Hidden Wonders


A French Coin


I recently gained possession of an 1862 French coin; Napoleon III was Emperor of France at the time, so his face is on it. What makes this coin so interesting is that Napoleon’s face has been purposely defaced by someone. We can expect this defacement to have been done by an angry Frenchman because of how much they hated their Emperor. Below I show a non-defaced, older coin on the left, and the newer defaced coin on the right.


It makes sense why this was done historically; Napoleon III is generally considered a failure as a ruler. He was elected president but later overthrew his government to become Emperor; the people must have liked him a bit at the start——he had the popular support to become remain in office beyond his tenure——but he did a lot wrong. One of the most notorious of these was when he tried to invade Mexico but his army was defeated. Imagine a preeminent European world power like France getting beaten by a backwater nation like Mexico! It must have been humiliating for the French people, and for Napoleon III. By the way, Cinco de Mayo celebrates the Mexican victory over the French, something a lot of people don’t know.

Then there was the Franco-Prussian War, where Bismarck defeated the French army and ended Napoleon’s reign. Napoleon III was captured in battle by Bismarck and, when a new French government rose up to fight the Germans, Bismarck kept the captured Emperor alive to de-legitimatize the new government——this probably wasn’t a good look for Napoleon. Afterwards, Napoleon III was exiled, and the Third French Republic placed all the blame on their old Emperor for losing the war.

So, the guy was pretty dumb, and some French person 150 years ago decided to mess up his face on a coin as a result. And now that coin has ended up in my possession, which is pretty amazing if you think about it. History is always interesting to me, but it’s even more interesting when you can hold it right in your hand.

Additional funny thing: if you look at a coin with Napoleon III on it you’ll notice he has this funny beard that a lot of other monarchs in Europe at the time had as well. Well, after Napoleon III became unpopular, most other rulers got their beards shaved since they didn’t want to be associated with Napoleon III since he was now so unpopular and hated across Europe.

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