The French Angel

The French Angel
Angels, in one form or another, have been a part of nearly every major
culture or society throughout history.  For the most part, they have been viewed as our protectors and guides in this world and the next.  The
angel figure has been found in Nimrud, Assyria (ancient Egypt) called Apkallo,
dating back to 875 BCE.  In ancient Greece, we find the winged figure of
victory as Nike, and in ancient Rome, the god, Eros is depicted as
an angelic winged infant.  We even find this winged figure in the Asian
cultures as the Ghost of Sasaki Kiyotaka.  Angels are surrounded by
mysticism, and interact directly with us.  In the field of numismatics, we,
also, have our angel.  It is called the 'French Angel.'  These
gold coins, throughout its history, are legendary, and are credited with
innumerable stories of protection and healing.  Whether these tales are
just coincidences, or as some call them a "reward of faith," the 'French
is a popular coin among coin collectors throughout the world.

Augustine Dupré is the man credited for
designing the coin known as the 'French Angel.'  He seems to be
little more then a name is the annals of history. 
What we know as
fact, and what can be surmised from the history of the period, still tells us
little about this coin's designer.  We do know that he was a coin designer
(medalist) during the time of King Louis XVI.  Some sources tell us he was
a nobleman, and some sources say nothing of his status.  From the history
of the time, we do know that young boys were generally sold, by their parents,
into apprenticeships, and that is how most of the most famous artists, we know
today, started their careers.  It is possible that Dupré
was born of noble birth, but not likely, or was elevated to nobility as he
became increasing proficient in his career and was appointed as a coin designer
(medalist) by the king.  The first notable mention we find for Augustine
Dupré occurs in 1787, when as the medalist to the King of France, he was chosen
by Thomas Jefferson (at that time, the United States' minister to Paris) to
design a gold medal to honor, posthumously, the Continental naval officer John
Paul Jones.

The next mention of Augustine Dupré is in 1792. 
As the medalist to King Louis XVI, he is appointed to design new coinage for
France.  It is said that Dupré was almost obsessed with the images or
thoughts of a Guardian Angel at that time of his life.  Whether it is fact
or fiction who knows, but this is what we do know.  In that era of history,
the French Revolution (the Reign of Terror) was building to its peak.  The
guillotine was just approved, that year, for public executions.
design for the new coin Dupré created first
appeared on the 1 Louis D'Or in 1792.  It displayed what is considered a
Guardian Angel standing next to a pedestal upon which the angel is inscribing
the French Constitution.  It seems the design was asking the Guardian Angel
to guide the new French government, which advocated the elimination of the
sovereignty.  Was this coinage designed minted without the king's approval? 
Was Dupré a member of a revolutionary commune that sprung up in Paris that year? 
For what ever reason, the artist fell out of favor with the king and was
sentenced to death.

Augustine Dupré avoided his execution by
guillotine.  Three different stories emerge out of the execution involving
his gold 'French Angel' coin.  The first states, that while in his
jail cell, he took the coin out to hold it while he prayed.  The sunlight
reflected off the coin so brightly, his jailer broke into tears, unlocked the
door allowing him to escape.  This is not a very likely story.  The
second tale tells us, that while kneeling before the guillotine, he held the
coin while he prayed, lightening struck nearby, which halted the execution, and Dupré was returned to his jail cell, and was released six months later. 
This is possibly true.  The third legend reads, as he took the angel coin
in his hand to pray, the jailer saw the coin.  He made mention of the coin,
and Dupré used the coin to bribe the guard into allowing him to escape. 
This story seems to make the most sense.  It doesn't matter which story is
true because whichever story one chooses to believe, from that point on, the
coin also became known as the 'Lucky Angel.'

Even though the 'French Angel' design
made its first appearance in 1792, the actual coins known as the 'French
were not manufactured until 1871, and were intermittently issued
until 1898 in the denomination of 20 Francs.  The angel design was also
used briefly, for this denomination in, 1848 and 1849, and then again from 1899
to 1906.  There are two other denominations that display the 'French
design.  The 50 Franc pieces were struck intermittently
from 1878 to 1900, and the 100 Franc coins from 1878 to 1899.  All three of
these denominations were only minted at the Paris Mint, and were made in .900
fine gold.  The 20 Franc piece is .1867 oz. AGW, the 50 Franc is .4467 oz.
AGW, and the 100 Franc is .9335 oz. AGW.

By the mid-1800s, the 'French Angel' had
amassed quite a reputation for good luck.  Captains of sailing vessels
seldom went to sea without their angels in their pockets.  During World War
I, French pilots, and many of the British and American flying aces carried the
angel for protection.  Even during World War II, Hermann Goering (the chief
of the German Luftwaffe) was fanatical over the 'French Angel,' and would
award the coins to German flying aces.  These coins are legendary among
fighter pilots, and are known to have been carried by some of the United States
pilots during the Korean and Vietnam wars, and during Desert Storm, too. 

One of the most famous stories regarding the
'French Angel'
is that of Napoleon Bonaparte.  Folklore tells us that
he always carried an early version of the angel coin in his pocket.  The
day before his defeat at the Battle at Waterloo, he lost his coin.

There are literally thousands of stories about
the powers of the 'French Angel.'  There are stories of people who
claim their lives were saved during some tragic event to those who extol its
healing powers from terminal cancer and other diseases.  I have even found
websites where many have told their stories.  Never have I seen so much
mysticism surrounding a numismatic coin.  This is a coin that any collector
can enjoy for its beauty, but the stories behind this coin really make it a
collectors' must have piece.

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Content copyright © 2022 by Raymond F. Hanisco. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Raymond F. Hanisco. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Gary Eggleston for details.