The 20 Francs Rooster Restrikes

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20 francs roosters were minted from 1899 to 1914, with a total production of 43 million from 1899 to 1906 and 74 million from 1907 to 1914. This production includes a number of restrikes, which are officially produced coins struck at a later date using the original die. Restrikes are created for various reasons, but a complete explanation for the origin of the 20 francs Rooster restrikes is not readily available. Here’s a detailed account:

The Original (Non-Restrike) Roosters The design of the 20 francs Rooster is aesthetically appealing and carries significant symbolism:

  • The obverse features Marianne, a woman wearing a Phrygian cap, a symbol of the French Revolution and the republic.
  • The reverse displays a Rooster (or “Le Coq”), representing the French people. The Rooster symbol is found on many French coins, including those from the monarchy.

Together, the imagery on the 20 francs Rooster coins represents both the French people and the government of the time, which was the 3rd French Republic. The version minted from 1898 to 1906 had the edge lettering “God Protect France” (in French, of course), which was the only difference from the 1907-1914 version, where the edge read “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.” This change in edge lettering was influenced by the 1905 French law that separated church and state.

The First Rooster Restrikes in 1921. The 20 francs Rooster was restamped twice: once in 1921 and then during 1952-1960. The 1921 restrikes were limited to about 200,000 coins and were intended to replenish gold reserves. Although not officially confirmed, it is believed that the limited mintage was the reason for using the old dies instead of creating new ones.

French Fiscal Shenanigans and the Rooster Restrikes In the 1950s.

gold played a crucial role in the global economy. During that time, the world operated under the Bretton Woods System, where currencies were linked to the value of the U.S. dollar, which was itself tied to gold. In Europe, maintaining a stable currency required a balance of trade and a balanced budget. France faced challenges with price stability and fiscal deficits. To address these issues, French Prime Minister Pinay introduced what became known as the Pinay bond, offering a 3.5% return tied to the value of gold, specifically the 20 francs gold coins, also known as Napoléons. They sold successfully, quickly providing the French treasury with 34 tons of gold, as a much-needed hard currency.

Now, Pinay had debt linked to the value of 20 francs gold coins. At the time, these gold coins were trading at a premium above their gold content. If the premium increased, it would raise the cost of the Pinay bonds. To reduce this cost, the French government decided to reduce the premium on the coins, thus leading to the birth of the 20 francs Rooster restrikes. Due to the law separating church and state, only the 1907-1914 mintages were restamped.

Between 1951 and 1960, the French treasury produced 37.5 million Rooster restrikes, which was about half the mintage of the original 1907-1914 Roosters (74 million in total). This had a dual effect for the French treasury: generating seigniorage (a government’s profit between the cost of minting a coin and its value) and driving down the price of 20 francs gold coins in the free market, thereby reducing the cost of servicing Pinay bonds.

However, this plan did not go as intended. The Pinay bonds were 60-year callable bonds due to mature in 2012. But by 1970, the value of the 20 francs coins had roughly doubled. Faced with growing debt service costs, France repurchased the bonds in 1973 at a significant loss. The Pinay bonds were eventually replaced with another gold-linked bond, the Giscard bonds. These bonds turned out to be even costlier for France than the Pinay bonds, but that story doesn’t involve Roosters.

Telling Them Apart – Original vs. Non-Restrike Roosters.

For the 20 francs coins dated 1907-1914 that were restamped, there is no definitive way to distinguish between the original and restrike versions. The restrikes used the original dies and share the same design on the obverse, reverse, and edges. However, some potential signs of a restrike include a reddish tone due to a slightly higher copper content (although the gold content in the restrikes might be slightly lower, this is unconfirmed). The restrikes also have more detail due to improvements in minting machines. Neither PCGS nor NGC are willing to specify a coin as a “restrike” in their populations. No conclusive evidence has been found to differentiate original from restrike coins dated 1907-1914.

TLDR: Restrikes account for about half of the total mintage of the 1907-1914 Roosters (the 1899-1906 versions were not restamped). During 1952-1960, the French government restamped these coins in an attempt to drive down the premiums on 20 francs gold coins. The reason was that it had issued bonds whose value was expressly tied to the value of 20 francs coins, not just generic gold. The hope was that more 20 francs coins would reduce their price, thereby reducing France’s borrowing costs. These coins are official restrikes and not fakes. Under the principle of “Bon Plaisir,” which the French Republic discreetly inherited from its previous kings, there was an official operation from the 1950s onwards to remelt and restrike the Napoléons of the Banque de France. If carried out privately, this would have resulted in criminal charges for counterfeiting. The gold reserves held by the Banque de France included many coins that were in poor condition, worn, damaged, or even fake. These coins could not be returned to the market because of the market’s high standards for coin quality and created accounting issues due to the spawning of new coins.

In terms of design, the restrikes are nearly identical to the originals. However, there is a difference in the technology used in the 1950s compared to the early 20th century. The striking machines used in the 1950s are more precise and apply greater force to the coins during striking. As a result, finer details are more pronounced, particularly the edge, feathers, hair, and overall contours. The force of the machine is evident in the sharpness of the designs.

PINAY RESTRIKE 1914
ORIGINAL 1914 ROOSTER

The surface treatment differs between the two. The original coins had vertical polishing on the dies, which caused microgrooves on the coin’s surface. These grooves run uniformly in a vertical direction and extend to the edges of the designs and inscriptions. These can be distinguished from handling marks, which are irregular and do not follow the contours of the designs and letters. The polishing grooves are visible on some coins with minimal or no wear, in conditions such as “SUP” and above.

For the Pinay restrikes, possibly due to economy or technological advancements, the traces of die polishing are practically invisible or absent. Even with no wear, the die polishing grooves are very subtle when visible.

The striking of Pinay coins creates a unique velvety finish, with the luster forming a sort of halo that follows the contours of the central motif. In contrast, on normal coins, the velvety finish reflects a two-rayed luster that rotates like clock hands when you tilt the coin.

In conclusion, the surface treatment of Pinay coins is very brilliant and resembles a medal to be worn, rather than the original coins that appear matte in comparison.

At first glance, the color of Pinay restrikes gives them away. They appear red or reddish, unlike the typically yellow color of original Napoleons. While the original coins are exclusively composed of gold and copper, the analysis of Pinay coins has revealed that the gold and copper content is slightly lower, replaced by approximately 3.5 parts per thousand of silver. Surprisingly, this three-metal alloy brings out the red tones of copper, even though the copper content is slightly lower, and the addition of silver is minimal (3.5 parts per thousand).

It’s worth noting that the slight reduction in gold content by a few parts per thousand has resulted in significant savings of over 54 kilograms of gold across all Pinay restrikes. Additionally, the lower gold content and increased tolerance compared to the original strikes mean that some Pinay coins contain less than 900 parts per thousand gold. They do not meet the specifications set during the production of the coins they aim to replicate.

There was a mention of a potential differentiation based on the orientation of the coin’s edge lettering. The nine Pinay specimens examined, dated 1908, 1909, 1910, 1911 (x2), 1912 (x2), and 1913 (x2), had readable edge lettering with the reverse side facing up. This orientation, known as “Edge Type B,” is the same as that of the Napoleons unaffected by the restrikes. Consequently, Pinay coins share the same edge orientation as the original strikes.

A more thorough study of this point is necessary because it’s observed that all coins unaffected by the restrikes have Edge Type B, as well as the Pinay coins identified by their color. However, the 20 francs 1913 coin presented in the photos above, along with its twin, both had readable edge lettering with the obverse side facing up, indicating Edge Type A. Despite this edge orientation, they do not appear to be Pinay restrikes. A systematic examination is required to determine whether all original 20 francs 1913 coins have this Edge Type A orientation, or if it’s an exception.

In summary, you can recognize a Pinay restrike if:

  1. Its color is red or reddish.
  2. It exhibits no wear and has a unique, challenging-to-capture brilliance.
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