Livre Tournois

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What was the Livre Tournois?

The livre tournois, (lit. Tours pound) was a type of circulating currency as well as a unit of account used in all throughout France and its underlying areas, as well as many countries of French influence from the early Middle Ages until the early modern period. The livre tournois was the forerunner of many types of French currency, and remained as a unit of account long after its having been superseded by other types of currency.

The earliest examples of livre tournois were gold coins that were originally minted during the Middle Ages to replace the silver currency of the time – known as the denier tournois.[1] Comissioned by Philip II of France after his siege of Anjou and Touraine, he standardized the use of the livre tournois to replace the denier tournois in 1203.[2] It also later replaced the official currency of the earliest rulers of France (Capetian dynasty), the livre parisis or Paris pound.[3]

With the standards of monetary values still largely based on the remnants of Roman currency at the time, the livre tournois followed suite with the original French (aka Carolingian) livre, and was divided into 20 sols (the prototype of the sou) per one livre tournois, in turn divided into 12 deniers per one sol or one livre tournois. From its inception until around the early part of the 1300s, the livre tournois was still only referred to as a livre, along with many other coins of an earlier make sharing a similar name. It was not until circa 1360 that the livre tournois was later referred to as the franc. This came about through the minting of coins that were equivalent to one livre tournois (as a unit of account) minted sometime during the 1360s to 1600s. The name came about due to the common inscription found on the coins dating from those times, which stated ‘IOHANNES DEI GRATIA – FRANCORVM REX’ (Jean, by the Grace of God King of the French). Later on, the frank later became synonymous with a majority of, if not all of French coinage and was used as such in accounting, being interchangeable with the term livre tournois.

The livre tournois as an actual type of gold coin was fairly common during the Middle Ages up until the early 1500s. The livre tournois coin was vastly superior in appearance and aesthetics to many other types of coin dating from the period, as a number of extant examples today show highly ornate designs and uniform roundness, as well as a surprisingly centered face, a feature that was lacking in many other coins of the time. Just like all Early Modern coins, the livre tournois had no officially indicated value and was calculated in equivalent denominations – later resulting in its use as both a coin and a unit of account.

Due to the high number of gold coins with varying weights and values, the livre tournois not only served as a type of currency, but as a baseline from which all other coinages from various realms could be calculated, and exact equivalents doled out in exchange houses, or in transactions. By the latter part of the 14th century, the livre tournois ceased to be a type of coin and began to be used solely as unit of account for international transactions and everyday trade. Originally replacing the livre parisis in 1667, it too became abolished and ceased to be minted as a coin, being replaced by the ecu. The use of the livre tournois remained however, as it served its purpose in accounting, however this too was abolished in favour of a new unit of account in 1577, only to be reinstated yet again to finally do away with the livre parisis.[4] The unit of account soon simply became a denomination, the livre.

Coins of the realm continued to be tallied or co-equated in terms of livres, while the former livre tournois gold coins later became no more than investments, if they were not re-minted or melted down for other purposes. Today, livre tournois coins are rare and highly sought after by collectors.

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Content researched and created by Alexander Leonhart for ©

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