token

A very quick post to share this image of an extremely rare French satirical medal which is being offered for sale at an auction on the Continent.

Tokens, coins and medals carrying satirical designs were produced in France and England from the late 1780s onwards but really came into their own during the early years of the French Revolution, when they were seized on by activists at both ends of the political spectrum as a cheap and durable medium for propaganda. This was true of France in particular, where the existing market of private collectors was supplemented by official commissions to produce large quantities of tokens on behalf of the various revolutionary juntas.

This example is so unusual because, instead of being minted onto a standard copper or lead token, it has been pressed into a piece of polished leather. The decision to manufacture in leather may have been motivated by a desire to ensure that it remained affordable to even the most impoverished sans culottes, or it could have been a deliberate ideological move intended to distinguish revolutionary tokens from the bourgeois collectors items of the ancien regime. Leather may also have been used because the requisitions of base metals for arms manufacture that followed the deceleration of the Levee en Masse in August 1793, made their use uneconomical.

The token was probably struck to commemorate the Festival of Reason that took place in Paris on 20 Brumaire Year II (10th November 1793). The Festival was orchestrated by the Hébertist faction within the National Convention as a means of strengthening public support for the policy of de-christianisation. The cathedral of Notre Dam, recently cleansed of its ancient symbols of church and monarchy and now dubbed ‘The Temple of Reason’, provided the setting for a public parade featuring actresses playing the goddess of reason and her retinue, and a donkey dressed in a bishop’s robes and mitre. The design shows the reverend ass trampling the symbols of the Catholic church under the headings “Death to Fanaticism and Superstition”, while the obverse depicts Liberty and Death (or possibly Time) standing under the newly sanctified image of the phrygian cap.

Advertisements