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French Colonial Notes with Georges Bayle

I have invited Georges Bayle, a French specialized collector of French Colonial bank notes, to share some of his thoughts on collecting. (Interview conducted and translated by Richard Taylor in France.)

Georges Bayle has been collecting French colonial paper money for over almost 50 years. He is the author of the recent catalogue that appeared in 2018: Billets et Tickets d’Outre-mer (French colonial necessity/emergency notes and tickets). The introductions and indexes of his book are in English.

1915 Gold Exchange Certificate issued to Bayle’s grandfather.

1915 Gold Exchange Certificate issued to Bayle’s grandfather.

Q. How long have you been a bank note collector?

A.For almost half a century!

Q. What countries comprise the category, French Colonial bank note collecting?

A. The French colonial empire in 1950 still covered all five continents; almost half of today’s African countries are former colonies or ex-protectorates of France; The Bank of Indochina was one of the largest in Asia and Oceania. Geographically close to Canada and the USA, were the French islands of Saint Pierre and Miquelon.

Q. What are some ways that people
collect French Colonial bank notes?

A.Some of the collection themes include the traditional fauna and flora ones, as well as depictions of everyday life, but I believe that the main attraction of French colonial bank notes is the beauty of the designs (the french touch). The harmony of their colors sometimes bright and cheerful, sometimes soft and pastel that incites one to dream of sunny landscapes, holidays, exotic voyages…

Q. What inspired you to collect French Colonial bank notes?

A.The desire to discover and the pleasure of searching. As recently as 1980, in France, paper money collectors were not yet considered numismatists. Even the Bank of France bank notes, though well documented, had few collectors; concerning for the Colonies, the only one important dealer was the late French-International expert Jean-Paul Vannier. At that time, we were just a few passionate researcher-collectors.

Q. What note characteristics are more sought after than others?

A.The combination rarity/beauty but rarity alone and beauty alone are very popular.

Q. If you were able to give advice on collecting French Colonial bank notes
to a new collector, what do you want them to be aware of?

A.Avoid following the fashion of “wealthy countries” where quality is more important than scarcity; relativize the importance of “grading” and do not neglect a rare note under the pretext that it is VG/F!

Q. What is the most interesting bank note you have encountered?

A.I had the chance to discover many important notes and, even today, some are still the only known. Here are three examples:

• A French West Africa - PORTO NOVO trading post - first series of 1903, 500 franc note issued and not cancelled. The only known high-value note for this first series. Only previously known as Specimens and Proofs.

• An Algerian 500 francs 1879 note issued and not cancelled. It is the only known uncancelled 19th century example. The others known come from archives but are all cancelled.

• A Reunion (Island) 5 francs type 1874 blue. Note signed by the first signatories, Director/Cashier (Bridet/Bellier); As well as many local necessity/emergency notes or tickets.

In fact, I love searching more than just collecting; kind of like a bloodhound that doesn’t devour its prey. But my favorite note is a simple Gold Exchange Certificate issued to my grandfather during the 1914-18 War to exchange his gold for paper money for national defense of France.

Issued PORTO NOVO trading post first series of 1903, 500 franc note.

Issued PORTO NOVO trading post first seriesof 1903, 500 franc note.

Q. What bank note do you wish you had in your collection? Why are you unable to obtain it thus far?

A.The note I would like to have, is one not yet known to anyone, and that luck and flair may allow me to discover. A good example though, would be a 1000 francs in the “A” and “B” alphabets of the Bank of West Africa (series of 1903 or 1912), this would satisfy me but does one exist?

Q. Are the themes of the bank notes a good representation of the countries’ culture?

A.Yes, of the artistic culture (showing the indigenous symbols and instruments) as well as the agricultural themes and daily life.

Q. What do you most want people to understand and appreciate about French Colonial bank notes?

A.I hope that the collector of the French colonial notes forgets, as already mentioned earlier, this quest for high grades because one cannot judge a colonial note by the same standards as other bank notes; often a colonial note from the 1920s/30s in correct VF condition, is rarer than a European or American AU/UNC. If he can understand this, he will fall under the spell of a palette of colors and landscapes to dream of during the long winter nights!

Q. What is the most memorable or noteworthy acquisition in your collection?

A.The most memorable acquisition? Perhaps a batch of colonial bank notes from the 19th century, which appeared before the year 2000 in a regional French flea market and was dispersed between four people with no experience in bank notes. It took me two years to reunite the whole lot. The late and regretted Mel Steinberg was the first to acquire a note from this lot.

Read more from Tracy Schmidt.