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Latin Monetary Union: Alliance Monetaire

A curious cupro-nickel French weight/token for the Alliage Monetaire surfaced while we were preparing the latest weights catalogue (MB77, closing for bids on 24 August 2016).  We’ve catalogued it as follows, misreading the legend:  Alliance Monetaire 1877, with globe, 10 incuse in square below.  On the reverse it simply says Metallurgie Francaise Paris 4 grammes, all within a wreath, star, 23mm. 3.51g. Cu-Ni metal.  OK, so it seems to have lost a margin of mass en route.  Perhaps 3.51g of silver was equivalent to 4g. of silver coin.  This makes it somewhat political.

Curious cupro-nickel token or advertising weight for the Alliance Monetaire

Curious cupro-nickel token or advertising weight for the Alliance Monetaire

It’s very well made and shows an Atlantic-centric map of the world.  The colour is silvery.

We think it might be linked in some way to the Latin Monetary Union (LMU).   This was an attempt during the 19th century to unify many European currencies so that coins from different countries could be safely traded across borders (sound familiar?).  The idea began with Napoleon in 1803 and the institution of the gold franc  – the most common coin in circulation being the 20 francs 6.45161g of .900 fine gold struck on a 21mm flan.  Unlike today, coins were made of fine gold and silver and their weight and fineness mattered and could be checked.  But in this lay the grounds for failure as the price of bullion fluctuated over the years (silver going down in price) and some of the signatories debased the coinage (Papal States allegedly were the culprits but the Krause Mischler World Coin Catalog for 1801-1900 shows the fineness of silver still 0.900 for the 1 Scudo) .

The LMU was instituted in 1865 with France, Italy, Belgium and Switzerland the original signatories.  Before, the silver value of their coins varied between .800 and .900 pure but was now set at .900 fine for the 5 francs equivalent, and at .835 fine for the fractional silver coins down to 20 centimes.   World War I put an end to the union and it was officially wound up in 1927.  The last coins to be minted to the standard were the 1967 Swiss 2 franc, 1 franc and half franc.   Although not all currencies were in the countries signed up to the LMU treaty, the coins were minted to the standard.  For example,  Greece joined but Spain and Romania did not – yet their coins conformed to the LMU standard to facilitate trade.  French colonies joined, as did Venezuela, Peru and Colombia in South America.  It’s this transatlantic connection which may have suggested the use of the globe in the design of the token.  But the date of our token only coincides with Finland joining the LMU.

There’s lots on the internet and elsewhere, and one can see quite easily why collectors are drawn to collecting these beautiful 19th century coins equivalent to the French 5 francs in silver, large but not always expensive.  Whereas the gold ‘Napoleons’ and their equivalents, like the British sovereign were just the right size for squirreling away, a popular way of saving for the future despite the fluctuations of the bullion market.  We haven’t got to the bottom of this so ideas and any information on our Alliance Monetaire piece welcomed.


Sure enough we can rely on our readers to put us right!  The piece reads Alliage Monetaire – it’s so shiny we mis-read it and then went off on a tangent (albeit an interesting one).  So thanks to Henk G here’s the correct attribution:  ALLIAGE Monetaire (monetary alloy). It is catalogued in Mazard Histoire Monetaire et Numismatique Contemporaine, as number 2300. It is one of the many trial/demonstration pieces of the new, nickel based alloys intended for replacing low value silver coins

This links back to the problems of having silver coins dependent on fluctuating bullion prices, breaking the link between bullion value and circulating coinage.  But it’s the next story about minting and coinage

Further links on net:

A table which claims to list all the coins of the Latin Monetary Union http://www.unionlatine.com/lmu_all_countries.php.  Why a Victorian ten pence of 1867 is there listed as 1 franc mystifies me.

The Wikipedia page has lots of information and good links.  It references in particular Henry Parker Willis, A History of the Latin Monetary Union (University of Chicago Press 1901)

A recent (well, February this year) post by Al Doyle in Coin Week suggests to collectors priced out of collecting US coinage to look at the LMU coins


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