What Is the French Franc (F)?

The French franc (F) was the national currency of France prior to France’s adoption of the euro (EUR) in January 2002. Prior to its replacement by the EUR, the franc was administered by the Bank of France and was comprised of 100 subunits, or ‘centimes.’

The franc was available in coin denominations of 1, 5, 10, and 20 centimes; and in 0.5, 1, 2, 5, 10, and 20 francs. Its banknotes were available in denominations of 20, 50, 100, 200, and 500 francs.

Key Takeaways

  • The French franc was the national currency of France prior to its adoption of the euro.
  • The franc has a long history dating back more than 600 years.
  • France had been a long-standing advocate of European monetary integration prior to the adoption of the euro in 2002.

Understanding the French Franc (F)

The history of the French franc begins in 1360, following the capture of King John II by England during the Battle of Poitiers—a seminal battle of the Hundred Years' War. In order to afford his ransom, France was forced to mint new gold coins. One franc coin contained the image of King John II free from captivity on horseback, while another coin showed him free on foot. The French phrases for these two images, “franc à cheval” and “franc à pied," caught on. Soon, users of the coins referred to them simply as "francs."

The French Revolution was a time of major political and economic upheaval, in which changes to the national currency were introduced on numerous occasions. One such change was the creation of a new gold franc in 1803, containing 290.32 mg of gold. This was the first gold coin to be denominated in francs, and it depicted Napoleon Bonaparte as Emperor of France. This new coin, and the several iterations which followed them, were popularly known as “Gold Napoleons” and were widely praised for their status as sound money.

As the French economy industrialized throughout the 19th century, the franc grew to become a significant international currency. In 1865, France was a founding member of the Latin Monetary Union, an early attempt to unite European economies under one currency. The union was first based on a bimetallic standard but later switched to a standard based solely on gold. Following World War II, France continued its advocacy for further integration of European currencies. In 1992, the French public approved the passage of the Maastricht Treaty, which serves as the basis for the European Union and the implementation of the euro. This approval put the country on the path to establishing the euro. On Jan. 1, 2002, France finalized its adoption of the euro, following a three-year transitional period during which both the franc and the euro were treated as legal tender.

Real-World Example of the French Franc (F)

The franc saw its value decline precipitously in the roughly 100-year period prior to the adoption of the euro. This was due in large part to the two World Wars, which required France to bear significant wartime spending. This inflationary pressure, combined with the severe destruction of property caused by the fighting, contributed to a persistent downward slide in the value of the franc during the first half of the 20th century. Although its value stabilized briefly during the 1930s, the outbreak of World War II led to a further erosion of purchasing power.

In contrast to this turbulent history, the euro has been relatively stable since its adoption by France in 2002. Between 2002 and 2020, the euro has seen its value range from a low of roughly $0.85 U.S. dollars (USD) per euro to a high of nearly $1.60 USD per euro. France’s gross domestic product (GDP) has grown by about 1.2% per year since 2002, whereas its inflation rate has held steady at around 1.4% per year.