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What is a Gold Napoleon?
The Napoleon is a type of gold franc which was first issued during the reign of the Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, and subsequently minted well after his deposition. So named because of the portrait bust of the emperor depicted on the obverse side of the coin, the Napoleon is a gold coin which is remarkable for its many unique aesthetic and symbolic characteristics as well as its craftsmanship. Originally minted during the reign of Napoleon Bonaparte, it was issued with a face value of twenty and forty francs and was composed of 90% (0.1867 troy onces / 5.801 grams) pure gold. Weighing in at about 6.45 grams and measuring about 21 mm in diameter (for the the 20 franc coin), or about 12.90 grams and measuring in at 26 mm in diameter (for the 40 franc coin), it replaced the former gold coins of France – namely the louis and the ecu. Subsequently, other denominations were minted, among them the 5, 10, 50, and 100 franc Napoleon coins within France, as well as in some underlying areas outside of France that fell under the rule of Emperor Napoleon.
The Napoleon is striking for its variety, not only in its aesthetic appearance, as it often featured the bust of Napoleon Bonaparte wearing a wreath of laurels in the style of Roman emperors, while some examples feature him without such trappings. It is in the phraseology of the legends in the coin that the Napoleon truly reveals its seemingly paradoxical nature. A number of Napoleons have the emperor himself depicted with a laurel leaf, with a legend on the obverse side stating either ‘Bonaparte – Premier Consul’ (First Consul), or ‘Napoleon Empereur’ (Emperor), while the obverse would read either ‘REPUBLIQUE FRANCAISE’ (the French Republic) or ‘EMPIRE FRANCAISE’ (the French Empire; this latter only after 1809).
The curious incongruity of this coinage stems from the fact that in a more modern understanding, a republic cannot be ruled by an emperor. During the time of the coin’s inception however, Napoleon Bonaparte had aspirations to pattern his ruling titles after that of the Roman Emperors just as he copied the use of the laurel wreath (an early Greek, and later, Roman symbol of victory or sovereignty). His depiction as the ‘Premier Consul’ of the ‘French Republic’ can also be viewed as an attempt to emulate a well-known Roman Emperor – Gaius Julius Caesar, who was an emperor of the then Roman Republic. Subsequently drawing inspiration from one of the greatest empires of the ancient world, he then patterned much of the governmental organization of Napoleonic France to that of the ancient Roman Empire, resulting in its high efficiency, relative lack of internal conflicts, and excellent management and control rivaled only by the government from which it was patterned.
Unlike Rome’s penchant for keeping its gold currency securely within its reigns, being that their own gold coins, the aureus were minted only in the Roman Empire proper and never without its borders, the Napoleonic Empire was more forgiving despite its overt imitation of Rome and allowed many underlying ‘colonies’ of his empire to mint Napoleons under strict observation and quality control. The coins were stamped with a minter’s mark denoting the place of origin, with some areas being allotted only a specific number of coins or batches for minting than others. Because of this seemingly improper distribution, some types of Napoleon coins are rarer than others despite having been minted in the same run or year. Numismatists and investors often classify Napoleon coins via their place of origin rather than their dates of mintage. Because many coins were made in different minting companies, each mint would usually have their own master artist or engraver. While the pattern for the coins remained similar (or somewhat similar, given the minor variations that inevitably occur) being controlled and strictly monitored, the engravers or artists that designed the coins (given special edict by the ruling powers) were allowed to incorporate their symbols or marks alongside the minting mark that denotes the place of origin.
Owing to Napoleon’s excellent rule of France, many European countries later adopted the aesthetics and standards of the creation of Napoleon coins. Prior to its discontinuation after Napoleon’s fall and subsequent exile and eventual death in Elba, the coin became the standard of the Latin Monetary Union as authorized by a Monetary Ordinance by Napoleon himself on the 28th of March 1803. Throughout Napoleon’s reign and even well-beyond his rule, the Napoleon coin became a common feature that was adopted by subsequent rulers before him, later becoming one of the inspirations of the modern euro currency. Today, early coins are of extreme interest to collectors owing to their rarity and value, while latter ‘adaptations’ of Napoleon coins are also sought after by numismatists, and a few bullion investors and antique collectors.
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Content researched and created by Alexander Leonhart for coinandbullionpages.com © coinandbullionpages.com 2012
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