At the beginning of 1791, Matthew Boulton was considering the future direction and
prospects for his mint. Fully operational but denied the opportunity to coin for
the Government, the Soho Mint was getting by with contracts for private tokens. Macclesfield
and Cronebane tokens for Roe and Company in 1789, Druid halfpence for the Parys Mine
Company in 1789 (and again, later in 1791) and the first of the pieces for John Wilkinson,
Iron Master, in 1790. But these were relatively small orders which would not require
the capacity and expertise of the world's most advanced mint. More and bigger orders
were needed. So, in January 1791 Boulton asked John Motteux, an acquaintance and
customer, and official of the Honourable East India Company, who had extensive connections
in France, to ease the path for a proposal on a truly Boultonian scale to provide
a new coinage for the French Government. Or, failing this, to sell his mint to the
French for them to strike their own coins and, if necessary, to buy the recently
confiscated church bells and to process the metal ready for coining.
Boulton had no more success with the French Government than he had had with the British.
The political system was in a state of flux, with parties and factions vying for
supremacy, while King Louis XVI was undoubtedly more concerned to keep his head on
his shoulders than on his coins.
As always, people made do with whatever could be found. For example, Frederic Droulers
estimates that in the mid 19th century, even as late as the reign of Napoleon III
before the introduction of the bronze coinages, half to one percent of the coppers
in circulation consisted of sestertii, dupondii and asses of the Roman period!
But the ongoing problems with the coinage, and the public response to these, mirrored
the state of affairs in Great Britain to the degree that a prominent business house,
Monneron Freres of Paris, commissioned Boulton and Soho to produce a series of copper
tokens, of half, two and five sols denomination, although in the event the half sol
was never struck.
The first shipment of two sols, featuring a seated Liberty leaning on The Rights
of Man - was there a subconscious message here? - with the French Coq on a pillar,
was sent in November 1791 dated that year and also as 'l'an III de la liberte.' Subsequent
issues were dated 1792/year III and 1792/year IV.
Five sol tokens were issued next, showing Liberty seated with a stone tablet inscribed
'Constitution' with troops and militias swearing an oath of loyalty...
...and, on a tablet on the side of a small altar, a portrait of Louis XVI looking
distinctly uncomfortable. These too were dated 1791/year III. To reinforce the revolutionary
message, the obverse also carried the date 14 juillet 1790, the first anniversary
of the storming of the Bastille, when this Fete de la Federation was held. Subsequently,
issues appeared dated 1792/year III, and 1792/year IV.
The initial distribution of tokens in Paris was received with considerable enthusiasm.
Boulton's agent, Dr Francis Xavier Swediaur, wrote to Boulton that 'the demand for
our current medals is beyond what you can imagine; the people are so eager for them...we
were so far from being able to satisfy the thousandth part of the demand.'
The edge inscription on a number of the tokens expressed the view that 'la confiance
augmente la valeur' or 'trust increases the value' and the tokens were described
in the legends as 'medailles de confiance' though the fact that the pieces were sold
for two and five sols, as medals, may well have been a device to insulate them from
The strains and stresses of producing large numbers of large tokens caused continual
mechanical problems at Soho, and there is no doubt that the design weaknesses of
Boulton's mint were highlighted in the most foreceful fashion. Notwithstanding the
problems, Soho created around 120 tons of tokens for the Monnerons before, in March
1792, a financial crisis forced the firm to suspend payments. A period of restructuring
allowed business to restart in May 1792, and a further 22 tons of five sol pieces
were shipped, to be followed by forty five tons of two sols in July. This marked
the first time that Soho had achieved its target production rate of two tons per
More than 180 tons of tokens were sent to France from Soho in the months that the
Monneron contracts were in place but, possibly as a result of their success, a political
momentum to prohibit the production and circulation of private money grew to the
point when, on 3rd September 1792, the Provisional Executive Council of the National
Assembly issued a law to suppress private tokens.
Two laws were issued on that day. The second, and obviously less important (!) was
for the construction of a canal or navigation at the cost of the Sieur Joseph Chevalier.
The first, and much more significant, was for 'Defense d'emettre & de faire circuler
dans le royaume, une monnoie sous le nom de Medailles de confiance.' Prohibition
of the issue and circulation, within the Kingdom, of a money under the name of medals
The text of the law indicates just how seriously the matter was taken by the authorities
- bear in mind that the decree was issued only three weeks after the storming of
the Tuileries, and the arrest and suspension of the King, and that between 2nd and
7th September, during which time this law was being written, more than 1,400 people
were murdered and executed in revolutionary upheavals in Paris alone. The King's
comment was a masterpiece of understatement: "Ah, the leaves are falling early this
THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY, on the report which has been made concerning those who would
issue and circulate within the Kingdom a money under the name of medailles de confiance:
Considers that the manufacture of money is a prerogative of the Sovereign, and that
the national interest requires that this prerogative is maintained....and decrees
Article The First
It is expressly forbidden to all to make or have made, directly or indirectly, to
introduce or to circulate within the Kingdom, money of metal of whatever form or
denomination, either as medailles de confiance or otherwise, subject to the penalty
of being punished with fifteen years in irons, and confiscation of the money.
Article The Second
Those who have issued such money must withdraw this from circulation within one month,
counting from the day of the promulgation of this present decree, to be exchanged
fairly against assignats.
IN THE NAME OF THE NATION, the provisional Executive Council orders and ordains to
all Administrative Bodies and Tribunals that these presents should be registered,
read, published and posted up within their respective departments and areas, and
executed as law. In expectation of which we have signed these presents and have caused
the seal of the State to be affixed. In Paris, the twentieth day of the month of
September, one thousand seven hundred and ninety two, the fourth year of Liberty.
Signed MONGE Countersigned DANTON And sealed with the seal of the State.
And that was the end of the Monneron Tokens. Or maybe it wasn't. There is a report
of barrels of Monneron tokens being seized as late as May 1793, and the tokens, especially
the five sols, turn up with reasonable frequency even these days - many of them showing
signs of considerable circulation. There can be no doubt that they fulfilled a genuine
The monarchy was abolished and the French Republic, One and Indivisible, was declared
on 21st September 1792, the day after this law was signed. Might this have been the
very last law passed under even the semblance of the ancien regime?
The law was signed by Monge and Danton.
Gaspard Monge was a brilliant young scientist from Beaune, where he began to lecture
in physics at the College de la Trinite at the age of only 17. Later, he submitted
a number of papers on partial differential equations to the Academie.
A strong supporter of the Revolution, he became Minister of the Navy under the Republic,
but lasted only eight months. He was dazzled by Napoleon, becoming firstly a Senator
for life, and then President of the Senate in 1804 and Comte de Peluse in 1808. The
defeat of Napoleon in 1815 meant the end of the good times for Monge, and he died
Georges Jacques Danton was a lawyer from Arcis-sur-Aube whose first appearance in
the Revolution was as President of the Cordeliers club, a centre of agitation for
popular sovereignty. Danton was said to have been a leading figure in the massacres
of September 1792, which may explain his almost instant rise to the Ministry of Justice.
Danton voted for the death of Louis XVI and became one of the nine members of the
infamous Committee of Public Safety which administered The Terror. He was executed
with the connivance of Robespierre in April 1794.
This copy of the Act bears the library stamp of E. DEWAMIN, Author of 'One Hundred
Years of French Numismatics' and is item number 94 of his collection. Emile Dewamin
published his work in 1889 and reviewed the history of French coin issues since the
start of the Revolution in 1789. His book, published in an edition of 250 copies,
would be scarce to rare today, were it not for the fact that it was reissued in 1989
to mark the bicentenary of the Revolution.
Although the National Assembly banned the Monneron and other tokens in September
1792, successive governments did nothing to relieve the shortage of official coins
until Year 4 of the Republic, 1796, when new decimal coins were issued in denominations
of one and five centimes, one and two decimes.