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French Somaliland Essai

A Matter of Trial & Error (Part 2):
Essais on the Art of Coinage

Continued from Part 1

The word "essai" in numismatics is, for the purpose of this article, pretty much similar to a "trial".

The word "trial" is a general term encompassing experimental pieces on a coin's design and metal used before it is approved for production and release into circulation. Trials are often uniface, but not always necessarily so.

To me, an essai is a type of trial, usually struck on various metals to test their suitability for circulation. This may be done at various stages before the final die is produced. (Note how this differs from a "pattern", which usually refers to a variation in a coin's design which has not been adopted for circulation.)

French Somaliland Essai

I do not have many examples of essais from my collection, but the first depicted here is from French Somaliland.

It is struck in aluminium-bronze, and appears to be the metal that was finally chosen for the circulation coin.

A lovely essai such as this is easily within reach of collectors, valued at only US$10* considering its relative scarcity.

Morocco 10 Francs Piedfort Essai

Another example illustrated here is a little more pricey, but still good value as it is a very interesting piedfort essai, struck on a planchet about twice the thickness of the normal circulation coin.

This Moroccon 10 Francs Piedfort Essai, together with the 20 Francs Piedfort Essai below, are actually very rare, with a mintage of only 104* each!

Why the value of each coin is currently only US$95* seems illogical (alas, that is the way with most collectibles... Perhaps someday, essais may gain greater popularity and demand will drive values up.)

Morocco 20 Francs Piedfort Essai

The pictures here do not quite do justice to the beauty of the coins, and one cannot appreciate how piedforts differ from normal coins. To me, coin appreciation is to a great extent a tactile experience; it is not something you just look at. You need to touch it, feel the relief and contours, as well as the weight of the metal (unfortunately, touching coins directly with the fingers is anathema to most collectors... Just make sure that you have very clean hands and handle the coin very, very carefully, or perhaps wear special gloves?).

The final example is one from French Oceania.

French Oceania 1952 5 Francs Essai

This 1952 5 Francs Essai appears to be struck on aluminium, and not copper-nickel as catalogued*.

Whether it is just a variety that has not been catalogued is not known. The circulation coin is in fact struck on aluminium, but this example has "ESSAI" struck in relief on the obverse. The catalogue* referenced below only lists the essai in copper-nickel.

In the next part of this article, I will look at other types of errors and attempt to propose a meaningful distinction between errors and varieties.

To be continued...


* Krause, Chester L. and Mishler, Clifford (Snr Ed. Colin R. Bruce II) 2003 Standard Catalogue of World Coins: 1901 - Present (30th Edition), Krause Publications, Iola, 2002.

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