France has a long and storied tradition of minting beautiful silver coins. These have ranged from Francs made by the Paris Mint before the country was even united, to Francs used during the French Revolution, to more recent commemorative Franc and Euro coins. These French silver coins provide unique variety to any portfolio or collection.
French Silver Coins History and Background
French silver coins actually date back to the founding of the Monnaie de Paris (Paris Mint) in 864. This original coin producing facility today remains among the oldest of buildings in all France. It holds a large collection of old coins minted throughout the centuries. France standardized its monetary system according to decimals following the French Revolution in 1795. The value of the francs were officially made 100 centimes at this time. In the early 1800's, these gold and silver coins featured Napoleon's bust until his defeat at the hands of the British and their allies in 1814. French silver coins throughout the remainder of the 19th century included silver francs and silver centimes. Many collectors find the 1860's 50 franc coins to be especially appealing. They showcased Napoleon III's bust with a wreath crowning his head.
The conclusion of World War I saw the suspension of French silver and gold coins. These were replaced by cheaper metals that included nickel, nickel and bronze, cupro-nickel, and bronze and aluminum. In World War II, the Vichy government of occupied France produced coins using zinc and aluminum. Silver was revived in commemorative and circulating coinage in France in the economic recovery years after the Second World War. Up to 2002, the Paris Mint struck circulating coins in silver with several denominations of Francs. Since 2002 when France adopted the Euro, the Paris Mint has produced a range of Euro denominated silver commemorative coins.
French Silver Coins Physical Characteristics
A popular French silver coin which the Paris Mint produced from 1974 to 1979 is the 50 Francs Silver Hercules coin. Many collectors believe these to be among the most beautiful of circulated European coins. This coin was struck in 90% silver with a silver weight amounting to .8682 troy ounces of fine silver. They contained more silver than the American silver dollars. These coins have face values of 50 francs and were legal tender in France.
The (front side) obverse of these silver Hercules 50 Franc coins contains a large lettering inscription of the denomination at the coin's center. Around the denomination script circles a detailed wreath. The sides read French Republic as “Republique Francaise.”At the bottom rim is found the date when the coin was struck.
The (back side) reverse has the phrase “Liberte egalite fraternite,” meaning Liberty equality fraternity arching across the coin's top of the rim. Featured prominently on the reverse is the center located portrait of the Greek god Hercules flanked by two women. This unique design makes these coins unmistakable.
Specifications for the one ounce Silver 50 Francs Hercules are as follows:
- Mass: 30 grams
- Diameter: 41.2 mm
- Thickness: 2.8 mm
- Content: 90% silver
French Silver Coins Pricing
One of the elements that makes French silver coins interesting is their varying franc and later euro face values. The Silver Hercules coin features a higher face value of 50 francs. These franc denominated face value coins can no longer be spent in France, but the subsequently denominated euro coins made from 2002 can be spent as legal tender. Regardless of this, nobody spends such coins at their face value. The reason for this is because French silver coins have a higher market value than their euro face value implies.
Face value only provides the coins with a minimum market value. The intrinsic market value of the coins varies daily based on supply and demand and the silver content. This silver spot price comprises the main market value of these coins. Just like silver prices fluctuate on a day to day trading basis, so too do the prices of these French silver coins. You are able to look up the current live silver prices by going to visit our home page.
Can IRA Accounts Contain French Silver Coins?
The decision regarding which silver coins can be held by precious metals IRA retirement accounts rests with the IRS. They look at a wide variety of silver coins and bars to determine which meet their standards to be included in these self directed IRAs. To open such an IRA account, investors have to make an initial minimum purchase of $5,000 in IRS approved precious metals. Later purchases following the account opening can be transacted with additional $1,000 minimum increments. Stocking a retirement account with tangible physical silver allows investors to hedge their account with effective portfolio diversification. Silver prices have a low correlation with stocks and bonds so they offer good investment insurance. Their more affordable prices than gold, platinum, and palladium make silver coins a popular choice with which to hedge portfolios.
For a country's silver bullion coins to be permitted in these self directed IRAs, they have to attain minimum purity levels and not be considered too collectible. French silver coins like the Silver 50 Franc Hercules were struck with .900 fine silver. This is below the IRS mandated minimum .999 silver purity content which the coins in these IRAs must contain. Newer French commemorative silver coins denominated in Euros do make the grade for silver content, but have high collectible premiums over silver spot prices. For this reason, the IRS does not approve French silver coins for IRA account inclusion. French silver coins are still attractive collectible pieces and can provide good investments for other purposes. They can be purchased from many coins dealers in countries especially around Europe and also the world.
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