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  • French Colonial Coins

    French Coinage for Canada and Louisiana: Introduction

    No French coins were ever minted exclusively for circulation in French Canada (called Nouvelle France, that is, New France) or Louisiana. However, some issues were designated for general circulation in the French New World possessions, including Canada and possessions in the Caribbean. The first New World colonial issues were "recycled" old douzain coins, that is coins of 12 deniers or one sol. These hammered coins were composed of billon (an alloy of silver and copper) and consisted of both regal issues and regional coinage issued by local ecclesiastical or feudal lords. According to an edict of June,1640, these older worn coins were authorized to be counterstamped with a punch displaying a fleur-de-lys within a beaded oval. Often when the coins were counterstamped the force of the impact bowed the coins so that they are often somewhat concave on the counterstamped side and convex of the other side. Once the coins were counterstamped they were sent to the colonies. Breen stated that in an edict of November 24, 1672 these coins were mentioned as circulating in Canada at 20 deniers, however their value fluctuated over time. Additionally, Breen (1976, p. 47) suggests these coins may have been the "Black Doggs" mentioned in the Connecticut law of 1721.

    By an edict of February 19, 1670 coins of two, five and fifteen sols produced at the Paris mint were authorized for the Compagnie des Indes Occidentales en Ameriques to circulate in Nouvelle France. The silver five and fifteen sols were minted at Paris in 1670 and carry the mintmark A. The obverse of these coins depicts king Louis XIV on the obverse with the crowned royal shield on the reverse. Vlack stated there were 200,000 of the 5 sol coins and 40,000 of the 15 sol coins sent to Canada. Although a copper two denier coin called a "double" was authorized it did not go into production; only one example is extant. This coin displays a crowned L on the obverse and a legend on the reverse.

    By an edict of October 1692 Louis XIV ordered older billon coinage still in circulation to be restruck with new designs and reissued as sous of 15 deniers. Some of this coinage was counterstamped and sent to Nouvelle France where they circulated at fluctuating values. Coins dated 1692-1697 were included in this grouping and can be positively assigned to this second counterstamped group.

    In 1710-1713 the Lyon mint (mintmark D) struck a billon 30 denier coin specifically for colonial export. These coins, called the 30 deniers aux deux livres Couronnés or less formally as the double sols, display the crowned double L obverse while the reverse displays a cross. The coins were sometimes called Mousquetaires as the cross on the reverse resembled the cross worn by the king's bodyguards, known as the musketeers. The dies for these coins were cut by Norbert Roettiers. According to the edicts of September 26, 1709 and June 15, 1711 the mintage was to be 40 million coins, but Hodder has suggested the actual minatge exceeded 122 million.

    By a royal edict of March 9, 1717 copper six and twelve deniers coins dated 1717 that had previously been authorized (by an edict of December 1716) to be produced at Perpignan (mintmark Q) were made legal for circulation in in Canada. The mintage was authorized a three million coins for the six deniers and one and a half million for the twelve deniers coppers. Unfortunately the copper received by the mint was of very poor quality so the project was terminated after some trials, a few coins of each denomination survive.

    In 1721-1722 the mints at Rouen (mintmark B) and La Rochelle (mintmark H) produced a copper nine deniers coin for the colonies using higher grade copper planchets imported from Sweden, rather than the lower grade copper responsible for the Perpignan failure. In the summer of 1722 over a half million (534,000) nine deniers coppers were shipped to Canada. Canadians disliked this coin because it was underweight; it was so light that it was not accepted in the British colonies. The French government addressed this problem by devaluing the coin to six deniers in 1724. The devaluation only reinforced the colonists' belief that the coin was an inferior product to be avoided. Finally in 1726, in order to force the adoption of the coin, the government enacted severe penalties against those refusing to accept these coppers. The Canadians responded on September 26, 1726, when ten casks of these coppers, totalling 525,820 coins, were returned to France.

    The unwanted coins remained in France for five years before the situation was finally resolved. Louisiana had been settled by the French and was provided with paper currency issues as early as 1719. The territory, however, did not officially become a French crown colony until 1731. At that time, the unwanted coppers were sent to New Orleans where they circulated at six deniers. This was the last French coin specifically minted for use in the French New World colonies.

    From treasure finds and extant records we know some coins minted for circulation in France were officially exported for use in Canada without being counterstamped. On the night of August 25-26, 1725 the french ship Le Chameau sank in a storm off Port Nova Island in Nova Scotia. The ship was salvaged about 1965 with the best inventory of the recovered coins located in the Parke Bernet Gallery auction sale catalog of December 10-11, 1971. There were 495 examples of the gold "Louis d'or mirlitons" of 1723-1725, with all dates represented; as well as about 200 silver "écu de 8 livres" of 1724-1725, with both years included. The only other documented coin is the double sol of 24 deniers (also called the "sol en billon" and the "sol marqué") of 1738-1764. Shipments of this billon double sol to Canada are recorded for 1745 and 1752-1753. According to Hodder these shipments "could have comprised virtually any date/mint combination struck from 1738-53." By the 1763 Treaty of Paris, ending the French and Indian War, the French relinquished Canada to the British. The Louisiana territory was also divided; France ceded the eastern section to England and the western portion to Spain. In that year all billon double sol coins still in circulation were recalled to the Paris mint, where several were counterstamped and sent to the French Caribbean islands.

    Many other coins, both French and foreign, circulated to some extent in Canada, but no others were specifically minted or exported for the Canadian or Louisiana territories. Michael Hodder has recently explained how the list of French Canadian colonial coins dramatically increased from Alfred Sandham's 1869 pamphlet which only included a simple list of playing cards used as currency to the overzealous listing of 441 issues included by Breen in his 1988 Encyclopedia.

    In addition to the Canadian and Louisiana coins there were a few coins issued for the French West Indies. The earliest was a small silver 12 sol of 1731 with the bust of Louis XV on the obverse and a reverse with the motto "ISLES DU VENT" (Isles of the Wind) and the date. In 1763 a stampee (or sol tampé) of 24 deniers was authorized. This was a small copper disk stamped on the obverse with a crowned C (for Colonies) and a blank reverse. From dates on the undertypes we know these coins were produced through at least 1764. They circulated widely and were used in the British Caribbean colonies where the stampee were known as Black Doggs or Doggs. The final French Caribbean coin to see use in early America was the copper twelve deniers minted in 1767 at Paris for distribution in the Caribbean. However, as with the earlier nine deniers copper, these coins were not accepted, and few of them found their way into circulation. They were then recalled to Paris where they were given an RF counterstamp (for République Française) and reissued in the islands as "collots" that passed at a rate of nine deniers. Several of these "collots" made their way to New Orleans through trade and probably circulated in greater numbers after France regained the Louisiana territory from Spain in 1800. These counterstamped coppers continued to circulate in Louisiana after the United States purchased the territory in 1803. Apparently they made their way into other sections of America as pennies during the coin shortage following the War of 1812.


    A note on French coin denominations:

    3 deniers = 1 liard
    4 liards = 1 sol
    20 sols = 1 livre
    6 livres = 1 écu
    4 écus = 1 Louis d'or

    A sol (later the sou) was also called a douzain because it was equal to twelve deniers. Lower denomination coins were the liard, the 1/2 sol, the 12 deniers (the sol) and the 2 sols. The écu was the highest unit silver coin equal to six livres Tournois (Tournois pounds) or 120 sols. Several fractional écu denominations were issued including the: 1/16th (7.5 sols), 1/12th (10 sols), 1/10th (12 sols), 1/8th (15 sols), 1/5th (24 sols), 1/3rd (40 sols) and 1/2 (60 sols) écus. Two gold coins were minted denominated as the 1 and 2 Louis d'or. A livre or pound, was not a coin but rather a money of account. This term usually refers to the livre Tournois (Tournois pound) which equaled 20 sols, there was also a livre Parisis (Parisian pound) valued at 25 sols.

    Latest revision: January 14, 1999


    See: Michael Hodder, "An American Collector's Guide to the Coins of Nouvelle France" in Canada's Money,  Proceedings of the Coinage of the Americas Conference, volume 8, (held November 7, 1992), ed. by John Kleeberg, New York: American Numismatic Society, 1994, 1-35. Also see Breen, pp. 43-58 and his "North American Colonial Coinages under the French Regime (1640-1763)," in Studies on Money in Early America, ed. by Eric Newman and Richard Doty, New York: American Numismatic Society, 1976, pp. 143-74 (both Breen works have excellent comments on the coins but Breen incorrectly added several varieties as circulating in North America that cannot be documented); also see, Robert A. Vlack, "The French Colony Sous of 1767," a six part series in The Colonial Newsletter  as follows: vol. 2 (Oct.-Dec. 1961, serial no. 5) 39-40; vol. 3 (Jan.-March 1962, serial no. 6) 46-47 and (April-June 1962, serial no. 7) 56-57; vol. 5 (Dec. 1963, serial no. 10) 68-70 and (March 1965, serial no. 14) 133-135; finally, vol. 6 (Jan. 1967, serial no. 18) 177-178; Robert Vlack, "The Billon Coinage of Colonial America," The C4 Newsletter  vol. 8, no. 2 (Summer 2000) 18-28 and John J. Ford, Jr. "Royal Edict Authorizing the 1787 COLONIES FRANCOISES Copper Sous" translated by Doug Ball in The Colonial Newsletter  vol. 19, number 3 (1980, serial no. 59), 733-735. On the French Caribbean see Jeremiah D. Brady, "The French Tradition: The Colonial Period (exclusive of Canada)" in Theodore V. Buttrey, Jr., ed. Coinage of the Americas New York: American Numismatic Society, 1973, pp. 71-75; and on the Le Chameau shipwreck see Q. David Bowers, American Coin Treasures and Hoards,  Wolfboro, N.H.: Bowers and Merena, 1997, pp.157-158.

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    Section Contents French Colonial Coins p.1

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