Archives mensuelles : mars 2020

Thibault Cardon | CNRS, Université de Caen Normandie, CRAHAM – Centre Michel de Boüard – Social control through money: “camp monies”

The idea here is to link monetary forms and social status, as well as poverty reproduction through money. This supposes to set aside the fiction that money is only a means to exchange and call for studying the plurality of monies, monetary artefacts, numismatics. The materiality of money is not a neutral characteristic as it participates in building social relations up to social control devices, especially in confinement places and areas, as shown in our four examples.

  1. A camp of medieval workers of the 13th c., using wage tokens (méreaux): the fortress of Pont de l’Arche, on the Seine river, which was excavated in 2011-2012.

  A very large quantity of small money-shaped lead objects were found, their diameter and stamped figures alike that of then and there circulating monies. TC proposes to interpret these méreaux as wage instruments for the payment of labourers on this royal construction site. They were apparently produced on site for direct use. The first attested cases of this practice date back to the second half of the 12th c., with coin types based on that of the Latin orient (R. Kool). Other examples followed, almost until today: Briard canal (1606), Dauphiné fortresses (1870), agricultural legion in the 19th c., etc.

  1. A German prisoner camps in Miramas (1944-1946), managed by the US army.

  This camp held about one thousand prisoners, but left almost no archival records: the main source is archeologic and led to the discovery of 200 coin-like objects:

  • About 30% are French coins, only aluminium ones
  • About 60% are German coins, only aluminium and zinc ones

  The monetary system of the camp was thus improvised based on the contemporary money supply.

  In the French-managed camps, on the contrary, specific paper notes were circulated by the War Ministry, bearing the words “bon pour” (value for) and stating that their use was limited to the camp limits. The idea was to prevent prisoners from buying goods from outside or even to finance an escape.

  There are numerous 19th and 20th c. cases of prison monies: Cayenne prison, prisons in Belgium, Netherlands, Denmark. In this latter case specific monies were issued as soon as the beginnings of the 19th c. We also find specific monies in concentration camps: military prisoners camps, Nazi camps, Boers camps.

  1. Military camps: the Boulogne-sur-Mer camp, 1803-1805

  Here also, archeologic excavation led to the discovery of 400 coins, which allow us to compare wage payment rules and practices. The daily soldier wage was 30 c. (0,30 FF) from which were defalcated laundry and food costs, letting a net 5 c. paid every 5 days – i.e. 25 c., which corresponds to a bronze coin at the time. And indeed excavations have produced only bronze and copper coins, but mainly older ones (16th and 17t royals, foreign coins, worn-out coins and even a few similar in size Roman coins). What it suggests is that the payers acquired the scum of the money supply.

  History presents us with other similar cases: payments in devalued coins, in foreign copper coins. Sometimes, special issuance of already devaluated monies to pay the troops (Brittany, 15th c.) or furus in 8th-9th c. Al-Andalus.

  This also raises the question of the payment of Roman troops, with the large amounts of counterfeited, locally coined or lead coins in Spain.

  1. Alms and poor assistance: no closed space but similar operations

  Religious establishments handed out méreaux to be exchanged for bread (Lille, 17th c.), often as counterpart to precarious and more or less compulsory labour. See the alms workshops in Limoges, 1771 in a grain shortage context: leather tokens were given as tasks were being done to be exchanged for bread and victuals, to make sure the purchasing power would be put to a right use. There is also the idea that workers are nourished in order to be more efficient. Parallels are traceable in many countries up to the 20th c.

  Shared characteristics:

  • Vile materials
  • Confusion-avoiding resemblance to legal coinage
  • Operation mode specific to the context
  • Fixed value (cours forcé) within the said context, calling for a closed circuit circulation


  • Less costly payments
  • Closed circuit circulation
  • Expenses control
  • Population control


  • Higher prices
  • Closed circuit circulation
  • Exchange costs

  A key aspect of these systems is that they are imposed by an authority upon a social category.

  This opens some perspectives in global history:

  • Clarify the notion of camp money
  • List contexts, examples and lexicon entries
  • Search for transmissions, genealogies
  • Question links to other forms of indentured/forced labour (see latifundia) or the systematic emergence of small change with slavery abolitions
  • Review the historical debate on concentration camps and their links to colonial contexts


Jérôme Jambu – Cayenne was most likely the name of a shop-keeping bagnard. Alms: the copper denier and double tournois were created under Henri III explicitly to give alms to the poor and were distributed to the Treasurer of the Alms (trésorier des charités). One problem when studying military camps, is that they appear in a context of crisis, most likely when precious metal coins have vanished. And in Boulogne, there is also the question of the presence of conscripts.

A. : See a letter from Napoléon 1st asking for the sending of 3 million FF in copper coins (600 metric tons) to pay the soldiers in Spain. May have been used as a ballast to ships.

Emmanuel Prunaux – Yes, but the copper was never sent. Mollien and others calculated that the cost of sending the copper would exceed its value!

Hisashi Takagi – In the case of prisoners camps, what were the incentives of the issuers? Low denomination would yield a small seignoriage.

Jan Lucassen – Moneta pauperum in Scotland 16th c. Make also difference with canteen money. Prisoners maybe also paid in coins. Is it on purpose you did not mention plantation money after the implementation of the indentured labour system?

A. : There are a few archival records on prisoners’ payments, but rarely about the material objects being used to that effect – typically the case for WW2 prisoners in France.

As for the haciendas etc., there is also the vocabulary instability issue: hacienda tokens (ficas in Spanish) are often confused with supplementary coins.

Abstract of workshop : Money of the poor (4 – 5 July / Juillet 2019)
Organization : Patrice Baubeau, U. Paris Nanterre / IDHES (UMR8533)
Grant UPL (Université Paris Lumières) 2019/2021

Mathieu Bidaux | Université de Rouen, GRHis – The Bank of France’s banknotes (1830-1857): a rich currency used by poor people?

This study on the circulation, use and users of banknotes rests on:

  • 15 inquiries on counterfeiting
  • 380 cases of partly destroyed banknotes

  When counterfeit banknotes emerged in the circulation, the Bank of France (BoF) assisted the police’s inquiry and registered the names, occupations and circumstances and described the banknote. But with a bias: those that were handed these banknotes in the first place had been duped. The same information was gathered on partly destroyed banknotes, with a somewhat lesser bias, that of people behaving with neglect. The database starts in 1830, when the circulation was sufficient to fuel a higher number of partly destroyed banknotes and stops in 1855, when their increased number led to a downgrading of the gathered information.

  The BoF’s banknotes was meant for the use of large or wholesale traders. Smaller denominations appeared in 1847 (200 FF) and 1848 (100 FF). They thus escaped poor people’s daily use, but surprisingly many cases of partly destroyed banknotes featured poor people. In fact, they used these banknotes for savings; or destroyed them by ignorance.

  Some indirect literary evidence points to the novelty that banknotes represented to poor people: Les Misérables, from Victor Hugo, or Le Comte de Monte-Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (père), or Les Mémoires d’un billet de banque, by Parseval deschènes. In the three examples, banknotes provoke fear or astonishment amongst the poor.

  In the case of BoF’s partly destroyed banknotes, many modest trades were involved, up to 40 or 45% of all registered cases. One reason is that they were ill-equipped to preserve their banknotes. But it is also interesting to remark their confidence in the banknotes, that represented sometimes all their savings. It also runs counter to the opinion of the board members of the BoF, opposed to reaching this sort of customers.

  It is also difficult to understand how these banknotes were acquired, except in a few specific cases (the cook of a Duke who received a 500 FF banknote, or a Rothschild house’s janitor). In some cases, the banknote partial destruction stem from the inability of the holder to identify its nature: for example, a worker use one to light his pipe.

  This source thus exhibit the variety of poor people’s attitudes towards banknotes, notably as a means of savings and also contradicts the common idea of a general resistance against the banknotes in France. But it also shows the strangeness of this currency to some, a proof enough that the banknote remained, up to the middle of the 19th c., a rich man means of payment.


Sophie Laligant – Would you rather call the neglect of some holders indifference or ignorance?

A. : Yes, rather ignorance.

Jérôme Jambu – There is a long tradition of hoarding metallic coins. Perhaps it is then not surprising that banknotes were dissimulated in the same caches as metallic coins. And what about the absence of resistance to receive banknotes? Maybe did they not have a choice? Remember the assignats and Law. Last comes the question of the poor people: were these people really poor? A farmer woman in the Paris basin is not necessarily poor. An example of a coin hoard at the same time in a rural setting: Tirepied hoard, Normandy, 2500 FF in 5 FF “écus”, 1824.

Frédérique Duyrat – Two notes: it’s important to draw a parallel with metallic savings. Still in the beginning of the 20th c. people in the UK buried banknotes. This behaviour raise the question of their access to appropriate means of preservation, and may explain the use of beams and mattresses. Such behaviour were very common in the past. In Ancient Greece, more than 5000 hoards have been uncovered, but we know that any rich Athenian kept hundreds of coins in his place.

Anders Ögren – How did the BoF inquire? Were banknotes a saving device?

Sophie Lalilgant – We must remember that it is very rare to find money, cash, in probate inventories. 

Emmanuel Prunaux – This hoarding behaviour appears also with the “mandats” (anterior to cheques) that remained in circulation months after their expiry date.

A. : Conversion to metal was always possible, provided that a bank was available.

Abstract of workshop : Money of the poor (4 – 5 July / Juillet 2019)
Organization : Patrice Baubeau, U. Paris Nanterre / IDHES (UMR8533)
Grant UPL (Université Paris Lumières) 2019/2021

Ekaterina Svirina | National Research University Higher School of Economics (NRU Higher school of Economics) – Money of the poor in the Russian Empire: study of the official documents and travel notes dated back to 19th c.

Usually the study of money is based on official mintage documents and bank statistics, eventually travel journals. The idea at this preliminary stage is to start with the social structure of the European part of Russian Empire (Mironov, 2003). It was dominated by the high percentage of peasants, while urban citizens represented a growing share.

  Mironov and Yanin distinguished among rich, middle and poor peasants using horses, since before serfdom abolition, it was not possible to classify them by income. What was a peasant before the reform? Poor and rich were linked to crop cycles: rich when the harvest was good, poor if not. Peasants were not only serving the landlord but also constrained by the community, which set the rules. These rules said you could not be rich if young or old and they valued income less than status and authority. The community also acted as a redistributive device: systematic redistribution of the land occurred among peasants, erasing any incitation to improve productivity. Taxes and duties were also redistributed: one considered rich had to pay for the poor. Besides, it was not allowed to work on (religious) holidays, with 95 of them during the year. These rules limited the difference between more productive and less productive peasants. Besides a common share value was to despise rich people and organize so as to limit enrichment of the most successful. The military draft could also be used to let poor people improve their social status. Thus, from childhood, peasants lived in a context where the community was more important than the individual.

  In that context, money allowed you to act individualistically. Was there a perception of possible profit? Profit and money were a sin. Usurers were not peasants – considered as people being enriched at the expense of communities. And interest rates were also a sin. This was still true in the 1880s – even on a saving account.

  But how did the peasants exchange between themselves: through credit relationships, mostly between richer and poorer people, in the form of products that obliged to give something back, usually in the form of work by the poor, their labour being underestimated (the rate is thus included into the labour price).

  In Siberia, there was another strata: nomads, living by hunting, fishing and selling their catches. These activities were also highly seasonal, and thus nomads lived on the credit extended by merchants to survive even during low season (Kushnareva, 2015), while merchants highly underestimated the value of the pelts.

  Another social strata of the Empire were citizens, most of them being poor but free. As such they used money, and for example as a merchant, you had to buy your freedom everywhere. Many historical descriptions show the use of credit and money.

 Mint production in small change shows clearly the boost in minting that came with emancipation. It seems in fact that the state did not know how to combine the denominations in most of the 19th c. Small silver minting shows more clearly the impact of the end of serfdom. It was also during this period that small change coins lost their silver component. In parallel, the quantity of coins minted from a same amount of metal increased over the 19th c.

  The community mind dominated in Russia until 1913 – it was thus the perfect place to use and apply communist conceptions.


Georgina Gomez – what about women peasants?

A. : The community decided who you marry and women and men lived in separate places within the house –a woman could not be single except a widow. And if a widow, she supported by the community.

Anders – Nomads were underpaid, and still they did come back?

A. : No competition in Siberia where just a few merchants operated. If you were in debt, where would you go? So no need for enforceability. And merchants sold addictive products (tobacco, alcohol). Nomads also got used to bread they’d never used before. Later on, state shops appeared to buy pelts, and merchants were driven out.

Jan Lucassen – stressing the we against the I, you may get a bit too far: where does stand the household that had extra sources of income (temporary labour in towns) that played a role in inequality; and seasonal work (10 million people). It makes the traditional idea much more full of tensions. And that may explain the success of the small copper and silver coins after 1861. In the 18th century you also had periods of relaxation to allow peasants to go to cities and then copper coins minting went up. Thus, more households were included in the monetarized society (Tracy Dennison, more important after 1861).

A. : The community allowed or forbid a person to go. The villages close to towns had less rights on villagers and temporary labour workers came mainly from these villages.


Abstract of workshop : Money of the poor (4 – 5 July / Juillet 2019)
Organization : Patrice Baubeau, U. Paris Nanterre / IDHES (UMR8533)
Grant UPL (Université Paris Lumières) 2019/2021