One of the most beautiful coins of the modern times is considered to be the French 5fr and 20 fr. Designed by Augustin Dupres after the Revolution, during the Directorate period, they were repeatedly reused by the French Republic as models, until the late 1970’s.
Augustin or Auguste Dupre was born in 1748. He was a skillful engraver and also a very qualified jeweler. After 1791-1792, he was asked to create the dies of the new coins of the republic, coins that will bear the symbols of the new regime.
Old royal coins bore on one side the king’s head and on the other the coat of arms of the Bourbon’s, the fleur-du-lis (lily). In 1792 this symbols were replaced by the allegoric image of the republic, impersonated by a young girl, “Marianne”, with Phrygian hat on her head (symbol of freedom), or Hercules, symbol of power, protecting the constitution or the Angel, a winged man writing down the human rights of 1789.
Ever since 1791, some of this type were used on coins, replacing the coat of arms, but keeping the king’s head. Also the year was replaced, instead of counting the years from the birth of Christ, the “year 1” being 1789 “of freedom”.
Dupre created the types of Marianne, Hercules (or “Union et force”) and Angel and they were used on the coins of the republic.
Marianne depicts a young woman’s head, to right or left. This type was used during the revolution especially for the copper coins, like 1-10 centimes. It was used by Napoleon in 1803 for the French silver franc, reused as so in 1992 for the commemorative one. It also served as inspiration for Dupuis in 1897-1898 for the series of 5, 10 centimes or 10 and 20 francs, minted in gold.
Hercules or Union et Force was destined for the 5 franc coin. Made from silver and with a weight of 25 gr, with a large module of 37-38 mm, it was a very attractive obverse. Hercules is depicted protecting two women, symbol of freedom and justice. It had the legend UNION ET FORCE.
It was used in 1800 for the 5 franc and replaced only by Napoleon, who placed his head on coins.
In 1848, as the second republic was proclaimed, it was reused but with the legend changed as LIBERTE EGALITE FRATERNITE. This time was minted only 1 year, in 1850 it was replaced by another allegory. Later, after the second empire (1852-1870) it was prohibited for its republican symbols. Only after the restoration of the republic in 1870 it was used once again. Now it was minted until 1878, the last 5 franc of the XIX century.
During the XX century, it was used once again but in another coin. After the monetary reform in 1858, France minted coins very similar to the ones at the beginning of the century. And because Hercules was a popular symbol for the heavy silver coin, it was used for the 10 francs 1964-1973. Because of the rapid depreciation of the franc, it was minted from 1975 to 1980 but on the 50 franc coin.
Finally, The Angel or Genie how it is known in France was one of Dupre most successful coin. It depicted a winged man, an angel, usually to right, who is writing down on a book which stands on a column.
The type was used during the revolution in silver coins, like the 30 sols.
But the greatest popularity was achieved in 1871-1898, when it was used for the gold 20 franc. The coin was so beautiful, so well designed and so harmonious with the size of the coin that it is considered one of the most beautiful coins in the world. Also this coin was used as a lucky charm…
One legend says that one angel like this saved Dupre. During the regime of Robespierre, Dupre was sentenced to death by guillotine. When he was brought to the place, he started to pray to his angel, rubbing with his hands, tied to the back, a small coin designed by him. When he was placed under the blade, a powerful lightning struck nearby and scared everybody off, including the executor.
Dupre escaped and until his death, in 1833, considered that the Angel brought him luck.
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