|Volume 67 No. 2||February 2021|
The CSNS convention is still scheduled for late April in Schaumburg, but who knows if we will be near normal by then. The convention center’s website has a page for upcoming events, but that page lists nothing. The ANA’s Summer Seminar (June and July in Colorado Springs) has been canceled, but the ANA’s World’s Fair of Money is still on for August (our local hosting committee is working as if it will be held).
See you sometime in 2021!
Paul Hybert, editor
The 1224th meeting of the Chicago Coin Club was called to order by President Lyle Daly at 6:45 PM CST, Wednesday, January 13, 2021. Due to the pandemic shutdown, the meeting was virtual using Webex, with 34 members initially but rising to 45.
President Lyle Daly addressed the club saying, “As my first meeting as president of this great club, I would like to thank past president Richard Lipman for his wise leadership for the past four years. It is an honor to be president of this club. As a member for over 20 years, the camaraderie and mentoring offered by the senior members throughout that time has opened new horizons for me in the field of numismatics and provided an education thru the well-researched presentations done by our esteemed members. Thank you for this honor. I am hopeful that I can fill the shoes those who have come before me.
“Numismatics has been an escape for me from the recent challenging times and I hope this club remains an escape. Numismatics should be what binds us and keeps us from the divisiveness that permeates our society.
“Finally, last month I was speechless upon receiving the medal of merit, and want to extend my gratitude to the medal of merit committee, President Lipman, and all those involved in the selection. I am flattered. Thank you. (Not sure I deserve it, but I am not giving it back!)”
Club Meeting Minutes and Treasurer’s Report
The December meeting minutes were approved without objection. The Club treasurer reported revenue of $79.80 and no expenses for the reporting period. The report was approved without objection. The Club treasurer indicated that the 2020 Year end results are not yet complete.
First V.P. John Riley introduced Featured Speaker James McMenamin who spoke on Latin Union and Disunion: An Overview of the Latin Monetary Union. Following a question-and-answer period, John announced James would receive an ANA Educational Award and engraved Club medal.
Second V.P. Melissa Gumm announced there were 8 exhibitors for the evening.
The meeting was adjourned at 8:54pm CST by President Lyle Daly.
Scott A. McGowan, Secretary
by James McMenamin,
presented to our January 13, 2021 meeting.
Although my entry point to coin collecting at age twelve was the Whitman coin folder for US coins, having been born in New Zealand and raised there and in Australia and France before moving to the US in 1963, I suppose it was only natural that my interest should at some point turn to Commonwealth, French, and other non-US coins, which it did over the course of the next ten years. My guidebook in pursuit of that new interest was to be the Tenth Edition of A Catalogue of Modern World Coins 1850-1960, issued in 1972. The coin prices listed were encouraging for someone of limited means. For example, the book suggested a silver 5-Franc piece from 1848-49 in Fine condition could be acquired for a mere $6.00, and a 20-Franc gold coin from 1852 in Very Fine condition could be bought for just $30.00. However, before the focus of my collection could shift beyond US issues, university studies had to be completed and a job secured, both of which occurred in 1973.
That year I purchased a record book to note numismatic acquisitions and, after Christmas, set off to Marshall Fields-Old Orchard with a gift certificate from my parents. Two coins were acquired, one an 1834 silver 5-Franc crown purchased at the reasonable price of $7.50 and bearing the bust of Louis Philippe I sporting a mean set of sideburns. Two years later I regrettably overpaid $13.50 at Old Orchard for an 1873 Italian 5-Lire coin while failing to notice that, curiously, it had the same weight, silver content, and diameter as the French coin bought earlier. Oblivious to this peculiarity, my interest in foreign coins continued to grow.
Two years later, college debt repaid, I made my way to France for a vacation in its capital city. Armed with a list of sixty-two French coins I hoped to acquire, and thinking Paris a more logical place to purchase French coins at reasonable cost, I made my way to two top-of-mind destinations for any numismatist: the Marché aux puces (literally “flea market”) on the north side of the city, on the one hand, and, on the other, the many coin dealer shops clustered around La Bourse, the old Paris Stock Exchange Building near the city center.
The Marché aux Puces is a sprawling network of warehouses, stands, and alleyways and is said to be the largest antiques and second-hand market in the world, a much-visited attraction in France. There isn’t enough time in one day, a weekend, or even longer to explore every corner of its fourteen distinct areas or to visit each of its 1,700 dealers. Nevertheless, an afternoon was spent by me in the attempt. Interesting coins were few and far between. So as not to come away empty-handed I purchased an 1873 5-Franc coin for the equivalent of about $12 at the time. It bears the so-called Hercules design and had been marked at a price of 70 Francs, but I was able to obtain it for 55 after the dealer made the customary protests about how he had to make a living. Not appreciated at the time was the fact that I had just taken possession of a crown-sized coin, 37 mm in diameter, of 25 grams, and 90% silver content, just like the French and Italian coins added to my collection earlier.
Two days later I made my way to the Bourse area of Paris and walked into the offices of J. Vinchon Numismatique. I am not sure whether the address was 77 rue de Richelieu, but that is where the firm now operates from, a stone’s throw from the old Stock Exchange Building, so it’s likely the same address. Another 5-Franc crown was acquired, this one an 1868 piece bearing a magnificent bust of Napoleon III designed by the Chief Engraver of the Paris Mint, Albert Désiré Barre. The reverse carries the imperial regalia along with the Mint Director’s and Engraver General’s privy marks placed either side of the date.
Importantly, I also acquired a second edition copy of Victor Gadoury’s red book, Monnaies Françaises. To my mind, it includes in one book more comprehensive information on French privy marks than Krause Publication’s Standard Catalogue of World Coins, with more conveniently organized coin listings. Here, they appear organized by denomination rather than by denomination within a given regime, which is helpful for France where regimes changed so frequently. The Gadoury “red book”, now in its 24th edition, is one of a set of three covering respectively pre-Revolution, post-Revolution, and colonial French coins. Each bears a cover in a different color of the national flag.
I returned to the US disappointed by the small number of my purchases, but enthusiastic to press ahead with my hobby. In 1976 my application to join the Chicago Coin Club was accepted and in 1977 yet another 25-gram, 90% silver content, 37 mm diameter beauty was added to my collection, an 1893 Peruvian 1 Sol, with a gorgeous coat of arms on the back. But what was going on here? Why were all these coins minted to the same standards?
It’s not clear to me when the proverbial light bulb went off, but at some point, it did. The link between all these crown-sized silver issues it turns out is what the French call the Convention Monétaire but which has come to be known in the English world, for reasons to be explained later, as the Latin Monetary Union, or LMU. An enquiry into the nature, purpose, and history of the LMU was called for and can be summarized here with the help of Wikipedia and other sources.
B. Latin Monetary Union
The Latin Monetary Union was established by treaty in 1865. It consisted of France, Belgium, Switzerland and Italy. These four founding states agreed to mint their gold and silver coins according to a common standard. The treaty dictated that while each nation would be allowed to mint its own currency, French Francs, Italian Lire, and so on, each currency had to follow the same specific set of standards as to weight, fineness, tolerance, and diameter. Gold and silver coins issued under these standards could then be exchanged at a fixed gold to silver weight ratio in a system known as bimetallism.
For the more precious of the two metals, the LMU adopted the specifications of the French gold franc, which had been introduced by Napoleon I in 1803 and was struck in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 40, 50, and 100 francs, with the 20-franc coin (of 6.45g of .900 fine gold struck on a 21mm planchet) being the most common. In the bi-metal French system, the gold franc was interchangeable with the silver franc based on an exchange ratio of 1:15.5, which was the approximate relative value of the two metals in 1803.
These specifications were agreed in order to ease trade and the flow of goods between member states. A merchant in Italy could sell goods in Belgium, and get paid in Belgian Francs, knowing that the Belgian Franc contained the same amount of precious metals as the Italian Lira. Back in Italy, this merchant could then exchange his Belgian Francs for Italian Lire at face value, effectively eliminating the risk of currency fluctuations.
Before the treaty, the fineness of the silver coins in the four states varied from 0.800 to 0.900. The treaty on the other hand required that the largest silver coin of 5 Francs be struck at 0.900 fine and the fractional silver of 2 Francs, 1 Franc, 50 centimes and 20 centimes all be struck at 0.835 fine. The agreement came into force on August 1, 1866. Following the International Monetary Conference of 1867, the original four nations were joined by Greece in April of that year.
Almost immediately other nations petitioned to join or attempted to standardize their currencies to match the LMU model. Other states later adopted the system without formally joining the treaty. The colonies and protectorates of France (including Tunisia) came under its scope. Peru had already adopted the franc system by law in 1863; Colombia and Venezuela followed in 1871; then Finland adopted the system in 1877; Serbia the following year; and Bulgaria in 1880. Other members included Russia and the Papal States. In 1904, the Danish West Indies were also placed on this standard but did not join the Union itself.
Spain and Romania also considered joining. The discussions broke off unsuccessfully, but both countries nevertheless made an attempt to conform their currencies to the LMU standard. By 1914, LMU members and aligned states covered a significant part of the globe. From the beginning, however, fluctuations in the relative value of gold and silver, as well as other flaws in the design of the system stressed the currency union.
C. Decline and Demise of the Latin Monetary Union
One weakness of the system was that, as had often happened before, nations could debase their currency, meaning that one nation could mint a coin with a slightly lesser amount of gold, exchange it for another nation’s currency and pocket the difference as profit. More particularly, when the LMU was formed in 1865, silver was at the end of a period of high and relatively stable valuation compared to gold. By 1873, however, the value of silver dropped significantly, followed by a sharp increase in silver imports in the LMU countries, particularly in France and Belgium. Fearing an influx of silver coinage, the members of the Union agreed in 1874, to limit the free conversion of silver temporarily. By 1878, with no recovery of the silver price in sight, minting of silver coinage was suspended absolutely. But from 1873 onwards, the Union had been on a de facto gold standard.
After the conversion to the gold standard, the Latin Monetary Union experienced two decades of relatively prosperous economic growth. The death blow came in 1914 as World War I broke out and LMU members suspended the open conversion of money to gold, in effect abrogating the gold standard. Although the Union existed on paper until 1927, it was effectively ended by the calamity of the First World War. Another factor in the decreasing attractiveness of the system was the greater ease and lower cost of payment transmission via bank notes, wire transfer, and bank drafts.
D. The Inspiration for the LMU
As mentioned earlier, one source of inspiration for the LMU was Napoleon I who wished to impose on constituent parts of his empire a common monetary reference: the Napoléon, a gold coin of 6.45 grams, 21 mm diameter, and a value of 20 Francs. In an 1806 letter to his brother Louis, King of Holland, Napoleon wrote: “My brother, if you mint coins, I desire that you adopt the same denominations and values as those of France and that your coins carry on one side your effigy and on the other the coat of arms of your kingdom. In this way, there will be throughout Europe uniformity of currency which will be a great advantage to commerce.” Although this plan for Holland was never executed, coins during the time of Napoleon I himself were minted not only at the several French mints, but also at those in Italian territories: Genoa, Turin, Rome; in the Netherlands at Utrecht; and in Geneva, during the French occupation of those places. Although the mints came under French administration and minted French Empire coins, it was otherwise business as usual as the incumbent mint masters remained in their posts.
As to the origin of the Union’s 5-Franc coin of .900 fine silver, 25 grams, and 37 mm diameter, it dates to an even earlier period, France’s First Republic and a decree of 1795 establishing the decimal franc as the French national currency. Indeed, France was the first country in Western Europe to adopt decimalization. Without decimalization, it is difficult to contemplate the LMU ever taking off or being so widely adopted.
E. Ambition Thwarted
Turning now to my numismatic ambitions, because gold coins were clearly beyond my budget, I decided to focus on collecting a complete set of each type of 5-Franc or equivalent coins issued under the standards of the Union, beautiful coins such as the Swiss 5-Franc piece, the Greek 5-Drachmai, or the Bulgarian 5-Leva. That was my goal, that is, until my attendance one evening at a regularly scheduled meeting of the Chicago Coin Club. I happened to sit next to a fellow member and fell into conversation with him. At some point, after telling him enthusiastically about my plans to build a collection of LMU crowns, he told me that, actually, he knew all about the Latin Monetary Union and had essentially completed such a collection, albeit there was one key coin that was very, very, hard to acquire. In fact, he had sold the collection a few years before.
I was totally deflated but nevertheless in awe of what he had accomplished. Drew Michyeta had already assembled what I thought would be a completely original and idiosyncratic collection.
My LMU project was immediately dropped, that is until 2013 when I retired and began spending more time re-examining all my crown-sized coins whose specifications conformed to LMU standards. The more I investigated, the more I wondered whether my fellow CCC member’s collection, even if complete with respect narrowly to the LMU, had been all encompassing of what might be called, to borrow a phrase, the gold and silver numismatic penumbras and emanations of that long ago treaty.
F. Penumbras & Emanations
To explore this topic, let us return to early 1866, a time when the British press nicknamed the newly-established Convention Monétaire as the “Latin Monetary Union” to signal that the continental experiment could not possibly involve the United Kingdom. The nickname stuck even as the French government attempted to enlarge the monetary union by inviting all European countries to the International Monetary Conference of Paris in 1867, “to facilitate the establishment of a uniform monetary circulation between all civilized states.” The surprising outcome of the Conference, attended by representatives of 20 states, including LMU members, the UK, most German states, the USA, Russia, Japan, and the Ottoman Empire, was unanimously in favor of the adoption of an international gold standard, and an LMU-style system based on a fixed exchange rate for gold coins.
Sadly, French monetary ambitions in relation to Germany were foreclosed with the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. The result in the United States, however, was the pattern $4.00 gold Stella coin, of two types, which are close in weight, diameter, and gold content to the 20-Franc coin under the LMU. In the end, the US never joined the LMU. Nevertheless, should the coiled and flowing hair versions of the Stella coins be included in a collection of LMU gold coins, broadly defined?
Other examples are coins struck for Venezuela long after the demise of the LMU. The 1935 5-Bolivares piece, coined in Philadelphia, was minted to the same specifications as the LMU 5-Franc coin. Even later, in 1960, Venezuela’s 1 Bolivar coin was still adhering to the standards of the 1-Franc LMU coin. Interestingly, the Venezuelan coin bears French privy marks on the obverse along with the name of its designer, Barre, which we saw earlier on the 5-Franc coin of Napoleon III. Should these be in an LMU collection?
Another case comes courtesy of Wikipedia, which reports that “the last coins made according to the standards (i.e., diameter, weight and silver fineness) of the Union were the Swiss half, one-franc, and two-franc pieces of 1967.” But this cannot possibly be literally true. Between 1965 and 1973, France released into circulation over 38 million coins to the specifications of diameter, weight, and silver fineness of the LMU 5-Franc coin but were denominated as 10-Franc pieces. The Wikipedia statement only becomes true, therefore, if we add a fourth requirement relating to denomination. What place if any should the above-mentioned silver Swiss coins and French 10-Franc coin hold in an LMU collection?
Lastly, let us turn to the gold coins of Austria, a country which refused to join the LMU because it rejected bi-metallism, but signed a separate monetary treaty with France in 1867 whereby both states agreed to receive into their treasuries one another’s gold coins at specified rates. Austria to this day mints as restrikes gold dual denomination florins to LMU specifications. Do they belong in an LMU collection?
No doubt there are dozens of other examples. My search continues.
I close this brief numismatic overview of the LMU with the following observations:
|CSNS Convention||Chicago Coin Company|
|Harlan J. Berk, Ltd.||Kedzie Koins Inc.|
Items shown at our January 13, 2021 meeting,
reported by Melissa Gumm.
Reminder: You can email to Melissa a description of what you will show at a meeting, to give her a start on this write-up. Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
|Date:||February 10, 2021|
|Time:||6:45 PM CST (UTC-06:00)|
Visit our Online Meeting webpage, at www.chicagocoinclub.org/meetings/online_meeting.html, for all the details on participating in an online club meeting. Participation in an online meeting requires some advance work by both our meeting coordinator and attendees, especially first-time participants. Please plan ahead; read the latest instructions on the day before the meeting!
|Featured Program:||Steve Feller —
A Journey to and from the Santo Tomas Internment Camp through Numismatics: A Tragedy in Manila
As was the case of enemy civilian internees throughout World War II, places needed to be found that were secure. One such place, out of dozens in the Philippine Islands, was the University of Santo Tomas in Manila. Over four thousand people were interned there, and the majority were Americans. This program will tell stories through surviving camp artifacts and other documents.
Unless stated otherwise, our regular monthly CCC Meeting is online during the Covid-19 isolation era on the second Wednesday of the month; the starting time is 6:45PM CT.
|February||10||CCC Meeting - Featured Speaker - Steve Feller on A Journey to and from the Santo Tomas Internment Camp through Numismatics: A Tragedy in Manila|
|March||10||CCC Meeting - Featured Speaker - Deven Kane on National Women’s Month: “Liberty Marches Forth” – A study of idealized portraits on coinage through the centuries|
|April||14||CCC Meeting - Featured Speaker - Bob Van Ryzen on The Chicago Coin Club’s Connection to the 1913 Liberty Nickel|
|April||22-24||82nd Anniversary Convention of the Central States Numismatic Society at the Schaumburg Renaissance Hotel & Convention Center, 1551 North Thoreau Drive, Schaumburg, IL. There is a $5 per day admission charge, but admission is free for CSNS Life Members. For details, refer to their website, http://www.centralstatesnumismaticsociety.org/convention.|
|April||24||CCC Meeting - 1pm at the CSNS Convention,
which is held at the Schaumburg Convention Center.
No admission charge for our meeting.
Featured Speaker - to be announced
|May||12||CCC Meeting - Featured Speaker - Madeline Rodriguez on Observations Around the Composition and Changes to the U.S. 10- and 25-cent Coins, 1793 to Present|
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