Stunning French Indo-China Piastre

These coins were produced for sale at the Exposition Universelle of 1889 (Paris World’s Fair) and had a mintage of 100 pieces. The Exposition Universelle remains one of the best known World’s Fairs for its iconic entrance arch; the Eiffel Tower (which was not entirely completed but still open to the public). The event was held during the year of the 100th anniversary of the storming of the Bastille, traditionally seen as the beginning of the French Revolution. One of the gathering rooms in the Fair was a reconstruction of the Bastille and surrounding neighborhood and was used as a ball room as well. Some of the famous attendees of this Fair included Thomas Edison, Vincent Van Gogh, and the future King Edward VII. The largest diamond known at that time was on display, known as the “Imperial Diamond.” One of the major attractions at this World’s Fair was a “human zoo” or ethnological exposition of the French overseas empire, an empire that included French Indo-China. The term Indo-China refers to the large region of Southeast Asia where Indian and Chinese influences mingled and formed cultures apart from either of these entities. French Indo-China however refers to the lands of French protection and control in the region during the 19th and early 20th centuries, specifically the three regions of Tonkin, Annam and Cochin China, which comprise modern day Vietnam and Cambodia, as well as Laos and parts of Thailand which were not added until after this coin was struck.

By the mid-19th century French merchants and missionaries had been trading and preaching all over Southeast Asia, and by the early 1880s French troops had begun establishing firmer control in the region under the auspice of protection for French citizens. Tensions flared in 1884 after several military skirmishes between the French military and the Chinese “Black Flags” under Liu Yongfu, who had come to aid the Vietnamese in resisting French colonial hegemony. These early skirmishes soon mushroomed into the Sino-French War which, while not strictly a French victory, did conclude with China relinquishing its protection of Tonkin, Annam, Cochin China and Cambodia to France. Thus in 1887 France established French Indo-China with local royal rulers governing as figure heads in three of the four territories and a prefect and French bureaucracy governing in Cochin China. 

Three Paris Mint chief engravers – all from the same family – collaboratively designed this iconic silver crown; the first was Albert Barre until his sudden death in 1878, with the design finished by his brother Auguste Barre. The obverse design bears great similarity to the Great Seal of France as designed by their father Jean-Jacques Barre, with notable changes to reinforce its association with colonial affairs. The reasoning for basing the design on the Great Seal of France was to demonstrate French sovereignty over the region. Liberty reclines facing left, with her head facing, adorned with a laurel crown with seven arches. She holds a fasces (seen as a symbol of collective power) resting atop a ship’s tiller. Behind the tiller appears a marine anchor, symbolizing the administration of Indo-China by the French ministry of the "Marine and Colonies." Rice stalks appear to the left of Liberty, replacing the symbol of western agriculture, wheat. "REPUBLIQUE – FRANÇAISE" (the French Republic) appears around the design. In exergue, the engraver’s name (BARRE) and the date of 1889 appear. The reverse design features the denomination at the center of the design: "PIASTRE DE COMMERCE" surrounded by a wreath of laurel (glory) and oak (longevity) leaves. "INDO-CHINE FRANÇAISE" (French Indo-China) appears above the wreath. The lower outer inscription describes the silver contents and weight: "TITRE 0.900. POIDS 27.215 GR." The mintmark of Paris ("A") appears below the central inscription flanked by two engraver’s marks. 

The impressive strike provides sharp design details, and there are exceptional mirror surfaces. The toning is deep and aged, of the highest quality. Upon further examination – especially on the reverse design – the toning expands into beautiful iridescent electric blue and sunset orange and pink. The third finest certified by PCGS, population: one, with just two certified finer.

Look for this and other Asian and world numismatic rarities in our upcoming Rarities Night Auction on May 20th, the day after the inaugural D. Brent Pogue Collection Part 1 on May 19th. Preview this impressive coin along with the rest of our auction this April at the Stack’s Bowers and Ponterio office located in Irvine, California. For details please refer to the Events Calendar link at To schedule an appointment, please call 800.458.4646. While our Stack’s Bowers Galleries Rarities Night Auction on May 20th is no longer open for consignments, we are currently taking consignments of ancient and world coins for our August 2015 ANA World’s Fair of Money Showcase Auction and Asian coins and currency for our August 2015 Hong Kong Showcase Auction. Time is running short, so if you are interested in consigning your coins and paper currency (whether a whole collection or a single rarity) be sure to contact one of our consignment directors.

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