From inflation to monetary terror

From inflation to monetary terror


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  • The inhabitants of the countryside sold their food at a high price for assignats ...

    LESUEUR Jean-Baptiste (1748 - 1826)

  • Assignats of twenty-five and fifteen sols.

  • Assignat of fifty pounds.

  • Fan with assignats (front).

To close

Title: The inhabitants of the countryside sold their food very dear for assignats ...

Author : LESUEUR Jean-Baptiste (1748 - 1826)

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 36 - Width 53.5

Technique and other indications: Gouache on cut and laminated support "The inhabitants of the countryside sold their foodstuffs very dear for assignats, and came to Paris to exchange them for money."

Storage location: Carnavalet Museum (Paris) website

Contact copyright: © Photo library of the Museums of the City of Paris - Cliché Degracessite web

Picture reference: 2000 CAR 1246 A / D09082

The inhabitants of the countryside sold their food very dear for assignats ...

© Photo library of the Museums of the City of Paris - Cliché Degraces

To close

Title: Assignats of twenty-five and fifteen sols.

Author :

Creation date : 1792

Date shown: 1792

Dimensions: Height 7 cm - Width 10.2 cm

Technique and other indications: Assignat de 25 sols, January 2, 1792: Engraving of the assignat and the two dry stamps by Jean-Pierre Droz (1746-1823) Signed Hervé. Law of January 2, 1792, Year 4 of Liberty. Watermark.

Storage location: Historic Center of the National Archives website

Contact copyright: © Historic Center of the National Archives - Photography workshop

Picture reference: Assignat de 25 sols, January 2, 1792: AD / IX / 541

Assignats of twenty-five and fifteen sols.

© Historic Center of the National Archives - Photography workshop

To close

Title: Assignat of fifty pounds.

Author :

Creation date : 1792

Date shown: 1792

Dimensions: Height 7 - Width 10.2

Technique and other indications: "Assignat of fifty pounds of the creation of December 14, 1792, the first year of the Republic. Mortgaged on the national domains".

Storage location: Historic Center of the National Archives website

Contact copyright: © Historic Center of the National Archives - Photography workshop

Picture reference: AD / IX / 541

Assignat of fifty pounds.

© Historic Center of the National Archives - Photography workshop

To close

Title: Fan with assignats (front).

Author :

Creation date : 1797

Date shown: 1797

Dimensions: Height 15.5 - Width 24.5

Technique and other indications: Printed paper, wooden frame, bone inlaid rivet. Line decorated with silver pastilles on the border Caption on the back: Jean qui rit, Jean qui pleure

Storage location: Carnavalet Museum (Paris) website

Contact copyright: © Photo library of the Museums of the City of Paris - Photo Joffre

Picture reference: 93CAR2028A-93CAR2027A / ev 226

Fan with assignats (front).

© Photo library of the Museums of the City of Paris - Photo Joffre

Publication date: April 2005

Historical context

The war

The Legislative Assembly, dominated by preparations for war, votes for repeated issuances of assignats: 300 million in December 1791, 300 million in April 1792, at the time of the declaration of war, 300 million in July, in the time of "the fatherland. in danger ”, 400 million in October, at the time when Louis XVI was in the Temple and the enemy in Verdun. Thus, in the spring of 1792, the revolutionary state engaged in war with a policy of marked inflation and paper money already depreciated by 40%.

The war revives the popular movement and intensifies the social and political crisis. We besiege the bakeries, we denounce the monopolists.

To continue the war, the Convention took control of the economy and in Year II outlined a social democracy. It resumed the issue of assignats: 800 million in February 1793 and 1,900 million in May-June 1793. As a corollary, the Terror extended to precious metals, the natural rivals of paper; the sale of cash is prohibited, the Stock Exchange closed, publication of the exchange rate by newspapers prohibited.

The fall in the French exchange rate on foreign markets is attributed to the "brokers". In fact, speculators are only profiting from the unprecedented situation offered to them.

Image Analysis

Gouache by Lesueur

The exchange of assignats for cash was authorized by the Constituent Assembly (May 17, 1791) and will only be prohibited under the Terror (April 11, 1793). "An inhabitant of the countryside" who sold his harvest for assignats comes to exchange denominations of 400 pounds issued on November 21, 1792, the first to bear the mention "French Republic", to a money changer in a striped dressing gown, with a headdress of a fur cap, which checks them, because there are many fakes. This robust peasant seems better nourished than the population of the cities at that time. Even if it does not get the equivalent of the face value of cash assignats, cash remains stable, while paper money steadily depreciates. In fact, the Revolution had two currencies in seven years.

This small scene belongs to a unique collection of the Carnavalet museum: 64 gouaches due to an eyewitness describe familiar events and scenes of the Revolution in Paris. The artist, Jean-Baptiste Lesueur (1748-1826), cut them out to place them on their base, with the aim of undoubtedly constituting a small street theater. The money changer's counter is soberly furnished: a weekly drawer whose drawers seem full of banknotes like the wooden box placed on it, a scale to weigh the coins, an office chair, a stool and a screen decorated with a seedling of small flowers behind which looms the omnipresent silhouette of a national guard armed with the famous pike. All wear the cockade, compulsory since July 1792, and the usurer and his client have cotton neck handkerchiefs, derived from popular Indian fabrics.

Assignats of January 1792

The assignment of 25 sols, voted on January 4, 1792, has two circles on which are affixed dry stamps. These authentic signs give the note the character of money but become illegible as soon as the assignat is crumpled with use. The engraver of assignats and stamps, Jean-Pierre Droz (1746-1823), is also a "mechanic of monetary art": the production of billions of assignats is highly technical.

On either side of the central eye, a symbol of vigilance, are warnings: "The law punishes the infringer", "The nation rewards the whistleblower". Below, the Gallic rooster holds the motto "freedom or death". As the "war on tyrants" brewing, assignats are repeated, denominations smaller and smaller, up to ten cents, and hastily printed.

Square in shape, the assignment of 15 sols of January 4, 1792, decorated with the fleur-de-lis of the monarchy and the motto "The Nation, the Law, the King", announces its value in figures. In the center, two allegories proclaiming human rights and "historical facts" celebrate the achievements of the great revolutionary days. Nicolas-Marie Gatteaux (1751-1832), the most industrious designer and engraver of assignats, was also the author of coins and dry stamps.

Assignat de 50 livres of December 14, 1792

This assignat produced by the complex process of rolling, superimposing steel and copper planks, was drawn by Gatteaux and engraved by Alexandre Tardieu. The intaglio allegory represents the new political power which succeeds the royalty abolished on September 21, 1792: both the “French Nation”, a title that appears in the background on both sides of the design, and the Republic, whose name appears in public documents from September 22. Seated, in her left hand, as a sign of sovereignty, she holds a kind of rudder that can be found engraved on coins and, in her right hand, three laurel wreaths. Standing on a cubic plinth decorated with two bundles of lictors and a Phrygian cap, it is surrounded by a sphere and the Gallic rooster. The Greek decor developed in the angles is found in filigree between the lines of text. Imperfect in its realization, this assignat was counterfeited on a large scale.

Assignats range

Representative of the abundant production of engravings on the theme of paper money, this fan flaunts the failure of the Revolution's monetary and financial policy. The unprecedented inflation and the torrential issuance of assignats losing their value every day have strongly marked mentalities.

The coins from Year IV and the multiple types of assignats, all identifiable, reveal that the fan dates back to the demonetization of 1797. We can also recognize "notes of confidence" issued from May 1790 for compensate for the lack of cash, a patriotic cash voucher, another from the House of Help, a forced loan receipt, a sedentary national guard card, allocated to any citizen of age to bear arms according to the Constitution of year III, a security card, issued under the responsibility of a section of Paris after the massacres of September 1792, a bread ration card issued under the Terror, a special license. This universe of compulsory papers and compulsory assignats, in the anguish of hunger and the uncertainty of the next day, made the daily newspaper of the Terror and of the following years.

On the reverse side is the difference between the losers - "Jean qui pleure", ruined by the depreciation of assignats - and the winners - "Jean qui rit" as he speculates on the cash and the plates of assignats stacked on the table.

Interpretation

Inflation allows the revolutionary state to live virtually tax-free. But the fall in the value of the assignat linked to the supply crisis is causing serious social misery. Municipalities must organize the distribution of food to the poor, often with ration cards. Paris has bread, meat, sugar cards. We no longer count the unfortunate starving people or the starving. To the victims of the scaffold are added those, perhaps more numerous, of the dizziness of the assignat.

  • assignats
  • Convention
  • finances
  • peasants
  • Terror

Bibliography

Philippe de CARBONNIERES, Lesueur's revolutionary gouaches, Paris, Paris-Musées-Nicolas Chaudun, 2005. Jean LAFAURIE, Assignats and paper money issued by the State in the 18th century, Paris, Golden Leopard, 1981. René SEDILLOT, History of the franc, Paris, Éditions Sirey, 1979.Jeanne VEYRIN-FORRER and Alain MERCIER, "Contribution to the iconographic study of assignats" in Print News, July-August 1989.

To cite this article

Luce-Marie ALBIGÈS, "From Inflation to Monetary Terror"


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