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French Indo-China Complete Proof Set, 1889

By Chris Chatigny, Cataloger

Author: Chris Chatigny / Wednesday, May 22, 2013 / Categories: Crossing the Block
Present day coin expositions, including the upcoming August Hong Kong auction, provide a venue for diverse cultures to come together and for collectors and scholars to discuss a mutual passion in numismatics and acquire more exceptional pieces for their collections. These events evoke the spirit of the old time World’s Fair expositions and this August, Stack’s Bowers and Ponterio is proud to offer a complete Proof Set from a very famous World Fair held in Paris. The 1889 Exposition Universelle was a momentous occasion; first and foremost, the Eiffel Tower (which was not entirely completed but still open to the public) served as the grand entrance arch to the fair. The event was held during the 100th anniversary of the storming of the Bastille, traditionally seen as the beginning of the French Revolution. One of the gathering rooms was a reconstruction of the Bastille and surrounding neighborhood; this room was used as a ballroom as well. Some famous attendees included Thomas Edison, Vincent Van Gogh, and the future King Edward VII. The largest diamond known at that time, the “Imperial Diamond” was on display. One of the major attractions at this World’s Fair was a “human zoo” or ethnological exposition of the French overseas empire.

An integral portion of the French colonial empire was French Indo-China, located in Southeast Asia, and comprising the modern day countries of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, French Indo-China remained under French control until the uprising of Vietnamese nationalists, culminating in a French withdrawal in 1954. The Paris Mint commemorated the Exposition Universelle of 1889 by producing a limited six piece Proof coin set to be sold at the fairgrounds. Only 100 sets were produced and it is extremely rare to find a complete intact set such as this, especially with the original box so well preserved. The front cover of the case displays various symbols of the French Republic, including two cornucopias overflowing with coins. The Fasces, a symbol of power and jurisdiction throughout the Roman republic and empire and adopted by many later countries and nations including the U.S., appears in the center of the cover. The interior of the case is deep blue velvet, with a niche for each of the six coins. The denominations include a two sapeque, one-cent, ten-cent, twenty-cent, fifty cent, and the crown sized one piastre. The two sapeque and the one-cent piece are bronze while the other four are silver. The two-sapeque piece bears an interesting design, with a square hole cut out of the center, with the date and “INDO-CHINE FRANCAIS” on the obverse and a Chinese inscription stating the denomination and colonial title. The one cent piece contains an outer legend stating: “REPUBLIQUE FRANCAIS” and the date of 1889, with an inner border dividing it from the main design of Liberty seated, facing left at a quarter turn holding Fasces. The mintmark “A” denoting Paris appears underneath Liberty’s throne. The reverse displays a similar outer legend and inner border type as the obverse, with the central design including a vertical Chinese inscription and the denominational note of “1” and “C” for one cent. The silver pieces follow a similar pattern, which includes Liberty seated with the Fasces. The obverse shows an upper legend of “REPUBLIQUE FRANCAIS” separated by Liberty seated with the Fasces, with the date and the inscriber’s last name of BARRE located beneath. The reverse type showcases “INDO-CHINE FRANCAIS” along the outer border, with a wreath separating it from the denomination placed in the center with the “A” Paris mintmark below.

The fact that this set has remained in such exquisite condition over the past 124 years is remarkable. With a cursory examination it becomes clear that these coins remained undisturbed in their blue velvet case for many years where they attained very natural and extremely pleasing toning. The bronze pieces are a choice red and brown. The reverse of the ten-cent piece and the obverse of the twenty-cent piece are slightly darker than the other pieces. The overall toning is beautiful golden red with the obverse of the fifty-cent piece displaying the most striking and largest area of toning. The entire set is quite attractive and most of the pieces received a Proof 65 grade from NGC, with one NGC Proof 64 and one NGC Proof 63. These six pieces and their original box can remind coin enthusiasts of historic World’s Fairs, and the cultural exchange that they brought. This legacy is continued with our modern international numismatic shows and auctions, including our Stack’s Bowers and Ponterio August Hong Kong auction, which contains an impressive and wonderful variety of numismatic treasures.

Look for this and other Asian numismatic rarities in our upcoming August Hong Kong Sale. Preview these impressive coins along with the rest of our auction this August at the Stack’s Bowers and Ponterio office located in Irvine California. For details please refer to the Auction Schedule/Details link under Current Auctions at www.StacksBowers.com. To schedule an appointment, please call 800.566.2580.