By Jay Turner for PCGS ……
The French Revolution brought about the First French Republic, which brought about sweeping changes to remove religious and royalist influences across France and its government institutions. One such change came to its calendar, which would be changed and used by the French Republic for 12 years – including on its coins.
It was an effort to remove the old feudal and monarchical systems and to replace them with theories of the Enlightenment while also looking to the ancient Roman Republic and Greece for role models. New systems of weights and measurements were introduced, and some of them continue to be used to this day–such as the metric system. Implementing a new way of measuring time was completely revolutionary, but it, too, was put into place. The idea for the revision of the calendar came from Almanach des Honnêtes-gens (Almanac of Honest People), written by the anticlerical atheist Sylvain Marechal, which was a rejection of the calendar system of both the Julian and Gregorian systems.
The French Republican calendar was adopted in 1793, but its epoch was set to September 22, 1792. The calendar design was a year divided into 12 months of three 10-day weeks or decades. Décadi, the 10th day of the week, was the replacement for Sunday and was set for the day of rest and festivity. Five or six extra days were needed each year to approximate the solar year, so they were added to the month that ended each year, September, and were called Sansculottides, or complementary days.
Decimal time was also part of the French Republican Calendar in which each day was divided into 10 hours, and each hour divided into 100 minutes, and each minute divided into 100 seconds. The conversion of time meant that the decimal hour was equal to 144 conventional minutes, a decimal minute was 86.4 conventional seconds, and the decimal second was 0.864 conventional seconds. Clocks were made to display decimal time, but this time system was a failure and was officially suspended on April 7, 1795. Some cities continued to use decimal time as late as 1801.
For coins, the French Republican calendar was used starting in 1793. The coins’ date would be written L’AN followed by a Roman numeral or a number to signify the year. In year 11, the L’ is dropped and is AN going forward until discontinued in Year 14. For some coins, such as those in L’AN II, the date corresponding to the Gregorian calendar is used on the coin as well. Since the calendar started on September 22 or September 23 during its use, the date conversion is not exact but is normally adopted to the closest year. The coins using this system started in L’AN II, or Year 2, and ended in AN 14 or 1805.
The French Republican calendar, while used for almost 14 years by the government, was abolished by Napoleon with an act signed on September 9, 1805. Two fundamental flaws were noted as causes for this abolishment. The first issue was that leap years were not fixed like they are in the Gregorian calendar every four years, but instead followed the course of the sun. The second major issue was the adoption of the calendar across Europe, America, and the rest of the world would not catch on and with Napoleon’s conquests the introduction of a new calendar was not popular. Therefore the calendar was not applied in France’s overseas territories and thus the government still had two different systems.
It proved very unpopular for the people living under the calendar system, too – one day of rest every 10th day rather than every seventh as dictated by the Gregorian calendar conflicted with those who were serious about their religious observances.
Coins from France used this dating system from 1792 until 1805, and, with 18 different mints producing these coins, it is a difficult set to obtain.
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