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What is a Louis d’Or / Gold Louis?
A Louis d’Or coin, usually commonly referred to by collectors and historians simply as a Louis was a type of gold coin minted in France throughout the various reigns of different kings who held the name ‘Louis’, usually affixed by a number meant to differentiate the current bearer of the name from all other kings of the same name before him (called an ordinal suffix). Originally minted under the reign of Louis XIII in 1640, many other coins were subsequently minted under varying kings all bearing the same name, with different portraitures (depending on the current Louis) on the obverse. The Louis d’Or literally translates to ‘Gold Louis’, as there was a similar coin of lesser value made with silver, referred to as a louis d’argent, or more commonly, the ecu.
The louis d’or was originally meant to replace the common currency of the time – the franc which is theoretically the earliest type of coinage issued in France. It was by no means the first gold coin issued in France however, as gold coins from Spain known as double escudo or doubloons were issued prior to its minting and was the literal predecessor and inspiration for the louis d’or coins. Throughout its subsequent minting under different monarchs bearing the name of Louis, the weight and gold content of the coin varied slightly, and unlike ancient gold coinage which would be recalled and re-minted to feature only the latest ruler, some louis d’or coins from previous monarchs remained in circulation along with new ones, with only the worn and damaged coins being melted and re-minted into new louis. From the reign on Louis XIII to Louis XIV the coin retained a standard weight of 6.75 grams of 0.917 gold. By the time of Louis XVI the weight had been changed to 7.6490 grams, while the purity of the gold remained similar to the two other issues.
Every louis d’or coin features a portrait of the currently reigning monarch, with an ordinal suffix to mark the differences on the obverse side of the coin. The reverse side remained a constant throughout the issue of all louis coins, bearing the royal monogram of the monarch (four stylized double ‘L’’s surmounted by a crown with a fleur de lis beneath it) accompanied by the shorthand motto ‘CHRS REGN VINC IMP’ (Christus Regnae, Vincit Imperat’; Christ Reigns, Defeats and Commands). This motto along with the monogram would remain a constant, with only some slight changes in the abbreviation of the Latin phrase in some mintages, and even some alterations on the royal monogram (with some coins often bearing the Royal Coat of Arms instead of the monogram). Designed and minted by master engraver Jean Varin in 1674, all louis d’or coins carried the portrait of the king with the motto ‘LVD ___ DG – FR ET NAV REX’ with the blank line denoting the ordinal suffix of the then reigning king. The motto is once again abbreviated Latin for: ‘LVDOVICVS [ordinal suffix] DEI GRATIA FRANCIAE ET NAVARRE REX’; Louis [ordinal suffix], by the Grace of God King of France and Navarre’.
The number of louis d’or coins minted under Varin were only limited in count (compared to the base-metal currency of the time), owing to the precious nature of the metal and was rarely used for daily transactions by common folk owing to the availability of smaller denominations made from cheaper materials such as silver (ecu) and bronze or copper (sols / sous and deniers). Varin’s run developed coins of high detail and fineness, with a decidedly purposeful ‘aged’ appearance owing to his use of the screw press in the creation of louis coins. With Varin’s death in 1672, subsequent minting of louis d’or coins under Louis XVI were undertaken by other minters with specific symbols discreetly indicated on the coin to denote which minting house it was created, although the general standardized design remained. By the time of Louis XVIII the value of the louis became standardized, where it was previously forever fluctuating depending on the current monetary and fiscal policy of the reigning monarch (livre tournois), and a new coin worth 20 francs was issued. Bearing the same standardized designs, the production of the Louis XVIII 20 franc louis d’or was only limited, and are highly sought after by numismatists and a few bullion investors (along with the other louis d’or run) owing to its rarity and value. The use of the louis d’or coin was discontinued by the end of the French Revolution (1799) where it was replaced once more by the currency it was meant to do away with – the franc.
A modern louis d’or coin was especially created by the Royal Canadian Mint on October of 2006 to commemorate Alex Storm’s discovery of the treasure of the lost ship Chameau in 1965. Weighing 1.555 grams of pure (24 carat) gold, it featured the image of Queen Elizabeth II on the obverse, with the royal monogram of King Louis as featured on every louis d’or coin on the obverse, along with the motto, albeit with a less stylized monogram and a non-abbreviate motto. Limited to a production run of 10, 000 coins, it had a face value of one Canadian dollar, and, owing to its purity and rarity, it is highly sought after by bullion investors and numismatists alike.
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Content researched and created by Alexander Leonhart for coinandbullionpages.com © coinandbullionpages.com 2012
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