This small, sixpence sized silver coin has a lot going for it. It’s the first of its type, in reasonable collectible grade – VF, or XF40-45 on the Sheldon scale – with a good silver content (90%) and hails from an interesting period of history.
An uncommon portrait
It’s easy to tell this because you can see Napoleon Bonaparte’s portrait on one side. That, in itself, is not all that common since in the years of the Revolution and the First Republic, the idea of kings and monarchy in general was effectively off the agenda and the coins usually lacked any reference to a single head of state. The designers instead opted for classical symbols of unity and strength, similar to those on a 5 Franc piece of the mid to late 1790s.
Centre of empire
If memory serves, Napoleon crowned himself ‘Emperor of the French’ sometime in 1805. Four years later when this coin was minted in Paris (shown by the ‘A’ mintmark after ‘1809’), he could have been forgiven for believing that he had succeeded in establishing a reign likely to last for many years. The Roman Empire inspired depiction of him on this coin, complete with laurel leaves, certainly sends that message.
A pivotal year
As it turned out, in 1809 events unfolded that indicated the fragility of his hold on power. France was unable to avoid yet another war with Austria, culminating in the battle of Wagram (many commentators view Napoleon’s performance in that battle as evidence of a real decline in his ability as an army commander). In addition, not enough attention was paid to the Spanish situation and that ultimately was a very significant factor leading to the collapse of the Empire only six short years later.
1809 was also the year in which Napoleon famously dressed down Talleyrand, declaring him to be ‘shit in a silk stocking’, a remark that appears to have upset Charles-Maurice so much that the devious and influential diplomat began actively conspiring to bring about the Emperor’s downfall.
And things weren’t great on the domestic front either, with Josephine being divorced, although to be fair it seems to have been largely for dynastic reasons.
Interestingly, the apparent dominance of the French Empire at the end of 1809 inspired many in Central and Latin America to believe that Spain was finished as a colonial power, kicking off a series of armed conflicts as various groups started out on the rocky road to independence.
Overall this is not a bad coin to represent the year 1809 in a collection, still I really think it would be nicer if it was a bit bigger!