The search for new coinage in France in 1848: the Provisional government and socialist experiments
The revolution of February 1848 in Paris gave birth to the Second French Republic and unleashed a creative wave of representations of the newly formed republic. Not only were standard images recovered from the first republic (1792-99), but new alternative images were devised and produced, both at the public and at the private level. A deluge of private medals, produced in Paris, Lyon, Marseille, Lille, Reims and elsewhere, redefined the popular images of the republic, drawing abundantly from a popular view of the barricades, of liberty and beauty, alongside more academic allegories and symbols.
The government of the Second Republic took a two stage approach to selecting a new official monetary image of the Republic, while the monetary standard remained the same from 1803 until the First World War, based on bimetallism at 15.5 to one.
The first step was to start issuing immediately, on a provisional basis, new coins carrying designs already used during the First Republic, all originally designed by Augustin Dupré, with subtle but relevant changes of image.
The 20 francs gold piece issued in 1848 and 1849 was based on the gold 24 livres of 1793. The main difference was that the genius of liberty instead of writing the word “Constitution” was now engraving the dates “24 25 février 1848”, referred to the insurrection which led to the creation of the Second Republic. Furthermore the term “Règne de la Loi” was replaced by the triptych “Liberté, égualité, fraternité”, which was later formally adopted on 7 September by the Assembly as the constitutional motto of the Republic.
The large silver coin of 5 francs was a re-edition of the coin of the same value, which was minted between 1796 and 1804, during the Directoire and the Consulate. It represented a powerful Hercules flanked by the female allegories of Liberty (carrying a pole with a Phrygian cap). The Phrygian cap however was purged because of its association with the left and replaced with a “hand of justice” at the top of the pole. “Union et force”, the motto of 1795, referring to the struggle against the “federalist” tendencies of moderates and monarchists opposing the Revolution, was replaced in 1848 by the new republican triptych.
Finally a tiny copper piece of 1 centime, originally minted in 1797-1800, was reissued without major changes. It was the only, temporary, surviving allegory of liberty with a profile carrying a Phrygian cap.
As a second step, in May, the provisional government called for a concours, asking for proposals from engravers on an open basis and without invitations or pre-selection. In 1849 the winning images for gold and silver were minted, discontinuing provisional coinage.
As moderate republicans purged the socialists and then the Party of Order purged moderate republicans, the common theme was to eliminate as much as possible all subversive symbols after the workers’ uprising of June 1848 had been defeated. We will discuss the outcomes of the 1848 concours next month and will conclude the current review with two pseudo monetary projects of the losing socialist side.
We have here illustrated a «bon pour une journée de travail de 2 francs» produced in lead under the label of the Ateliers nationaux du Champ de Mars in Paris between March and June 1848. Such a low quality rough piece was not an actual coin, nor was it issued under the authority of the Atelier. It was simply a popular representation of the aspiration to a guaranteed job and income in times of crisis and hardship, within an institution for public works which operated under socialist pressure for a few months but was considered by moderates and conservatives as a symbol of laziness and false employment and a subsidy to the revolutionary discontents of big cities. A contemporary, De Saulcy, in his Numismatic souvenirs of the Revolution of 1848 sarcastically commented that those tokens perpetuated the memory of the Ateliers where “the worker-citizen learned to play the cork [drink wine] or to sleep in his wheelbarrow, when he was not reading the Père Duchesne [the ultra-revolutionary newspaper produced by Hébert in 1790-94 and resuscitated in 1848 and during the Paris Commune in 1871] or other newspapers of the same mould.”
Another image of dreamed-of revolutionary change is here also illustrated concerning the “Banque du Peuple, Association fraternelle des ménages”, the People’s Bank, a fraternal association of families, a copper 2 francs token coin, dated 1848, 56th year of the republic (traced back to 21 September 1792, as proclaimed by the Convention). Pierre Joseph Proudhon, a libertarian socialist, who was an early theorist of anarchy and cooperation, had campaigned in 1848 for the creation of the People’s Bank as an institution to free the citizens from exploitation by commercial banks, offering a cooperative and mutualistic form of credit without interest payments (represented in the coin by the prominent emblem of two hands shaking, normally used for fraternity, on an equal basis with the emblems of liberty and equality). Proudhon had been elected to the Constitutional Assembly in June 1848, but there his project was voted down by more than 600 to 2. Other socialist MP’s abstained because they had their own different reform projects in mind. Proudhon then started raising capital for the People’s Bank, collecting minimal contributions from the public in early 1849, but he was arrested and the project collapsed.
Luca Einaudi, Centre for History and Economics
Centre for History and Economics,
Cambridge CB3 0AG, UK
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