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French coin, late 14c., from Medieval Latin Francorum Rex "King of the Franks," inscribed on gold coins first made during the reign of Jean le Bon (1350-64). An official monetary unit of France from 1795.
originally a French coin but now the monetary unit of a number of countries, notably Switzerland, most French and former Belgian overseas territories, and some African states; at one time it was also the currency of France, Belgium, and Luxembourg. The name was first applied to a gold coin minted by King John II of France in 1360, which bore on one face the Latin legend Johannes Dei gratia Francorum rex ("John, by the grace of God, king of the Franks"). Because this coin also carried the figure of the king on horseback, it was known as the franc a cheval to distinguish it from another coin of the same value later issued by Charles V of France. This latter coin was called the franc a pied because it showed the monarch on foot standing under a canopy. During the 17th century the minting of gold francs ceased, but the name was freely applied by the French public to the new unit of exchange-the livre tournois, a gold coin subdivided into 20 sols. In 1795, to symbolize the political changes that followed the French Revolution, the republican government introduced a new franc currency. The first coin was a five-franc silver piece; gold coins worth 20 francs (napoleons) were coined in quantity later. The livre tournois, which was exchangeable into the new currency at a rate of 81 livres to 80 francs, continued to circulate in France until 1834.