The Napoleon is the colloquial term for a former French gold coin. The coins were originally minted in two denominations, 20 and 40 francs for Napoleon Bonaparte. The 20 franc coins are 21 mm in diameter (about the size of a U.S. five cent piece), weigh 6.45 grams (gross weight) and; at 90% pure, contain .1845 ounces or 5.801 grams of pure gold. The 40 franc coins are 26 mm in diameter, weigh 12.90 grams (gross weight) and; are 90% pure gold. The coins were issued during the reign of Napoleon I and feature his portrait, sometimes bare headed and other times wearing a laurel wreath (the ancient Roman symbol of supreme authority) and, depending upon the political status of France, the words on the front: either Bonaparte – Premier Consul (First Consul) or Napoléon Empereur (emperor). On the back: the legends read either "RÉPUBLIQUE FRANÇAISE" (the French Republic) or after 1809, "EMPIRE FRANÇAIS" (the French Empire). There was even a 20 Lire Napoleon minted under the auspices of the Kingdom of Italy, a country annexed by Napoleon I of France in 1805 as a result of the defeat of Austria (the former holder of the territories) at the Battle of Austerlitz.
The coin continued in use through the 19th century and later French gold coins in the same denomination were generally referred to as "Napoleons". In particular the coins of Napoleon I, were minted not only at the several French mints but also at the mints in the Italian territories: Genoa, Turin (1803 to 1813), Rome (1812 to 1813) and; the Netherlands: Utrecht (1812 to 1813), and; in the Swiss territories: Geneva. During the French occupation of these 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, for example: Sarwaas in Utrecht, Paroletti in Turin and Mazzio in Rome.
The Euro before the Euro
Although the portraits and legends changed with the political changes in France, the denomination remained in usage until the First World War under what was known as the Latin Monetary Union, the "Euro before the Euro", so-to-speak. Switzerland had 20 Swiss franc pieces, Spain had 20 peseta coins, Italy had 20 lira pieces, Belgium had 20 Belgian franc coins, and Greece had 20 drachma coins, all of which circulated and were accepted throughout Europe. Only for political reasons did the United Kingdom and the German Empire refuse to follow this direction. Attempts were even taken to explore the unification of the European currency with the American dollar, which explains the extremely rare U.S. pattern coins carrying $4 marking on the face and 25 franc markings on the reverse.
French Mints of the time of Napoleon
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