The Money of New France

Part of researching our ancestors’ lives is looking at their economic situation. How much real estate did they own? What did it cost? What personal property did they have and what was its value? Part of determining this information is having an understanding of the currency of the period and what the value of that currency is.

In the colony of New France, the monetary system is a bit complicated. The system was based on the livre. Just as British currency was divided into pounds, shillings, and pence, the livre was subdivided into sols and deniers. The major difference between the two currencies was that there was no livre coin. There were twelve deniers in a sol, and twenty sols in a livre. When written out, it was often abbreviated. Instead of saying 10 livres, 5 sols, and 3 deniers, it would be written as 10ll.8s.9d.

These denominations were the same in France as they were in the French colonies, such as New France and Saint Domingue. But the value of the money was different. Until 1717, the monnaie du pays or argent du Canada was worth less than the monnaie de France or argent de France. The value was lessened and reduced by one quarter. It was not until 1717 that the monies were equalized in value.

During this time there was no paper currency, only coinage. And coins were not minted in New France. They were brought into the colony by the King’s ships. This would cause shortages if a ship was delayed, especially if the next ship could not come until the following Spring.

In the late 17th century, The intendant Demeulle used playing cards as a form of paper currency. He signed  cards, declaring them to worth varying amounts of money. This did not cause inflation, as it was not meant to increase the amount of money in circulation, only as a temporary way of paying the government’s bills. When the next ship arrived, the cards were turned in for coins. This system was used until 1714, but in 1729 French-Canadian merchants demanded a return to the system in order to keep the economy moving. Some of this card money is still in private hands, and very collectible. This card was expected to sell at auction for $8,000.

To find out more about French-Canadian currency, see “The French Colonies and the Exchange on Paris” in John J. McCusker Money and Exchange in Europe and America, 1600­–1775 (Williamsburg, Va.: Institute of Early American History and Culture, 1978 (280–90) and “Economic Life” in Marcel Trudel Introduction to New France (Pawtucket, R.I.: Quintin Publications, 1997) 184–89.

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