In the late 1990s, eleven European nations took the bold step of unifying their currencies. Despite having different languages, cultures and national identities, these nations chose to band together and adopt the Euro as their common form of money. The goal was to simplify trade and bring further economic strength to the continent. While the Euro was viewed as a revolutionary development, it was not without precedent. In fact, more than a century earlier, over a dozen countries participated in a similar program: the Latin Monetary Union.
During the 19th century, coins of vastly different sizes, denominations, compositions and countries of origin circulated throughout the world. Merchants were forced to transact business in a dizzying array of world currencies. This was especially true in Europe, where over twenty nations issued their own coins in varying weights and sizes. Even if a trader was familiar with all European currencies, the issue remained of whether coins would be readily accepted or recognized by other parties. Many pieces were either discounted or refused altogether. This was a major impediment to commerce.
The nations of France, Belgium, Italy and Switzerland devised a solution in 1865. These four countries adopted a treaty whereby their coinage would follow a common gold and silver standard. Under this agreement, all four nations would issue interchangeable coins with identical sizes, purities and value ratios. All gold coins would be .900 fine, all silver coins would be .835 fine, and the gold-to-silver ratio was set at 15.5-to-1. By using these consistent weights and compositions, each country’s coinage would be denominated in different currencies yet identical in terms of bullion content. This cooperative effort, known as the Latin Monetary Union, greatly facilitated trade between these four nations. Soon, many other European countries wished to participate.
In addition to countries who formally ratified the LMU, many nations (including some in South America) voluntarily decided to mint coins using those standards. Greece, Russia, Spain, Romania, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, Serbia, Finland, Peru, Colombia and Venezuela were among the states to either join the treaty or adopt its standards. Even the United States briefly considered issuing a $4 coin that would be interchangeable with Latin Monetary Union coinage. By the early 20th century, the majority of European nations participated in some fashion.
Ultimately, however, the LMU was a victim to its success. The larger the alliance became, the greater the stresses on the program. Some countries violated the guidelines of the program, debased their currencies, and printed paper money based on the coinage standard. Greece, for example, was expelled from the Latin Monetary Union in 1908 for infractions of this nature. Another significant issue was the fluctuating value of silver relative to gold. The LMU adopted a fixed bimetallic ratio in 1865 but the value of silver dropped considerably in the 1870s. Countries like France exploited the decreased silver value and struck massive amounts of coinage in the cheaper metal. The situation became so dire that the Latin Monetary Union agreed to suspend all silver coin production in 1878.

The political turbulence of World War I was the “nail in the coffin” for the Latin Monetary Union. While the treaty officially ended in 1927, most countries abandoned the standard between 1910 and 1920. Only Switzerland, which remained neutral in World War I, continued to issue coins using LMU standards for many years thereafter. It released the last Swiss 20 Franc “Helvetia” gold coin in the 1940s. Although the Latin Monetary Union gold coins have vanished from circulation many decades ago, they have since found a new role as a trusted form of bullion. Today, investors around the world continue to hold LMU gold pieces as a store of value.
Not only are these vintage gold coins beautiful and historic, but they are also trading at exceptionally low premiums. Savvy investors can buy these fascinating Latin Monetary Union pieces for just a tiny amount over their melt value. Issues from Switzerland, France, Belgium and Italy are currently available at some of the lowest premiums in years. They are cost-effective, intriguing, highly collectible, and a true pleasure to own. We can offer a wide variety of Latin Monetary Union gold coins priced at lower premiums than 1/4 oz American Gold Eagles:
France Napoleon III 20 Francs: Just $11.99 over melt!
France Lucky Angel 20 Francs: Just $12.99 over melt!
France 20 Francs Roosters: Just $11.99 over melt!
Italy 20 Lire: Just $9.99 over melt!
Switzerland 20 Francs Helvetia: Just $12.99 over melt!

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