Coins of the Latin Mint Union

The Latin Mint Union of 1865 © Own image

First attempts at a common currency

The euro is by no means the first common European currency. As early as the 19th century, several European countries attempted to form a common European currency with the Latin Monetary Union (Union monétaire latine).

The Latin Coinage Union of 1865

In 1865, the countries of France, Switzerland, Belgium and Italy joined together in Paris to form the Latin Monetary Union. In their "Convention Monétaire", they agreed to coordinate the fineness, weight, size and nominal values of their coins in the future. In 1868, Greece also officially joined the Minting Union.

The goal of the Latin Monetary Union was to standardize the currencies of the participating states so that they could be exchanged with each other on a one-for-one basis, thus facilitating trade between countries.

The participating countries therefore continued to mint coins with their own currency denominations, but these were accepted in all other countries. The official coins were therefore French and Belgian francs, Italian lire, Swiss francs, and Greek drachmas.

French 20 franc | gold coin 418,70 

In addition to the official states of the Minting Union, other European states later adopted the standards of the Minting Union. The dual monarchy of Hungary-Austria also oriented itself in all parameters to the gold coins of the Latin Union with the florin coins minted from 1870. The 8-guilder coin was equivalent to 8 florins or 20 francs, and the 4-guilder coin had the value of 4 florins or 10 francs, and are still mint by the Austrian Mint today.

Austria (florin) | 4 florin | gold coin 215,30 

Bimetallism with gold & silver coins

In addition to rules on issuance and acceptance, the treaties of the Latin Coinage Union mainly specified how the denominations of the coins should be, determined gold and silver content and weight, and set the value ratio of the two metals.

Gold coins with denominations of 100, 50, 20, 10 and 5 francs were issued with an alloy of 900/1000 gold. The largest silver coin of 5 francs had a fineness of 900/1000 silver, while smaller silver coins with denominations of 2 francs, 1 franc, 0.5 francs and 0.2 francs had a fineness of only 835/1000 silver.

The gold-silver ratio thus corresponded to a ratio of 1 to 15.5, meaning that two silver 5-franc pieces (= 45 grams of fine silver) were equivalent to one gold 10-franc piece (= 2.9032 grams of fine gold).

Gold coins of the Mint Union

Whether francs, franc, lira or drachma, all gold coins of the Latin Monetary Union came in the following denominations:

 Nominal value
 Weight (g)
 Diameter (mm)
Gold 100 32,258 35 900/1000
50 16,129 28
20 6,4516 21
10 3,2258 19
5 1,6129 17


Silver coins of the Mint Union

The silver coins of the Union Monétaire Latine also followed a uniform denomination, even if the currency denomination differed:

Nominal value
Weight (g)
Diameter (mm)
Silver 5 25 37 900/1000
2 10 27 835/1000
1 5 23
0,5 2,5 18
0,25 1 16

Paper money caused the end of monetary union

Because paper money was still an exotic feature when the Minting Union was founded, there was no provision in the treaty for the issue of banknotes denominated in the common currencies.
Thus, first Greece, which had declared national bankruptcy in1893, soon began to issue only paper money (having previously minted coins with inferior alloys). After virtually all countries began issuing paper money in enormous quantities at the beginning of World War I, the treaty was suspended in 1914. Only Switzerland had finally adhered to the common rules. On January 1, 1927, the Swiss finally became the last country in the Union to no longer accept the coins of the other countries as means of payment.

Latin Mint Union bullion gold coins

Vreneli | 20 Swiss franc | gold coin 415,30 

The gold coins of the Mint Union are appreciated both by collectors and investors. Because of the high mintage and the standardized fineness of 900/1000 gold, especially the French 20 gold francs with Marianne or Napoleon, the Swiss Helvetia and Vreneli gold coins, but also old Italian gold lira of the LMU are excellent investment coins.

They are traded close to the price of gold and can be bought and sold at precious metal dealers and sometimes at banks.

You want to buy or sell gold?

Come now for a personal, non-binding and serious consultation in one of our branches in Vienna or visit our online store.
Our branches
To the store

You might also be interested in

News, background information and updates on the topics of gold & silver.

other contributions