The overall design reproduces a very similar previous coin set (see 1 Franc 1898-1920).
The obverse, designed by Louis Oscar Roty, features a woman sowing seeds and wearing a phrygian cap facing left while in the background is a sunrise over the horizon.
The woman is an idealized form of “The Republic” an allegorical image similar to that used on U.S. coinage where an idealized form of Lady Liberty is used in many designs and which gives this design the title “Republic Sowing”. On the outer periphery are the words "REPUBLIQUE FRANÇAISE" and just below the woman’s foot is the designer’s signature “O ROTY”.
The design, as beautiful as it is, may appear familiar to U.S. coin collectors. The style is very similar to that of Adolph Weinman’s Walking Liberty half dollar. It is believed that the “Republic Sowing” design of Roty influenced Weinman with his later designs on U.S coinage.
The reverse design features olive branches with the denomination “1 FRANC”. On the outer periphery is the phrase “LIBERTE-EGALITE-FRATERNITE” or in English //Liberty – Equality – Brotherhood”. On the bottom of the coin is the year of issue, to the left of the year is a cornucopia mint mark symbol and to the right is another symbol which is the engraver’s privy mark.
The edge is reeded.
Four managing Directors of the Mint followed each other during this long period of more than 40 years. Their privy marks are : an owl (1959 - 1974), a dolphin (1974 - 1994), a bee (1994 - 2000), a horseshoe (2001). The privy mark appears on the right side of the year. On the left side appears a cornucopia, which has been the general mark of the French Mint since the end of the 19th Century.
A few noticeable varieties are known with this series :
1960 with a 'big zero' : the last figure of the year is a bit bigger than the normal one, and the figure '9' has
a longer tail.
1965 with a 'small owl' : the size of the engraver's privy mark was reduced that year. So 1965 exists with a big owl, and with a small owl : that last one is not really rare, but harder to find, though, especially in higher grades. That small owl became the regular mark untill 1974.
In 1991, 1992 and 1993, special BU issues are in medal alignment (both sides are in the same way, and not head to foot as for other French coins in Francs).
In 1994 took place a change of engraver. Concerning the 1 Franc coinage, the new privy mark, a bee, appears only on Proof coinage, which is therefore considered as a variety.
In 2000 and 2001 special BU issues in gold were minted, in medal alignment.
General Market Notes
The key to the series is the 1996 issue, in UNC and Proof qualities. There are many semi-keys, mostly at the beginning and the end of the series. There is no rare mintage at the beginning, but some years may be extremely difficult to find in higher grades : such MS and UNC coins command pretty high prices.