Time and again in the course of writing this series
I've lauded the superior geographic and political knowledge possessed by
the average collector of world coins. Ask the person-in-the-street
to say anything at all about, say, Burkina Faso, and you're likely to get
a response like "a hip-hop singer, right?" Isle of Man - "near the
Isle of Woman?" San Marino - "Town in California? Is that where
the swallows come back to?" But you can count on us to correctly
place those countries. Geopolitical knowledge is not trivial, and
on occasion can be crucial. Never let it be said, therefore, that
our avocation does not yield positive results.
Most of the world's nations possess some considerable amount of territory, and those of us who live in such fortunately endowed countries might tend to have a hard time coming to terms with the concept of a sovereign entity that could be traversed by a pedestrian in the course of a brief stroll, or driven through in a few minutes. A few such nations exist, whose citizens, these days, have reason to delight in their independence from their enormous neighbors. These tiny countries are largely misunderstood, if not unknown, by the larger world. Ask your friends and family a trick question, like "What country is Singapore in?" Nine out of ten will give a wrong answer. Ask them where Andorra or Liechtenstein is and you'll likely draw a blank. But one of these tiny countries is known to virtually all Americans, if only by virtue of our special connection. That nation, the Principality of Monaco, is the subject of this article.
As it exists today, the Monacan territory encompasses a bit more than half a square mile on the Mediterranean coast, surrounded by France, about 12 miles from the French town of Nice and 8 miles from the Italian border. About 30,000 people live there, of which about ten percent are citizens, who proudly pay no income tax. A lot of foreign money is sheltered in Monaco, and both the standard and the cost of living are high. The current prince, Rainier III, has spent his life consolidating and advancing the position of his country in the world, and it would seem that his efforts have been successful, for Monaco today is richer and more secure than it has ever been.
The core of Monaco is a flat-topped rock jutting out into the Mediterranean sea, providing a bit of shelter to a small harbor. Paleolithic remains have been found nearby. Phoenician and Greek traders knew of it. Hannibal of Carthage used the harbor during his campaign against Rome in 221 BC, as did Julius Caesar in his war with Pompey. A temple dedicated to Hercules supposedly existed on the rock, but even in Roman times this was just a legend, and no trace of such a building has been found. The temple was said to have been served by a single priest, or monk, and the rock and its harbor became known as Portus Monachi (italic) after this legendary person.
The French Riviera was a prosperous strip of coast in the heyday of the Roman Empire, and the port shared in the bounty of the times. Romans were succeeded by Lombards after the fall of the Western Empire in 476 CE. The Lombards were displaced by Charlemagne in 774 CE, and shortly after it fell to the Muslims, who held it with decreasing firmness for about two hundred years. It became a haven for pirates
European politics in the 11-12th centuries revolved around the conflict between the popes, whose adherents were known as Guelph, and the Holy Roman Emperor and his Ghibelline faction. The central authority of both pope and emperor was purely theoretical; each having to make deals with local powers to actually get anything done. And, their various contracts and treaties notwithstanding, these locals in reality did mostly as they pleased. Thus, in 1174, the wealthy Italian trading city of Genoa, an ally of the emperor, wrote itself a document allowing itself to build and garrison a fort on the rock of Monaco. Work was begun, and in 1190 the Emperor, Henry VI, recognized the Genoese fait accompli.
Genoa was governed as a republic, its governing council dominated, as one might expect, by rich families in constantly shifting coalitions. The Guelph-Ghibelline conflict was played out in local politics. In the 12th century major players among the Guelphs were the Dorias and the Spinolas, while among the Ghibellines, the family of interest at this time is that of Otto Canella, who was a consul, and who had a son named Grimaldo, by whose name his descendents wished to be known.
Late in the 13th century, one of the Grimaldis, Francesco, campaigned successfully against the Genoan Guelphs, forcing them to take refuge in the fortress of Monaco. Over the next two years the Guelph army deserted the Rock, until only a skeleton garrison remained. On a dark and stormy night in 1297, Francesco Grimaldi brought a band of men up the cliffs and, disguised as a Franciscan monk, knocked on the door, begging hospitality. Welcomed by the pious Guelphs, he called to his men, who proceeded to massacre the garrsion.
Naturally, the Guelphs counterattacked, and Francesco was forced out four years later. The Grimaldis decided they liked the Rock, however. It fitted in with their plans to increase their profile as maritime traders. Accordingly, in 1338, Carlo Grimaldi, son of Rainier I, purchased a title to Monaco from Genoa, and became thus a lord.
Carlo began work on a castle, but was called away in 1349 to fight for France at the start of the Hundred Years' War. Returning a decade later substantially enriched, he bought the neighboring towns of Roccabruna and Mentone. Genoa, however, did not appreciate Carlo's close ties with France, and in 1355 sent both army and navy to drive him out of his stronghold. Carlo died shortly after, and his son, Rainier II, remained an exile until his death.
The Rock next came into the possession of the queen of Aragon, but in 1419 the Grimaldis reappeared on the scene. Three sons of Rainier II pooled their resources and bought Monaco back. It has remained in the possession of the family ever since.
The rule of the Grimaldis in Monaco mirrored the character of the times. Competition was cutthroat and violent, and resembled in many ways the turf wars of modern criminal gangs. Many of the lords of the time died violently. When, in 1604, the reigning seigneur, Hercule (pronounced Aircool) I, was assassinated, his successor, Honore (Onoray) II, was only seven years old, and an uncle, Federico Landi de Valdetare, was called in from Milan to be regent.
Landi felt that he had more important business in Milan, but Monaco had developed a reputation as a lawless place, and something had to be done. His solution was to call in his friends the Spanish to garrison the place. Landi brought the Honore back to Milan with him, where the lad received a first rate education. Papers relating to the governance of Monaco were brought to Milan for his signature, and, starting in 1612, they were signed in the name of the "Prince," Honore II. The Spanish government felt that the style of their client was none of their concern, and that is how the Grimaldis became princes.
Honore returned to the Rock in 1615 to take up the reins, and his first problem was obviously how to get rid of the Spanish garrison. Where would he possibly turn, except to France? France, however, had other concerns, and Franco-Monegasque negotiations proceeded at a snail's pace. It took five years to put together a signable treaty, and then the Thrity Year's War began, and France became embroiled. Finally, Honore took matters into his own hands, launching a successful attack on the Spanish garrison in 1641.
The French king, Louis XIII was impressed and invited the prince to an audience. King and prince took to each other, and Louis made him a French duke and Foreign Peer of the realm. Dukedom and peerhood was quite a different kettle of fish than being the prince of a few hundred people and a couple of miles of territory. The territory he was duke of, nearby Valentinois in Provence, was ten times the size of Monaco, which still made it infinitesimal by French standards, but it was a gigantic shot in the arm for Honore's account ledger, not to mention his prestige.
The benefit to France was mostly ideological, in that the French king received the submission of a foreign potentate, elevating his position further toward that of Emperor, or king of kings. In this respect, it mattered not at all that the foreign prince's sovereignty extended no farther, as they were wont to say, than he could spit. Independent princes were getting harder to find, and every one was an adornment the crown of whatever king he eventually affiliated with.
There were only seven Foreign Princes at the time: Bouillon, Nevers (Mantua), Lorraine, Rohan (Brittany), Soissons (Savoy), La Tremoille (Neuchatel), and Monaco, and they were the top of the heap of French society. Only the king's relatives were higher. The Grimaldis became hot marriage prospects.
Successive Princes began to spend a lot of time in France, dallying in the intrigues, political, financial, and sexual, that made up the daily life of the French Royal Court. We decry the ways of our leaders today, but back then there were no checks and balances and they did exactly as they pleased. We would be amazed and aghast. The Grimaldis fit right in.
All that fooling around was extremely expensive, and the Monegasque subjects found the yoke of the Grimaldis becoming heavier over time as they found the costs of maintaining their presence at court mounted. The guiding Grimaldi political philosophy became marrying into money, and though they were successful in their quest, they continued to have cash flow problems.
THE FIRST COINS
Most of the local coinages of the French realm had been suppressed by the 17th century, but in the middle of the long reign of king Louis XIV, the Dukes and Foreign Peers, most of whom had hereditary mint rights that they were not utilizing, were granted circulation of their money throughout France, given that they struck to the French standard. This was a shot in the arm to the spendthrift nobles. Monaco attempted to take advantage of this boon, and the first coins were struck in 1640. Gold, silver, and copper were issued. All are extremely rare. Known populations of most of these coins are ten or less, single examples coming on the market perhaps once or twice in a decade. There are a lot of potential buyers. A few more silver and copper types were struck in the 18th century, and these are no less rare.
As the 18th century progressed the more and more money was poured into the extravagances of the French court, to the neglect of any thought of the public good. Infrastructure deteriorated, and commerce stagnated because all the money was being spent on wild parties and silly military ventures Resentment simmered throughout France.
Successive princes of Monaco spent decades away from their homeland, their only thoughts for their subjects being how to get more money out of them. They could have built a road to Nice to give the Monegasques a little trade that he could tax. Instead they set up princely mills and forced everyone to get their flour from them, and other such monopolistic oppressions. That was just the way rulers thought back then.
This relentless squeeze of the French Court produced national weakness. The French fought a world war with England that resulted in the loss of most of its overseas colonies. The ongoing decline eventually gave birth to the Revolution. Events in France were dimly mirrored in Monaco, where a citizens' committee had presented a list of demands to the Prince, Honore III. Like king Louis XVI, Honore temporized. Meanwhile, the French National Assembly abolished feudal rights and revenues, including his in Valentinois. The revolution rolled on. Shortly after the execution of king Louis in 1793 Monaco was annexed to France. Honore, having spent the entire time up to that point pursuing his personal interests, was allowed to return home and to retain his personal possession, which is to say, the castle. Later most of the family was imprisoned as enemies of the people. One of them, Francoise-Therese, wife of one of Honore's sons, Joseph, found herself unfortunately in Paris, where she was arrested, eventually to become the last victim of the Terror.
The Grimaldis were released a short time later. Living in Paris, the ex-Prince and the heir tried to pick up the pieces of their family's shattered fortunes. Honore III died in 1795, and Honore IV decided that the best opportunity for advancement seemed to be the army of Napoleon. Joining in 1806, he became aide-de-camp to Joachim Murat, whom Napoleon later made king of Naples. Wounded, he withdrew from Napoleon's court to the Rock, and, after the Bourbon restoration, he successfully petitioned the new king, Louis XVIII, to restore Monacan sovereignty.
His brother Joseph had been handling the family finances while Honore was off in the army. He did this mostly by selling off assets. The sales continued through the fall of Napoleon and the Bourbon restoration, at which point it was Joseph, not the ailing Honore IV, who finagled the restoration of the Grimaldi properties, including the Principality of Monaco.
But who was to be the prince? Old Honore was a partially paralyzed invalid, and Joseph persuaded him to renounce his French holdings and title in favor of his son, Honore-Gabriel, and to give the administration of Monaco to himself. Honore-Gabriel, aghast at this legalized theft of his patrimony, petitioned king Louis XVIII in turn, claiming incompetency on the part of his father, and his plea was approved as speedily as the earlier application by Joseph. With this crucial paperwork in hand, Honore-Gabriel, now Honore V, departed for the Rock. It was February, 1815.
The big news that year turned out to be the "Hundred Days" return of Napoleon. As it happened, Honore's coach was stopped in Cannes, then part of Sardinia, by Napoleon's advance guard. Recognizing the officer in charge as his former superior, he struck up a conversation, which ended in a meeting with the emperor, at which Napoleon attempted to gain from the new prince some insight into the Parisian state of mind. Never an admirer, Honore lost no time in informing the Sardinian authorities of the details of his interview. That done, he continued on to Monaco.
Some fancy footwork was needed over the next few months as Napoleon's star shot across history. The prince having been seen in the company of the emperor, Monaco was occupied by a British garrison, which was later replaced by an Anglo-Sardinian force. The British left, but the Sardinians stayed. Responsibility for the "security" of Monaco was transferred from France to Sardinia, and it seemed there was no immediate way to get rid of the foreign troops. Faced with this impasse, Honore did what the Grimaldis had traditionally done; he raised the taxes and ran off to Paris.
Most of the rest of the prince's life was spent in France. Honore returned to Monaco for yearly visits to collect the revenues, which steadily increased to disastrous heights. The prince squeezed his subjects unmercifully. Legislation was passed, for example, forbidding his subjects from buying wheat products from any source but his company. Nowadays, when such arrangements are found, they are called wage-slave operations, but back then it was considered a standard practice. If one had people at one's disposal why would one not get the most out of them? His fiscal depredations ruined the economy of the principality, and discontent grew.
His portrait, bearing no slight resemblance to the French king, Louis-Philippe, is known to us numismatists by a small coin issue of 1837-38. 5 centime and 1 decime pieces were produced at a workshop in Monaco - some struck and others cast. These coins, the first made in about a century, are not common, but neither are they impossible to find. Accompanying these minors were a pattern series of silver and gold coins up to 40 francs, and of these enough of the 5 francs were struck that a few of them got into circulation. This coin hardly ever comes up for sale, however.
Honore V died in 1841 and was succeeded by his brother, Florestan. Generally accounted a weakling under the thumb of his wife, Caroline, Florestan's reign was pretty much of a continuation of the harsh exactions on the Monegasques. He struck no coins. Why should we care about him?
Actually, it was Florestan who had to deal with the Revolution of 1848, in which the French monarchy was again overthrown. The Monacan reflection of this upheaval resulted in the secession of the towns of Menton and Roquebrunne from the Grimaldi domain. The citizens voted to join Sardinia, but that kingdom decided it's interests would best be served if the status quo remained, for the moment at least, intact.
It was a heady time. There was excitement in the air. The stuffy old monarchy had again been overthrown, and the head of the restored Republic was the dashing Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, with his dashing goatee and dashing ways. Louis Napoleon swept himself to power in France with no regard for legal niceties, and was rewarded by widespread acclamation.
Far from glittering Paris, the negotiations over the disposition of Menton and Roquebrunne dragged on for the next year between Sardinia, France, the municipal councils, and the Grimaldis. Finally, Florestan's son, the dashing young Charles, who bore on his face a dashing goatee in adoring imitation of his role-model, took matters into his own romantic hands. Planting a few supporters in Menton, he set out from Sardinian Nice on the night of April 6, 1849 in a magnificent carriage. Arriving early the next morning, he was surrounded by supporters raising a ruckus in his honor. It must have been a peak emotional moment for the guy, but it didn't last long, for the actual townspeople were awakened by the hubbub, and came out to see the show. Finding themselves face to face with a young popinjay of the odious Grimaldi family, their ire quickly came to the fore, and they began to poke sharp objects at him.
Charles had to be rescued by the Sardinian troops, and was held in custody "for his protection." The governor of Nice locked him in a pleasant fortress while he awaited instructions from the Sardinian court.
Then the French got involved, intervening on Charles' behalf and winning his release a few days later. Peace was restored, and the Grimaldis went back to their old patterns of behavior, with their status, and that of their territories, unresolved.
Three years passed, and French president Bonaparte organized a comic opera coup which, succeeding where Charles' theatrics had failed, set aside the Republic and established the autocratic Second Empire.
There was a family connection between the Bonapartes and the Grimaldis, for Honore V had served with Josephine, from whose family Louis Napoleon was descended. The old ties came in handy, and the new emperor tried to intervene with Sardinia on Charles behalf. Nothing came of this, however, and the Grimaldi's affairs languished. Something had to be done.
Looking for some way to get ahead, Charles' thoughts lighted on a German town, Bad-Homburg, which had established a bathing spa, that was doing well, and casino, that was doing very well indeed. Plans began to be formulated toward this end, and though there was opposition from Sardinia and even from within the Grimaldi family, there was none from the most important person on the scene, the French emperor.
A company, the Societe des Bains de Mer, was established to promote the project, and a small casino was opened in 1857, on a hill not far from the Rock. Initial revenues were disappointing. There were no good roads to Monaco, forclosing the possibility of volume business from nearby Nice. Within a year bankruptcy loomed. Then war broke out, France and Sardinia uniting to drive Austria from northern Italy. The outcome was ultimately salubrious, as Nice and its environs were awarded to France, and the Sardinian garrison finally left Monaco. The status of Menton and Roquebrunne, now within French territory, was finally resolved with the payment of an indemnity by the French, who also agreed to build a road between Nice and the Rock, and to include it in the rail line being built between Nice and Genoa.
In 1864 construction was begun on the complex of hotels and other buildings that came to be known as Monte Carlo. The business thrived, and finally, after centuries, it began to seem that some security was coming the way of the Grimaldis. About this time the income tax was abolished in Monaco.
Charles, meanwhile, had gone blind, and the family business was handled by his mother, princess Caroline. With Caroline managing the business, attention turned to the heir apparent. Charles' only son, Albert, lacked a sense of business, and was not drawn to the lascivious society of the Second Empire. His love was the sea. He ran away to the Spanish navy in 1866, returning in 1869 to face a marriage arranged by his grandmother and the emperor. The wife was a Scottish society beauty who, finally arriving at the Grimaldi castle in 1870, found that she hated it, and, pregnant, left, with her mother, at the earliest opportunity for Baden-Baden, in Germany. Albert was evidently sad, but not overcome. Then private concerns were swept aside by the Franco-Prussian war. Albert's son, Louis, was born in Germany during the conflict.
Albert fought with the French and was awarded the Legion of Honor, but of course France lost, and badly. The Grimaldis had family problems to deal with, and the business of Monaco was being run by the senior partner, the Frenchman Francois Blanc, who looked to push them out. And there was the matter of his wife, with whom it had become obvious that he had nothing in common.
Albert's response to pressure was to run away to sea, and he did that in both 1873 and 1875. After his second vacation his wife asked for an annulment, not unreasonable, considering he was never home. The marriage was finally expunged in 1880, with the son Louis declared legitimate and thus eligible to succeed to the Monacan throne. Albert took off again on a nautical scientific expedition. Louis grew up in Baden-Baden. Meanwhile the resort facilities of Monaco thrived.
Prince Charles was almost entirely inactive when his small numismatic remembrances were coined. These were gold 20 francs, which must have seen use mostly as royal tips and favors. They were followed by big, showy 100 francs coins. All are very hard to find today.
Albert would be in Paris from time to time, consulting with scientists and attending the salons of the more intellectually inclined of Parisian high society. Among the sponsors of such soirees, the wife of the Duc de Richelieu, the former Alice Heine of New Orleans, USA, outshone the others in Albert's eyes. The Duc deceasing, Albert and the berieved widow found they seemed to have much in common. They became lovers, though they could not marry because of the disapproval of old Prince Charles. But he died in 1889, and immediately after taking the Oath of Loyalty Albert and Alice were wed.
Alice brought her wide social circle to Monaco, which included, among other royal luminaries, Edward, Prince of Wales and future king of England. The fortunes of Monaco grew, but both Albert and Alice wanted their country to have something other than gambling for its support The couple renegotiated their contract with the other factors of the Societe des Bains, significantly increasing their stake in the company, and receiving a large chunk of cash. Alice used some of the money to start the Monte Carlo Opera, and Albert bought a new boat.
The heir, Louis, received his education in Paris, where he did poorly in all subjects save fencing and horsemanship. He thought he'd like a military career, and became a student at St. Cyr. Totally unintellectual, he and his father never got along, and Louis grew up in the French army.
Albert became friends with the German kaiser, Wilhelm II, for the two men shared a strong interest in the sea. He ended up spending much of his life at sea, growing apart from his second wife. She eventually turned elsewhere for the satisfaction of her emotional needs, taking up with a composer, Isidoro de Lara. One night in 1902 Albert slapped her face in public. The couple separated shortly after, and Alice left Monaco forever.
Albert had ignored the municipal needs of Monaco for his entire life, and he continued this habit after Alice's departure. The problems of the day were the cost of living, which was squeezing the Monegasques, and the influx of foreign workers who were taking their jobs. A raucous demonstration in 1910 led to negotiations between Albert and the citizens of Monaco that produced a constitution in 1911.
Louis, meanwhile, produced an illegitimate daughter, Caroline, with a woman he met in a nightclub. He wanted to marry her, but Albert would not permit it, instead running off on a hunting trip to the USA, where his party consisted of notables such as Teddy Roosevelt and Buffalo Bill Cody.
Albert was on kaiser Wilhelm's yacht when news came of the assassination of Austrian archduke Ferdinand in Bosnia. When war was declared Albert declared Monacan neutrality. While Louis served in the French army, he sent his daughter Caroline down to Monaco to the disapproving care of his father.
A new treaty was signed with France in 1919, which stipulated among other things that the territory would cede to France if there was no succession. Louis was 50, and as it seemed there would be no male heir forthcoming, Albert allowed the legitimization and formal adoption of Charlotte, which would put her in line for the succession. Albert went and found her a husband, Pierre, and they produced a pair of children; Antoinette and Rainier. The couple did not get along, but with the succession secured, Albert was content.
Albert died in 1922. His face can be seen on the short lived issue of spectacular 100 franc gold coins issued between 1891 and 1894. Examples of this type show up perhaps once a year or so, usually at European auctions.
Louis had no interest in Monaco, spending almost all his time in Paris. Charlotte and the children spent very little time there either. The business, meanwhile, was continuing to bring home the bacon. Tourist shops were established, and postage stamps began to be a big business. After a lapse of 80 years coins were struck for circulation. Mirroring the contemporary French issues, they carry the phrase "bon pour" that makes them, technically speaking, tokens. The 1924 issues even carry an expiration date. These coins are not common. but they can be found.
Louis was in Monaco at the outbreak of World War II, while Rainier was at school in France. Monaco was officially neutral, but when France fell in 1940 Italian troops occupied the principality. Louis collaborated with the occupiers. Monaco's place in the Axis scheme was to provide third party companies to launder the ill-gotten funds of fascist bigshots. Two wartime coins were issued, denominated one and two francs, both in aluminum, and both common.
After the war Rainier was acknowledged as heir. Louis's reign produced a few more coins, all with his portrait. All of them are fairly easy to find, and the undated postwar one and two francs, struck in aluminum bronze are common.
Louis died in 1949, to be succeeded by Rainier. A number of problems faced the new prince, not least of which was an attempted coup by his sister Antoinette. Rainier survived and prospered, marrying Grace Kelly in 1956, and thereby becoming an American icon.
Rainier has guided Monaco toward ever greater prosperity during his reign, and has become one of the richest men in Europe. Tragedy has dogged the family in modern times, as we all know.
During his reign the issue of Monacan coinage has become regular, and some numismatic item is issued either for circulation or for commemorative purposes almost every year. A circulation type set of Rainier would not be a problem to assemble, and most of the dates could probably be filled in as well. The lately struck bimetallic 10 and 20 francs are items for which demand exceeds supply, and prices are somewhat inflated.
A number of commemoratives have been struck since 1966, when two silver 10 franc coins were issued. One,.honoring royal ancestor Charles III, was supposedly issued for circulation, while the other, for the tenth anniversary of the royal wedding, with it's accompanying 200 franc gold coin, was definitely not. One used to see the Anniversary silver coin occasionally, but anything with Grace's portrait on it is long gone these days. 1974 pieces struck for the 25th year of reign, have no presence on the market either. The Princess Grace memorial 10 francs of 1982 is never seen, nor the Heir Apparent 100 francs of the same date. Even the Prince Pierre (Rainier's father) Foundation 10 franc of 1989 is never offered. The tiny but prosperous country has absorbed all of its numismatic treasures.
There is also a long series of casino tokens, dating from the 1870s. These items have been produced in silver, gold, and other metals, but most of them have been in various kinds of plastics. They are not common in the exonumia market, and are frequently found holed for attachment to keychains.
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