Everything Gourmet

The Emperor’s New Coins

Paris, France — It is one of the most significant coins in the history of France. The Germinal Franc, a coin first minted in 1803, at the Monnaie de Paris, the French Mint located on the banks of the Seine in Paris which was officially founded in 864 with the Edict of Pistres in which Charles the Bald, the King of West Francia, decreed the creation of a coining workshop in Paris attached to the crown. The Mint, the Monnaie de Paris, is regarded as France’s longest standing institution and the oldest enterprise in the world.

Miniature box with the effigy of Napoleon I, 1814-1815 by Jean-Baptiste-Jacques Augustin in yellow gold, diamonds setting a miniature on ivory. Fondation Napoléon, Paris ©Fondation Napoléon Paris-Patrice Maurin-Berthier. Courtesy Monnaie de Paris. Handout via The Gourmet Gazette

But getting back to the Germinal Franc which all began when Napoleon Bonaparte, then the First Consul, visited the Mint on March 12th 1803 to make sure everything was technically ready to produce the Germinal Franc which he created with his Finance Minister Martin Michel Charles Gaudin. During his visit a token coin was minted in front of the First Consul outfitted with his portrait. As commemorations are underway throughout the world to mark the 200th anniversary of the death of Napoleon I, the Monnaie de Paris is playing host to an exhibition devoted to the role the First Consul and subsequently Emperor played in the development of the institution offering the visitor an insider’s view into the intertwined story of the Mint and the Emperor.

Colossal bust of Napoleon I by Antonio Canova in marble. Monnaie de Paris. Photo Jean-Marc Martin Dépôt du musée du Louvre Département des sculptures Collection Monnaie de Paris. Handout via The Gourmet Gazette

Entitled Pour le Meilleur et pour l’Empire (For the Good of the Empire), and subtitled In the Footsteps of Napoleon I, the show brings together some 400 works and objects in the institution’s vast exhibition spaces overlooking the Seine. Coins, medals (Napoleon created the Legion of Honor which is fashioned by the Monnaie de Paris) metallurgy tools, sculptures, paintings, drawings, decorative objects and archives are all on the agenda. The visitor can also see jewels created for the Mint and fashioned in its jewelry workshop that were designed by among others, Andrée Putman and Christian Lacroix. The exhibition also offers a glimpse into humankind’s relationship to metals with, notably, a look into copper, the first metal to be mastered by man.

Pocket watch adorned with the insignia of the Legion of Honor dating from the first half of the 19th century in gold and enamel. Anonymous. Fondation Napoléon, Paris ©Fondation Napoléon Paris-Patrice Maurin-Berthier. Courtesy Monnaie de Paris. Handout via The Gourmet Gazette

After the upheavals of the French Revolution and its aftermath, the Consulate of Napoleon sought to create a currency that was stable and of a high quality. The Germinal Franc was born through the combined efforts of scientists, inventors and mechanical engineers who would revolutionize the minting process using the method of minting through the use of scales. The Germinal Franc would become the currency of reference not only in France but all of Europe until 1928 with the celebrated Napoleon gold piece of 20 francs completing the collection of the silver one and five franc pieces. The effigy of Napoleon would figure on all of the coins. The representation of the eagle, the symbol of the Roman legions, was taken on by Napoleon as one his very own symbols and it can be found in the various medals and decorations on display. To this day the decorations of the Legion of Honor, created by Napoleon in 1802, are still manufactured in the workshops of the Monnaie de Paris.

Special collections have been brought out by the mint in tandem with the exhibition including coins and medals depicting Napoleon I and a commemorative euro coin in silver all available in the boutique. A visit to the show, running until March 6th, 2022, can be enhanced with a visit to the actual workshops where French coins are still minted today. And don’t miss the Benjamin Franklin Courtyard as you enter or leave the institution.
©Trish Valicenti for The Gourmet Gazette

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