The French in Vietnam – Rare 1946 French Indochinese Piastre Pattern Coin at MA-Shops

French Indochinese piastre

By CoinWeek ….

Compared to Portugal and Spain, France was late colonizing Asia and the Far East. Its involvement in Southeast Asian affairs didn’t begin until the early 1600s, when French Jesuit missionaries began working in Vietnam – which itself was only just beginning to grow into the country as we understand it today. Besides more firmly establishing Catholicism among the Vietnamese people, this also opened the door to trade and, as French religious authorities became part of the fabric of the region’s cultural life, military intervention on one side or another in local affairs.

By the mid-19th century, Vietnamese rulers certainly came to resent French influence, and so, in the name of protecting its missions, France in turn came to seize and control more and more of the country through military means. After fighting China for power over the north, by 1885 France controlled the nation of Vietnam, and with the addition of Cambodia in 1887, the colony of French Indochina was created.

During the subsequent decades, France found itself at war with neighboring countries–either to gain more territory or to take back what it had lost–as well as subduing internal rebellions.

The French Indochinese piastre, or piastre de commerce, was issued in 1885 to achieve a level of price stability in the territory. It was issued and remained in use until replaced by the Vietnamese đồng and other equivalent regional currencies following World War II. The Vichy Government had ceded effective control of Indochina to Japan during the war, and afterwards France sought to retake possession of its East Asian colonies. This brought it into conflict with both China and the Viet Minh, led by Communist Party leader Hồ Chí Minh.

American involvement in Vietnam and Southeast Asia began with the French withdrawal from Indochina in 1954.


The coin described here, offered on by Podlaski Gabinet Numizmatyczny, is a French Indochinese 1 Piastre cupro-nickel pattern coin (or essai) from 1946, the same year that the North Vietnamese đồng was introduced. The obverse features a head-and-shoulders bust of Marianne, the personification of France who first appeared on medals honoring the French Revolution (1789-99). Facing right, she wears a Phrygian Cap, an ancient symbol of freedom. Stylized strands of hair flow dramatically down her neck and away from her ear (which is hidden by the cap). The face of a lion, mouth closed, can be seen at the top of a garment she wears beneath a robe that is open to her chest. Her right hand, seeming to defy “correct” perspective, sticks straight up as it holds a twig of laurel.

Around the entire design is a repeating trinagular pattern of what may be described as blunted sword tips.

The inscription REPUBLIQUE FRANÇAISE (“French Republic”) runs clockwise around Marianne along the top of the coin starting on the left side, slightly lower than halfway down. The word ESSAI is found on the left, and the signature of the coin’s designer, P.TURIN, is rather prominently displayed on the right. The date 1946 is in the exergue created by the crisp truncation of Marianne’s bust.

The repeating triangular pattern is also found on the reverse, surrounding a symmetrical arrangement of two stalks of what look like rice plants. The denomination 1 PIASTRE is located immediately above the plants. The inscription INDOCHINE FRANÇAISE (“French Indochina”) runs clockwise along almost the entire rim of the coin, starting in the lower left quadrant. To the right of the bottom of the rice stalks is the cornucopia, mint mark of the Monnaie de Paris; to the left is the mint master’s mark.

Listed as very rare by Lecompte (314), this example of the 1946 French Indochina 1 piastre pattern coin grades PCGS Specimen 64.

Pierre Turin

French sculptor and medalist Pierre Turin is known internationally as a leading practitioner of the Art Deco style. In fact, it was his medal for the 1925 International Exposition of Modern Industrial and Decorative Arts that gave the style its name. Born in 1891, Turin studied at the École des Beaux-Arts, as did many notable coin designers of the 19th and 20th centuries (such as Augustus Saint-Gaudens and Bela Lyon Pratt).

He began working for the Monnaie de Paris after winning a 1928 competition to design a new coin type for the French Republic. It featured a right-facing head of Marianne, crowned with an olive branch, on the obverse, and ears of wheat on the reverse. The “Turin Type” was used on the 20 franc coin until 1939, and the 10 franc piece until 1949.

Turin died in 1968.

The French Indochinese Piastre

Spanish and Mexican silver dollars, or pesos, circulated around the world as trade dollars for hundreds of years, playing an especially important role in the economies of China and other Asian countries. So when the French began its military interventions in Southeast Asia in the mid-19th century, the currency it issued was known as the piastre, which was an Italian word for peso.

Specifically based on the weight of the Mexican peso, which saw extensive usage in East Asia via the Philippines, by the 20th century the mass of the Indochinese piastre had been reduced somewhat. Interestingly, as the rest of the world slowly but surely converted to a gold standard, only China and some European colonial territories in Asia (including French Indochina) persisted on the silver standard established by the now-defunct Spanish Empire. This situation was interrupted and altered by the two World Wars, as well as by heavy inflation in postwar France.

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  1. I have a french coin that’s up side down, it is a republique franchise 5 piaster 1971. I want to know if it has any value


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