FRANCE brass medal for the Constitution 1790


FRANCE, medal, 1790, Obverse: allegory of the Constitution, A PARIS LE 14 JUILLET 1790., Reverse: CONFEDERATION DES FRANCAIS, bronze, 40mm, first anniversary of storming of Bastille, original, crude edge, F first anniversary of storming of Bastille,

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This piece is likely a private copy, possibly made in Germany.

Commemorative medals were one of the products of the French government from the 18th through the 20th centuries. Medals to some extent circulated as money of a sort, and served as propaganda and news tools in a time when coins were used for most commercial transactions, newspapers were scarce, and most people couldn’t read.

France has been a hotbed of numismatic activity since Celtic times in the 3rd century BC. People making their own coins (tokens, imitations, counterfeits) was a normal activity wherever and whenever there was a coin shortage. Keeping in mind, of course, in this coinless age, that coins were THE way people did business until the 20th century. In France they were using tokens in the normal, local way we think of tokens being used, from the 15th century.

There are two kinds of things that are called “medals.” One is things that look like coins but don’t express a value. Sometimes those medals are considerably larger than most coins. The other kind of medal is a metal thing designed to be displayed on one’s chest, often a reward for something, often in a military context. If the medal is small enough it is sometimes called a “medallet.”

The word “exonumia” is used to describe all kinds of things that are “like” coins but are not coins. I wrote a blog post on that subject. Basic categories: 1. used like a coin but not issued by a national government, 2. looks like a coin but not made for spending, 3. other things that we are interested in.