Rule of law The French 24-livres coin
When Parisians stormed the Bastille on 14 July 1789, the face of Europe was changed forever. At this time, France was ruled by Louis XVI, king by divine right. He reigned in the tradition of the Sun King Louis XIV and exercised almost absolute power. The country was in turmoil. Large swaths of the population were impoverished while the nobility enjoyed a life of excess. It was on that fateful day that tensions erupted.
As legal tender, coins always express the self-image of the state that issues them. Thus, the old gold coins issued under Louis XVI bore his portrait on one side and the crowned coat of arms of France and Navarre on the other. This imagery was no longer compatible with the new era. Initially, only the reverse side was redesigned, with the king’s portrait remaining on the obverse – although Louis XIV had, to all intents and purposes, been dethroned by this time, France was still formally a monarchy. The new reverse sides of the gold and silver coins were designed by Augustin Dupré:
The winged Genius of France uses the sceptre of reason to write the word "CONSTITUTION" on a tablet set atop an altar. In large letters, the inscription reads – in French rather than Latin – "REGNE DE LA LOI" (rule of law). To the left of the Genius is a lictor’s fasces with a Phrygian cap, standing for unity and armed power. In Roman times, the fasces of lictors – a bundle of rods tied around an axe – symbolised the authority of consuls and praetors.
The cockerel to the right of the altar watches over liberty. Augustin Dupré engraved his name in the base of the altar.
When the Tuileries Palace, the residence of the royal family situated on the banks of the Seine, was stormed by a Parisian mob in August 1792, the French Revolution entered a new phase. Two months after this turn of events, the National Convention abolished the monarchy and proclaimed the French (First) Republic. Louis XVI was sentenced to death and executed by guillotine in early 1793.
As France was transformed from a monarchy to a republic, the country’s coinage followed suit. It bore the new inscription "REPUBLIQUE FRANÇOISE" (French Republic), with the king’s portrait being replaced by an oak wreath. The face value, denominated in livres, is located inside the wreath. Underneath the denomination, the mint is specified with the letter "A". At the end of the 18th century, there were 17 mints operating in France, five of which produced 24-livres coins. Each mint had its own mint mark. Our showpiece coin was minted in Paris. Other identifying marks are the lyre and leopard symbols, which are privy marks: the leopard represents mintmaster Alexandre Louis Roëttiers de Montaleau, who oversaw the minting, while the lyre represents engraver François Bernier.
Another remarkable feature of our coin is the date it bears: while the date on the reverse side is based on the Gregorian calendar, the year of issue inscribed on the obverse follows the dating convention of the French Republican calendar, which was introduced in 1793 and set 22 September 1792 as the start of Year I. However, the new calendar lasted barely a decade, having already been consigned to history by 1805.
The minting of 24-livres coins came to an end in 1795, when decimalisation was introduced and the franc became France’s new unit of currency. The future was said to belong to the franc, which was subdivided into ten décimes and 100 centimes. Franc, which means "free", was first used as the name for a unit of currency in the 14th century. While the 24-livres coin was only produced for several years, its replacement marked the end of an era in French monetary history. In terms of coinage standards, it was on a par with the Louis d’or. The Louis d’or, which was introduced in 1640, was not only the main gold coin used in France for over one-and-a-half centuries but also ranks as one of the most important gold coins ever struck.
24 livres, 1973