Author Topic: René Mercier in French Indo China  (Read 243 times)

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Online Figleaf

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René Mercier in French Indo China
« on: December 10, 2019, 12:31:23 PM »
René Mercier (1886-1974) was born in Paris. From 1902, he studied pictorial arts there, becoming a teacher in 1905. In 1927, he went to Hanoi, at the time in the French protectorate of Annam, to become a teacher. While his specialty was decorations, he also liked archeology, restoration and setting up special exhibitions. In 1930, he was charged with designing a medal for the local militia, which led to similar projects. In 1931, he got a job at the École française d' Extrême-Orient, the French school for the far East, where he did his first coin project in 1933.

Mercier also collected coins. He was able to acquire some interesting test pieces of earlier designers.

Mercier's numismatic inheritance is now in the possession of the Mint museum in Paris. In this thread, I will present some of his work with pictures taken in the reserve of the Mint museum. These items are not exhibited in the museum. The pictures are low resolution. I have high-res pictures available on request. All pictures may be used only with the permission  of the Mint museum.

Peter
« Last Edit: March 23, 2020, 10:36:48 PM by Figleaf »
An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.

Online Figleaf

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Re: René Mercier in French Indo China
« Reply #1 on: December 10, 2019, 12:38:37 PM »
Here are two exhibits from Mercier's coin collection of cash type 10 van coins (KM 652) for Duy Tan (1907-1916). The coins are cast in threesomes, attached and without a casting channel between them. Sometimes, breaking off individual coins causes damage. The second exhibit shows such damage and also how increasing the number of coins in one mould results in casting errors.

Peter
An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.

Online Figleaf

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Re: René Mercier in French Indo China
« Reply #2 on: December 10, 2019, 12:54:49 PM »
Here are the most current coins in circulation when Mercier arrived in Hanoi. The first, KM 661, is a cast phan (a weight unit), the second, KM 664, a cast 10 van, both in the name of Bao Dai (1926-1945). They circulated in strings, in parallel with the coinage of French Indo China. In fact, Mercier's wages and allowances were expressed in piastres.

Note the weight differences and the irregular holes within the squares, signs of hand work.

Peter
« Last Edit: December 10, 2019, 03:29:44 PM by Figleaf »
An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.

Online Figleaf

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Re: René Mercier in French Indo China
« Reply #3 on: December 10, 2019, 01:10:24 PM »
The colonial government apparently disliked the inefficiency of the casting process. In 1933, Mercier was asked to develop a struck version (KM 662). The picture shows how the design was impressed on a sheet of brass and the coins were cut out of the sheet, rather than cutting dies from a plate and striking the flans.

The second picture shows a number of struck phan. The note with the exhibit Sorties de presses, non aplanies - out of the press, not flattened, is somewhat mysterious. It may refer to rolling the plate to the required thickness. The third picture compares these coins with coins that have circulated. This may have been a test for how wear affects the new coins.

Peter
An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.

Online Figleaf

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Re: René Mercier in French Indo China
« Reply #4 on: December 10, 2019, 01:48:34 PM »
In 1940, French Indo China changed forever. Hitler's armed forces overran France, splitting it into an occupied part and a Vichy puppet state. The French colonies were assigned to Vichy. By that time, French Indo China was already heavily dependent on Japan, having to tolerate Japanese troops in and troop movements within their borders. The US offered no real assistance and the British worsened things by suggesting they had in mind to sink French warships in French Indo China. It is a feat of remarkable diplomacy that the French administration succeeded to remain in charge almost to the end of the second world war.

Mercier became the engraver of choice in French Indo China. He designed a series of low values technically based on the preceding set (KM 20, 12.3 and 18.1). Of these, only the 1 cent was used (KM 24). Note how the coins use INDOCHINE FRANÇAISE and either RÉPUBLIQUE FRANÇAISE or an RF monogram. This was inappropriate, since these coins would in theory be issued by the Vichy regime. Apparently, the powers that be recognised the monogram, but had not enough knowledge of French to realise that RÉPUBLIQUE FRANÇAISE was worse. I presume this must have been a source of French merriment.

The second and third picture show a ½ cent and 1 cent in silver. They were given to Mercier as a sign of appreciation.

Peter
« Last Edit: March 25, 2020, 09:42:32 AM by Figleaf »
An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.

Online Figleaf

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Re: René Mercier in French Indo China
« Reply #5 on: December 10, 2019, 01:57:17 PM »
There is a silver pattern 1 cent of this type dated 1941. Mercier also obtained a slightly lighter further silver token of appreciation. Both are shown here.

Peter
An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.

Online Figleaf

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Re: René Mercier in French Indo China
« Reply #6 on: December 10, 2019, 02:20:34 PM »
In 1943, the war had turned against Japan with the Guadalcanal campaign and the battle of Midway. In addition, China released Ho Chi Minh. He was denied a visa for the US, so he returned to French Indo China to become leader of the communist resistance against Japan, slowly taking the area away from them.

One of the consequences was that cheaper coinage was required. Again, Mercier sprang into action. This time, the legend ETAT FRANÇAIS and even a pair of francisques, a state symbol that appears on Vichy coins, figured on the designs. The holed cent bears some resemblance to KM26, but the rice stalk design was not used until after the war.

The second picture shows the final designs of the quarter, half and 1 cent. The zinc quarter has been issued with dates from 1941. the design for the half was not used, which is too bad, as it makes clear that the lines on the quarter and half were imaginary chop lines to make halves and quarters. The cent design is as KM 26. In the third picture is a pattern of the 1 cent 1943 as issued, with a grooved edge.

Peter
« Last Edit: December 10, 2019, 05:02:35 PM by Figleaf »
An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.

Online Figleaf

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Re: René Mercier in French Indo China
« Reply #7 on: December 10, 2019, 03:05:41 PM »
In 1945, the Free French triumphantly returned, the Vichy state was dissolved, Japan was isolated and, spurred by atomic bombs, would surrender also. However, look again at Mercier's 1943 designs. That neutral 10 cents design, now dated 1945, returned on a document, now accompanied by two stamps that read:

Approuvé / Hanoï le 30 OCT. / Le Gouverneur Général de L'Indochine 19.... - approved in Hanoi on 30th October 19...., the governor of Indo China
PAR DELEGATION / le Secretaire Général du Gouvernement Général de l'Indochine - by delegation, the secretary general of the government of Indochina.

In October 1945, Japan had surrendered. As the design had already been made in 1943, it is likely that the missing year is 1944. The date 1945 on the design is simply the realisation that the coin would not be struck in the few remaining months of 1944. It must have been be the last design Mercier made in wartime.

The set design dates from after the Japanese surrender in August, celebrated with a return of the FR logo and RÉPUBLIQUE FRANÇAISE. These designs would not be used, but Mercier's rice stalks survived until 1947. Mercier returned to France in 1946, 60 years old. French Indo China ceased to exist in 1954.

Peter
« Last Edit: December 10, 2019, 11:20:21 PM by Figleaf »
An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.

Online Figleaf

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Re: René Mercier in French Indo China
« Reply #8 on: December 10, 2019, 03:15:10 PM »
As dessert, here are two patterns for silver bars. I cannot assign them to any period or reign. They are from the Mercier collection, but I doubt they were designed by Mercier. The administrative file of Mercier says he was mandated in 1933 to execute the technical part of the work, priming the machinery and making the dies. That probably means he was not supposed to do the calligraphy of the Chinese characters. He may well not have known how to write them, so that he would have been ill equipped to design these bars. Note that a Chinese tael was known in French Indo China as a lang.

Peter
« Last Edit: December 10, 2019, 03:28:20 PM by Figleaf »
An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.

Online Figleaf

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Re: René Mercier in French Indo China
« Reply #9 on: December 10, 2019, 04:07:59 PM »
I just found at what these bullion bars are. They were ordered in 1943 (!) by the Administration  des Douanes et Régies - customs administration - of Indochina. This increases the likelihood that they are indeed executed by Mercier.

Source in French.

Peter
An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.

Offline <k>

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Re: René Mercier in French Indo China
« Reply #10 on: December 10, 2019, 04:16:21 PM »
An excellent and illuminating topic, with excellent images. Thank you, Figleaf.
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