The Napoleonic period gave France solid and stable financial institutions from the beginning of the 19th century. Created in 1800, Banque de France was one of these: its prerogative of issuing coins and printing notes, at first regional, became national and exclusive in 1848. But troubled periods in history triggered disruption in the economy and payment circuits, prompting a public or private organisation to issue, on a temporary basis, “bons de nécessité” [necessity money], means of payment of generally low value intended to resolve a monetary shortage.
France in 1870
The war of 1870 against Prussia triggered a succession of exceptional events in France: the fall of Napoléon III, the occupation of part of France, the birth of the Third Republic and the uprising of the Paris Commune. Coins were quickly hoarded and disappeared from circulation from the end of summer 1870.
The government decided, on an exceptional basis, to lead an operation to issue necessity money, carrying the name in 1871 of bons de circulation, a temporary issue of notes to compensate for the shortage of small coins. Banque de France, which had already opened branches with workshops issuing currency in the provinces from July 1870 and evacuated its funds to Brest, Nantes then Bayonne in September ahead of a possible invasion of the country, decided not to guarantee this operation.
The Government of National Defense thus entrusted the Prefect of the Nord department the mission of organising production of this necessity money, in order that employers and industrialists could pay their staff and that everyday purchases could be made.
Various local organisations, including municipalities and industrial facilities, and even simple shops, were authorised to issue paper money in various forms. In besieged Paris, it was Société Générale and Comptoir d’escompte de Paris, representing the syndicate of banks, which issued these notes of necessity.
From the necessity note of 1871 to the creation of the 5 franc note
Printing in blue ink to combat counterfeiting
Until 1862, notes were printed in black ink, the only ink whose composition is perfectly known. But following the invention of photography, from 1850, there were reports in Lyon of fake 100 notes being made through photographic reproduction. While the counterfeiter was unmasked, the commotion caused prompted Banque de France, worried about the security of the currency in circulation, to make numerous changes to its notes. Thus, from 1862, notes were printed with blue ink from the royal manufacturer of Schneeberg in Saxony, blue being the least photogenic colour that could be isolated.
Recto vs verso
At the same time, the front was made different to the back, in order to obstruct photographic reproduction using transparencies (printing the same, but inverted, image on the back was definitively abandoned). The blue period was also marked by a reduction in the value of notes, which were to be “made democratic”, for example the 5 franc note of 1871 representing 15 hours of work of a specialised worker.
The creation of the 5 franc note
The creation of the 5 franc note was the direct result of the troubles of 1870-1871. Following the French defeat, the payment of war reparations to Germany emptied the coffers, gold was sought after, and the 5 franc coin disappeared from circulation.
The denomination, of a smaller size, was designed by painter Charles Camille Chazal (1825-1875), brother of Léon Chazal. The latter was an inspector at Banque de France, and it was through him that Camille Chazal received orders for several bank notes, including the 5 franc note.
On the front, a woman dressed in ancient robes, stands on a pedestal bearing the number 5. In the centre, there are two signatures, affixed mechanically from 1862, that of the General Secretary and that of the Managing Director.
The back depicts a group of allegorical figures against an ornamental background.
The penalties incurred by counterfeiters are reproduced on the front and back, evidence of the fear that the “democratisation” of the bank note inspired. From 1832, counterfeiters faced a sentence of penal servitude for life.
On 29 December 1871, by officially accepting the mandate of issuing 5 franc notes to replace the “token money” issued during the conflict, Banque de France would help stabilise the monetary situation from February 1872, pending the reappearance of the metallic coins kept in piggy banks. These necessity tokens would gradually disappear from circulation, as the law of 29 December prohibited any new issue of necessity money and granted a period of six months to exchange them.
For more information
The conception of “necessity money” dates back to antiquity. They were already in use in the Roman era, alongside Imperial issues.
The end of the 17th century saw the emergence of necessity money that tends to be confused with the official proto-currency of a country, the economic and political conditions in which had yet to stabilise: supply from the monetary institute was supplemented by various private initiatives.
• In 1685, under Louis XIV, paper money was created in New France, which consisted of declaring playing cards as legal tender in order to compensate for the lack of metal coins.
• In Sweden, between 1715 and 1719, 42 million 1 daler pieces were minted by the government in copper rather than silver. Described as nödmynt (“emergency money”) and guaranteed by the authorities, they enabled the Swedish state to save silver during the Great Northern War.
• In France during the Revolution, at the same time as assignats were issued, various types of necessity money flourished, including monnerons and bons de confiance.
Necessity money appeared in numerous countries under various names:
• Notgeld in German;
• moneda de necesidad in Spain (especially during the Spanish Civil War);
• necessity money, emergency money or tokens in the UK (in 1798, for example, during the great shortage of coinage)
In France, it was in circulation at different times, under a variety of names:
• monnaie, billet or bon de confiance (French Revolution between 1790 and 1793);
• monnaie de siège or obsidionale (for example, during the sieges of Antwerp and Strasbourg under Napoléon I);
• bon de circulation (during the Siege of Paris in 1870);
• bons and jetons de nécessité from chambers of commerce (1914 – 1927).
It is also sometimes known as jeton-monnaie (token money), monnaie locale (local money), monnaie privée (private money) or monnaie parallèle (parallel money).