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 Jan. 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, and 20 centimes as well as in 0.5, one, two, five, 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 side of these coins contained the image of King John II free from captivity on horseback, while the other 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 190.034 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.

Real World Example of the French Franc (F)

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 monetary union. 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.