A lot changed after the Second World War – empires fell, borders shifted and the face of European economic ties changed. Some countries would try to keep up the macabre charade of gold backed currencies for a time, but most gave in to the stark realization which had already stalked the continent for the two decades proceeding the war – namely that free-float, or FIAT currencies were not only liberating, but the road to a better future. This is not to say that stability immediately accompanied the changes, with currency wars (particularly between France and Italy) becoming a hallmark of the postwar economic scene.
As individuals watched first the debasement of their coinage, and then the introduction of ever-higher denominations, only to in turn see these be reduced in size, it must have occurred to some that not a century earlier, now bitter economic rivals once consciously pegged their currencies to one another. A symbol of this earlier time was recently submitted to us for grading – a lovely 1864T/BN Italian 20 lire gold coin.
With an identical weight, fineness and size to a French 20 franc piece, these coins would likely have seen parallel circulation, especially in border regions and in the vaults of foreign banks. The type was issued for a decade (1861-70), with an average annual mintage a little below 971 000 pieces, all from the Turin mint. It’s French counterpart, though struck for the same period, had an average yearly mintage of 8 646 400, being divided between the Paris and Strasbourg mints – clearly demonstrating the asserted industrial might of France over that of then developing Italy.
The difference in mintage figures also helps to account for the disparity of market value between average pieces of both issues – as collectors have a tougher (although not entirely difficult) time obtaining examples of Italian gold from this series. Like many Italian coins, post-minting defects tend to abound on these issues, with scratches, polishing and surface hairlines being among the more common faults to be expected. This example, on the other hand, displays clean fields, residual luster and lovely detail. Only some dullness in the hair and a little weakness in the lower portion of the arms betray this as a lightly circulated example.
The lower mintage, pleasing condition and historical interest all make this a remarkable piece – a symbol of a world long gone, and of the central role that ‘the yellow metal’ has historically played in international commerce.