Bye Bye French Franc Coins

By Robert Korengold Why don't you just admit it?  You blew your chance.
 
We're talking here about all those leftover French franc coins that you took home from your last trip to Paris, the ones still sitting in the peanut butter jar in the closet or the tin can in the basement.
 
Remember?  They're the ones you swore you were going to bring back on your next trip to France and exchange them for the new Euros that have been the country's official currency for bank transactions since January, 1999, and its official money in over-the-counter use since January, 2002.
 
Well, as of February 18, that well-intentioned but never fulfilled task is a thing of the past.
 
That's the end of the grace period for such exchanges at offices of the National Bank of France (Banque de France), the French Public Treasury (Trésor Public), or the Currency emission Institution for France's overseas departments (Institut d'emission des departments d'outre-mer)
 
But don't feel bad.  You are not alone.
 
French officials estimate that French franc coins still in circulation in France and overseas add up to some 1.2 billion Euros. As of February 18, according to bureaucratic terminology, they will simply have “evaporated.”
 
Not all those franc coins, of course, are technically in circulation. The ability to use either them or Euros for day-to-day purchases in stores ended after a brief two-month adjustment period designed to accustom people gradually to the Euro changeover. After that, another grace period allowed their conversion to Euros in local banks and post offices. Then that was squeezed down to exchanges only at the three institutions listed above.
 
In practice, however, this was a tiresome chore that most people just kept putting off. That's why the vast majority of those French franc coins that will now have value only as souvenirs probably are stashed away, like yours, in the piggy banks, tin cans and glass jars of French families.  Quite likely, a lot also remain in the famous wool stockings (bas de laine) – long the symbolic hideaway for money kept under French beds – where the local tax authorities or other marauders couldn't get at them.
 
It takes a long time to change the mentality involved in changing a national currency, however, and six years after the nation's official switch from francs to Euros, opinion polls show that three out of four French citizens still want stores, where possible, to display the cost of things in both currencies.
 
That's not too surprising in a country where many older people still figure costs in their heads in terms of "old" French francs, or worse, "old" centimes," even though they were replaced more than four decades ago by the then "new" francs (that are on their way out now but originally were worth 100 "old" ones).
 
In the run-up to this month's deadline, French newspapers explained to French franc coin-possessors that it might be well worth their while to brave the sometimes hours-long wait at official exchange establishments, particularly if – as many did – they were holding on to significant quantities of coins.
 
Even at the official exchange rate of one Euro for 6.55957 francs, a lot of those hoards were worth the effort and the number of French besieging the official change sites did indeed increase significantly, if not dramatically, in the final days.
 
Franc holders also were counseled, however, to abandon hope that coins still in their possession might retain a substantial value for collectors. That, say the numismatic experts, wouldn't be true for at least 2,000 years and even then, to be worth something to a collector, the coins would have to be in mint condition and probably never circulated.
 
There is one bit of good news for the tardy, however. While franc coins have no value after February 18, French franc paper money (notes of 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500 francs) – with the exception of a few special issues with staggered expiration dates starting on November 30, 2005 – will retain their value and exchangeability for another seven years.
 
So don't throw away everything in those tin cans and glass jars just yet.
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