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French Lavrillier 5 Franc coins

Started by SandyGuyUK, February 02, 2022, 06:08:45 PM

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SandyGuyUK

Have you ever seen the French 5 Franc coins of the 1930s and 1940s?  They are quite large and imposing coins and certainly when they were first issued, you would know you had one in your pocket or purse as the original pieces are quite solid, being struck in nickel, though subsequently, they lost some of that imposing appearance when their composition was switched to the much lighter aluminium.

The first coins: an impressive entry
The coins were originally struck in 1933 and measured 31mm in diameter, 2.1mm in thickness, and weighed 12 grams.1





The coins depicted a wreathed head on the obverse (presumably Marianne?) and on the reverse, a wreath surrounds the value, date and mintmarks of the coin and is topped off with the letters "RF".  (Interestingly, a pattern of this coin exists for 1933 which has a similar design to the issued coin, except the font of the letters on the reverse is very different.  It can be seen on the Numista website2).

When the coin was first issued, 5 Francs was no small sum of money - being equivalent to €3.69 in 20213.

This version of the coin was struck in many of the years from 1933 until 1939 with the exceptions of 1934. 56 million were struck in 1933 and 54 million in 1935. 1937 and 1938 saw much smaller mintages in the order of 2 million and 5 million in those years respectively.  1936 and 1939 are the key years to look out for though with coins being struck in the order of 150,000 and 180,000 respectively.  Numista contains a comment that of the 1939 mintage, only some 10 pieces have actually been found. Whether this is true or not, I am unable to ascertain.  I have seen that a specimen of this coin from 1939 went up for auction in 2009 where it sold for €68004.  Presumably, the remainder of the mintage may have been melted down - perhaps to make use of the valuable nickel for the war-effort?

The second coins: meeting the needs of colonial possessions
In 1938, a new variant of the coins was produced - this time in aluminium-bronze.  This coin, whilst still carrying the same design as its nickel sibling, had a very different appearance though as it had now changed colour.  I can imagine that when they were first issued, the coins must have looked very impressive before they started to tone and become much duller.

You can see an example of one of these coins below. 





The specifications for the new version of the coin were essentially the same as those for the nickel version - i.e. 31mm in diameter and 12 grams in weight, but with a thickness of 2.3mm5.

As far as I can find out from Numista, this type of the 5 Franc coin was intended purely for overseas use.  Those struck at Paris (with no letter underneath the wreath), were intended for Algeria; those struck at Castelsarrasin and bearing a "C" underneath the wreath were intended for use elsewhere in Africa6.

This coin generally had a much smaller mintage than the nickel version with the highest mintage being in 1946 for coins struck in Paris, which totalled some 21 million.  Other years' mintage figures range from 2.6 million to 10 million but other years are difficult to come by, either on Numista or checking on the websites of various French based/specialised coin dealers.

The final version of the coin: Inflation takes its toll
Following the trauma of the second world war, the value of the franc depreciated to such an extent that it was no longer feasible to continue minting the 5 Franc piece in nickel and so instead, aluminium was used when the coin was issued again for domestic use in 1945.  By this time, its value was only 67 euro cents (2021 values)7.

Whilst the design remained the same, it had lost some of its allure with the move to aluminium - to my mind, this metal always makes coins seem much more "flat" than when they are struck in a more substantial metal.

Diameter and thickness of the coin remained unchanged from the aluminium-bronze version at 31mm diameter and 2.3mm thickness, but the weight had now been reduced to 3.5 grams (although Numista includes reference to some 1945 coins weighing in at 3.8 grams)8. This final iteration of the coin lasted until 1952 after which no further coins were minted.

Below you can see two different examples of the aluminium coin from my collection.  The 1947 coin shows the letter "B" underneath the wreath, indicating that it was struck at Beaumont-le-Roger whilst the 1949 coin was minted in Paris and so has no letter underneath.









The highest mintage for this version of the coin was in 1949 when the Paris mint struck over 200 million specimens.  The lowest mintages were in 1945, 1946 and 1952, when Castelsarrasin struck 2 million and 1 million respectively, and Paris struck 4 million coins in 1952.  Numista suggests that the 1952 mintage was destined for Algeria.

Variants exist for this coin with regards to the style of the "9" in the date and whether or not it is open or closed and there are also differences with the positions of the mintmark letters.  Examples of all of these can be found on Numista.

About the designer
The designer of these coins was Andre Henri Lavrillier (1885-1958)9.  He won the Prix de Rome10, with a second prize in 1911 and a first prize in 1914.  It's interesting to note that his wife was Romanian and I wonder if this led to him proposing designs for Romanian coinage and medals?11

Of particular interest for collectors of UK coinage is the fact that Lavrillier designed a new portrait of George V which was trialled on the holy grail of UK coinage - the 1933 penny12. Only four examples of this particular version of an already exceedingly rare coin are known to exist.

Why do I like the coins
I've now come to the end of this brief look at the French Lavrillier 5 Francs coin.  So why the interest in this particular coin I (possibly!) hear you ask?  I do like modern French coinage anyway - there's such a lot of interesting designs and they are all uniquely French (similar to French banknotes which I also find very eye-catching).

This particular coin issue is intriguing given the different metals that the coin is available in and the varieties in terms of mint letters, variations with date numerals and weight.  In terms of the difference in appearance caused by the changes in composition, the nearest other coin I can think of that springs to mind is the Canadian 5 cent coin from 1937 onwards which also has undergone changes of colour, shape and occasionally, design.

A seemingly simple coin is actually quite a nice challenge when one tries to find all of the varieties that exist:

Nickel version 1933-1939

  • 1933 - Difference in mintmark positioning
  • 1935 - Differences in style of "9" in date
Aluminium-bronze version 1938-1947

  • Paris and Castelsarrasin versions available (the latter in 1945 and 1946 only)
  • 1947 - Differences in style of "9" in date
Aluminium version 1945-1952

  • Paris, Beaumont-Le-Roger (1945, 1946, 1947, 1948, 1949, 1950) and Castelsarrasin (1945, 1946) versions available
  • 1947, 1948, 1949 - Differences in style of "9" in date
  • 1945 - Differences in weight
  • 1950 - Differences in the position of the "B" mint letter on the reverse
Other coins still to get
In researching this article and looking at the different versions that are still available, I have a fair way to go before I could say that I had all of the different versions available.  I think the next piece I will target though is to get a specimen of the aluminium-bronze coin from Castelsarrasin. 

References
1 Numista, https://en.numista.com/catalogue/pieces892.html
2 Numista, unissued 5 Franc pattern coin, 1933, https://en.numista.com/catalogue/pieces165913.html
3 7 Insee site franc-euro conversion https://www.insee.fr/fr/information/2417794
4 CGB https://www.cgb.fr/5-francs-lavrillier-nickel-1939-f-336-8-sup,v40_1807,a.html
5 6 Numista https://en.numista.com/catalogue/pieces1189.html
8 Numista, https://en.numista.com/catalogue/pieces1190.html
9 Wikipedia article on Andre Lavrillier, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andr%C3%A9_Lavrillier
10 Wikipedia article on the Prix de Rome, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prix_de_Rome
11 Romania 1830-1930 Romanian Infantry, http://www.worldofcoins.eu/forum/index.php/topic,49487.msg310715.html#msg310715
12 UK: the 1933 Lavrillier Pattern Penny, http://www.worldofcoins.eu/forum/index.php/topic,50859.msg320773.html#msg320773

And finally...
Thank you for reading this far.  I hope you've found this article to be of interest and if so, I may well try and do some more writing based on other pieces in my collection.  Any feedback you have on the article or contributions you can share about your coin collection would be very interesting.
Ian
UK

FosseWay

Great detail and an interesting topic!  :)

To answer your question about inline pictures: In the Living Room there is a stickied topic called Picture Container. You can upload your pictures there, and then link to them inline in your article.

Alternatively, if you have your own website, you can upload them there and link to it. This avoids the upload limit, but risks broken links if you migrate your site somewhere else.

Edit to fix messed-up link

SandyGuyUK

Thank you! I'll have a look and see if I can do that.  :)
Ian
UK

<k>

Quote from: FosseWay on February 02, 2022, 06:20:37 PM
In the Living Room there is a stickied topic called Picture Container. You can upload your pictures there, and then link to them inline in your article.

I believe that the Picture Container in the Living Room only allows images to be seen by members who are logged in. That is why I created a separate Picture Container in the Unrealised Designs board.
Visit the website of The Royal Mint Museum.

See: The Royal Mint Museum.

<k>

Yes, great topic. I wasn't aware that there were so many variations of this coin.

See also:

UK: the 1933 Lavrillier pattern penny

UK 1933 penny




You can see the similarities between these French and Romanian designs by Lavrillier:



Visit the website of The Royal Mint Museum.

See: The Royal Mint Museum.

FosseWay

Quote from: <k> on February 02, 2022, 06:38:54 PM
I believe that the Picture Container in the Living Room only allows images to be seen by members who are logged in. That is why I created a separate Picture Container in the Unrealised Designs board.

Ah, I never knew that. In that case yes, it's a better idea to use one on a board that's visible to visitors.

Figleaf

The living room is indeed visible to members only, but the picture container serves to show pictures in another thread, so making a picture container on another board adds no value. That said, if anyone wants to start a picture container on another board, that's no problem either.

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

<k>

Quote from: Figleaf on February 02, 2022, 07:20:55 PM
The living room is indeed visible to members only, but the picture container serves to show pictures in another thread, so making a picture container on another board adds no value.

When I did a test some years ago, I couldn't see the linked image in any non-living room thread. Anyway, we have our separate one now. I'm too lazy to re-try the test.
Visit the website of The Royal Mint Museum.

See: The Royal Mint Museum.

SandyGuyUK

Hi all -

Thank you for the feedback and suggestions so far re: the images.

I've tried uploading them into the Unrealised Designs board posting and have managed to embed them in my posting above.

Thank you for all your help!  :)
Ian
UK

Figleaf

Piddling comments.

There is a copper-nickel Lavrillier 1934. It is marked ESSAI. It is quite rare. Dates 1936 and 1939 exist also, but many of those offered for sale are frauds with altered dates. 1937 and 1938 are common. The figures 3 and 9 are indeed slightly finer in the later dates.

On the CuAl version, the 9 is closed on 1938 and 1940, open on 1945 and 1946. All dates except 1947 are common, but 1938 and Castelsarassain fetch a premium in upper grades. Only 1946 was shipped in its entirety to Algeria, but they probably entered circulation on the mainland later in life, while other dates would eventually have circulated in North Africa. The secret of this mixing is the ferries between Marseille and North Africa.

The aluminium coins are plentiful, except for 1945 closed 9, 1948 closed 9, 1948B (9 open or closed), 1949 open 9 and 1952.

The reason these coins are so big (31 mm) is related to the fate of the 5 francs 1933 Bazor. This coin of 24 mm was the first 5 francs after the 1870 issues of 37 mm. Yet, the public still remembered the old coins and the new issue was widely held in contempt and rejected as making the fall of the franc too obvious and painful, making it a one year issue. The Lavrilliers were designed to overcome this reluctance. Instead, they became symbols of the utter destruction of the franc after the second world war.

The irony of this story is that after both world wars, the French government decided to restore employment before fighting inflation, which prevented more social hardship but sent the currency down. However, the 5 francs Bazor was not a product of these policy choices, but of the Great Crisis, which originated in the US and struck in France only as a by-product of the faulty economic theories of those days.

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

SandyGuyUK

Thank you Peter for those valuable additional insights into what went on leading to the decision over the size of the coin etc.

This writing exercise has certainly illustrated to me the challenges of trying to use the internet to research material that is not English language based.  But that said, the sharing of information from others is what makes this site the wonderful resource that it is!  :)
Ian
UK

andyg

Interesting also to note that French Polynesia and New Caledonia continued to issue 5 franc coins in the same size until the last issue dated 2020.  They are due to be withdrawn on 31.5.2022.

https://www.ieom.fr/nouvelles-pieces/
always willing to trade modern UK coins for modern coins from elsewhere....

Figleaf

Quite so. The reform of 1960, introducing a new franc of 100 old francs drove the Lavrilliers out of circulation in favour of the successive 5 centimes coins. However, those reforms concerned only the homeland currency. The colonies continued with the old franc in the format of the last French old franc coins, including the Lavrilliers.

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