The obverse: Paris and neoclassicism
Under Louis XV, the monarchy took possession of the vast and prestigious tract of land occupied by the former Hôtel de Conti. Here, it would establish the seat of its coin striking activity - the ultimate area of royal prerogative. The architect Jacques-Denis Antoine (1733-1801), familiar with the process of manufacturing coins, was chosen to oversee the works.
Antoine created a royal building, a veritable palace in keeping with the prestige of its location and function. It incorporated and a modern, logical manufacture, designed according to Enlightenment rationalist theories, as reflected in the neoclassical architecture of the age.
Foundation works started at the end of 1769 and Monnaie de Paris was officially established on Quai de Conti on 20 December 1775. Extraordinarily, the 34,000 m2 edifice has maintained its original purpose to this day; Paris's first manufacturing establishment when it was built, it is now the last still in operation.
An imposing complex
In an architectural whole organised around courtyards, Antoine combined erudite references with exceptional quality of execution. He eschewed the Rococo style fashionable during the early years of Louis XV's reign in favour of French neoclassicism. His antiquity-inspired bias prompted a return to strong, straight, rigorous forms complemented by rich and varied decorative schemes and statuary.
A masterpiece in every aspect: the palace's decoration
Jacques-Denis Antoine planned his building right down to the very last detail, even designing the furniture for the Salon d'Honneur. The team he put together to work alongside him included some of the most talented artists of the day, such as the sculptors Jean-Baptiste Pigalle and Jean-Denis Antoine (the architect's brother), as well as the painter Jean-Jacques Forty.
A rationalist manufacture
Behind the palace lies the manufacture. Rather than being traditionally organised around a chapel, the building was constructed according to the rationalist theories underpinning the production process at the time with the Grand Monnayage, where the coins where actually struck, at its centre. The various workshops (engraving, stamping, the foundry, etc) have been reinvented in step with industrial developments right up to the present day, when they will again be given a new lease of life as part of the MétaLmorphoses projet.
The Petit Hôtel de Conti, a precursor to Versailles
Behind the walls of Monnaie de Paris hides a 17th-century architectural gem: a town house built by Jules Hardouin-Mansart at the age of just 23 years old. The Petit Hôtel de Conti, referred to as the Mansart Wing, is his first known work. When Antoine designed the mint, this masterpiece of Louis XIV's Premier Architecte (Chief Architect) was preserved and rapidly appropriated for industrial use. It will be revealed for the first time in 200 years as part of the MétaLmorphoses project.
The reverse: Pessac and modernism
There came a point when the coin striking facilities at Quai de Conti could no longer meet the coinage needs of the state; while the nature of these facilities made it impossible to develop the site's industrial capacity. As a result, the president of the French council of ministers at the time approved a report by the decentralisation committee proposing the construction of a new plant. It was to be functional, rational and powerful; a reflection of the modern movement in architecture, legacy of the Bauhaus.
Thus the decision was made to divide Monnaie de Paris's activity into two parts, an arrangement still in place today: the plant, located away from Paris, would take care of industrial minting, while the capital would keep the artistic workshops.
Forty-something and never looking better
Pessac, near Bordeaux, was the location chosen for the new plant due to its good transport links by sea, road and air. The architectural firm Salier-Courtois-Lajus, treading the path forged by Le Corbusier, began construction work in 1972. After almost 200 years, the striking of circulating coins was moved from Quai de Conti to Pessac, which was inaugurated in September 1973. The Pessac plant has now been in operation for 40 years and is still at the cutting edge of technology and research.
Pessac: it's all about figures!
To cater for the requirements of the mint, Monnaie de Paris built a plant with a surface area of 13,300 m2. The production areas, research and analysis laboratories, and offices cover 20,400 m2 in total. The construction required no less than 26,000 m3 of concrete, 125,000 m2 of formwork and 1,200 tons of steel. In its imposing appearance, the building endorsed the style of the period's great state architecture.
A significant striking capacity
An annual production capacity of 700 million coins was originally envisaged for the Pessac plant. It was designed, as the Paris manufacture had been before it, on the principle of an integrated industrial facility, handling the entire process from the arrival of the raw material to the packaging of coins and their delivery to the Banque de France. Nowadays, the plant has a striking capacity of 1.5 billion coins annually.