon was elected president. Enamored of his uncle's glory, he had always wanted to wear the imperial crown. He threw a coup and had himself proclaimed emperor. He fostered economic development at home, but his stupid Mexican adventure left France seriously weakened in the face of a bellicose Prussia. In the aftermath of the eventual war the Emperor was deposed.
The "Republique Francais" coins of 1848-50 are not uncommon. The copper centimes are cheap in circulated. "Louis Napoleon Bonaparte" coins are a bit scarce, 5 & 20 francs are most common. "Empereur" coins as a whole are common, except for the large gold pieces. Used to be they were not particularly popular, now high grade specimens get very nice prices, but the more common lower grades are very affordable, coppers often selling for less than a dollar.
THIRD REPUBLIC AND LATER
Nineteenth century types are common. There has been a dramatic increase in popularity in the last couple of years, with serious price appreciation for scarce dates and high grades. The turn of the century types are less popular. I suspect part of the reason is that the die work of the bronzes is shallow and not too attractive, while the large quantity of available uncirculated silver 1 and 2 francs of 1917-19 depresses prices for the other scarcer dates. The gold 10 and 20 franc coins are bullion related items, and the large gold is typically available at reasonable prices as well. Turn of the century copper-nickel coins are common, as are most of the center hole types.
After World War I precious metal coinage was abandoned. There are scarce dates and types of the base metal coins of the 20s and 30s, and perfect uncirculated examples of the nickel brass coins tend to be hard to find, but the period has not yet caught the fancy of any mass of collectors, and I'd have to call BU coins of scarcer dates a bargain at SCWC prices. The same holds true for the silver and gold coins of 1929-39. There are some underappreciated dates. Consult your catalog.
I see the same lack of regard for the Vichy series. Of course the Petain 5 francs is a well known scarce coin, but how many of you have completed an uncirculated Vichy date set? Yet I think it can be done at a discount, and I think it would make a nice minor investment. As for the brass Philadelphia 2 francs of 1944, any piece without spots is worth grabbing and holding.
1950s coins have just experienced a run. French dealers have combed British and American stocks for the good varieties, and they are now showing up in expensive auctions. You should have bought them two years ago.
Coins from 1960 on are collected in France, but with just a few exceptions they have been issued in large enough quantity to satisfy demand. Date collecting is not particularly popular outside of France and most non-French dealers do not keep large stocks.
France is one of the great nations for tokens, medals, and patterns, having issued all in large quantity and profusion of types since the 15th century. Cheap jetons are available from that time. You should be aware that the Paris mint makes restrikes of their medal types back to the 18th century. Look for a modern style edge marked with the type of metal. The emergency coins of 1918-20 are easy and fun to collect. Wish I could say more. Got to go.