French Indochinese piastre

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French Indochinese piastre
French Indochina 100 Piastres.png French Indochina Piastre 1885 without background.png
Cambodian 100 piastre/riel, 1954 French Indochina Piastre 1885
 1/100 cent
Symbol p
Banknotes 10, 20, 50 cents, 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500 piastres
Coins ¼, ½, 1, 5, 10, 20, 50 cents 1 piastre
User(s)  French Indochina
Central bank Banque de l'Indochine
This infobox shows the latest status before this currency was rendered obsolete.

The piastre de commerce was the currency of French Indochina between 1885 and 1952. It was subdivided into 100 cent, each of 5 sapèque.

The name piastre (French pronunciation: ​[pjastʁ]), from Spanish pieces of eight (pesos), dates to the 16th century and has been used as the name of many different historical units of currency.


Prior to the arrival of the French in Indo-China in the second half of the 19th century, cash coins similar to those used in the provinces of China circulated in the area that is nowadays known as Vietnam. There was also a silver milled dragon coin and associated subsidiary coinage in circulation. The dragon coin is believed to have been in imitation of the Spanish and Mexican silver dollars which also circulated widely in the region at that time, however the dragon dollars were worth less because the fineness of the silver was less than that in the Spanish and Mexican dollars. In the region that is nowadays Cambodia and Laos, the Siamese coinage circulated and Cambodia had its own regional varieties of the Siamese Tical (Thai Baht).

The French began their Indo-Chinese empire in 1862 with Cochin-China which is the area around the Mekong delta and Saigon, and which is nowadays the extreme southern part of Vietnam. This empire very quickly expanded to include Cambodia which had been a vassal state of the Kingdom of Siam. In 1875, the French introduced a Cambodian franc to Cambodia. Although these francs were minted in Belgium between 1875 and 1885, they always bore the date 1860. The French also began to introduce a subsidiary coinage in 'cents' into Cochin-China in the late 1870s. These cents were actually subsidiary coinage of the Mexican dollar unit as opposed to being subsidiary coinage of the French franc.

In 1884, the French Indo-Chinese empire further expanded to incorporate Annam and Tonkin-China. The following year, in 1885, the French introduced a new silver piastre de commerce and associated subsidiary coinage throughout the entire Indo-Chinese colonies in order to increase monetary stability. The piastre was initially equivalent to the Mexican peso. The piastre was therefore a direct lineal descendent of the Spanish pieces of eight that had been brought to the Orient from Mexico on the Manila Galleons. It was initially on a silver standard of 1 piastre = 24.4935 grams pure silver. This was reduced to 24.3 grams in 1895.

French Indo-China was one of the last places to abandon the silver standard. The piastre remained on the silver standard until 1920, when due to the rise in the price of silver after the First World War, it was pegged to the French franc at a varying rate hence putting it unto a gold exchange standard. The silver standard was restored in 1921 and maintained until 1930, when the piastre was pegged to the franc at a rate of 1 piastre = 10 francs. During the World War II Japanese occupation, an exchange rate of 0.976 piastre = 1 Japanese yen operated, with the pre-war peg to the franc restored after the war. However, in December 1945, to avoid the French franc's devaluation, the peg was changed to 1 piastre = 17 francs.

In 1946, the North Vietnamese đồng was introduced, which replaced the piastre at par. In 1952/1953, the Lao kip (1952), Cambodian riel (1953), and South Vietnamese đồng (1953) were introduced at par with the piastre. Initially, the paper money bore denominations both in the local currency and the piastre, but coins were denominated in the national units since the beginning. These initially circulated alongside the old piastre currency. The peg of 1 piastre = 10 francs was restored in 1953. The dual denominated notes circulated until 1955 in South Vietnam and Cambodia, and 1957 in Laos.


The coin was first introduced in 1880 then 1883 then in 1885 as so on. In 1885, bronze 1 cent and silver 10, 20 and 50 cent and 1 piastre coins were introduced. These were followed in 1887 by holed, bronze 1 sapeque. In 1895, the weights of the silver coins were reduced, due to the reduction in the silver peg of the currency. From 1896, the 1 cent was also a holed coin. In 1923, holed, cupro-nickel 5 cent were introduced, followed by holed, bronze ½ cent in 1935.

In 1939, zinc ½ cent and both nickel and cupro-nickel 10 and 20 cent coins were introduced. Coins in the name of the État Français were issued between 1942 and 1944 in denominations of ¼, 1 and 5 cent. All three were holed, with the ¼ cent in zinc and the other two in aluminium. In 1945, aluminium 10 and 20 cent were introduced, followed by unholed aluminium 5 cent and cupro-nickel 1 piastre coins. The last piastre coins were issued in the name of the "Indochinese Federation".

The first Lao kip coins were dated 1952, while the first South Vietnamese đồng and Cambodian riel were dated 1953.


French Indochina 100 Piastres 1925, Haiphong Branch
French Indochina 20 Piastres

In 1892, the Banque de l'Indochine introduced 1 piastre notes, followed the next year by 5, 20 and 100 piastres. Between 1920 and 1922, 10, 20 and 50 cent notes were also issued. In 1939, 500 piastre notes were introduced. In 1939, the Gouvernement General de l'Indochine introduced 10, 20 and 50 cent notes, followed by 5 cents in 1942. In 1945, the Banque de l'Indochine introduced 50 piastres, followed by 10 piastres in 1947.

In 1953, the Institut d'Emission des Etats du Cambodge, du Laos et du Vietnam took over the issuance of paper money. A 1 piastre note was issued that year in the name of all three states. In addition, between 1952 and 1954, notes were introduced denominated in piastre and one of three new currencies, the Cambodian riel, Lao kip and South Vietnamese đồng. For Cambodia, notes in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 100 and 200 piastres/riel were introduced. For Laos, 1, 5, 10 and 100 piastres/kip were introduced. For South Vietnam, 1, 5, 10, 100 and 200 piastre/đồng were introduced.

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External links[edit]

Preceded by:
Cochinchina Piastre
Reason: formation of French Indochina administration, 1885
Ratio: at par
Currency of French Indochina
(Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia)
1880 – 1949
Note: The Japanese occupied but did not issue occupation currency
Currency of State of Vietnam
1949 – 1955
Note: transitional notes dual denominated in piastre and đồng used between 1953 and 1955.

Note: the Viet Minh government issued its own separate currency

Succeeded by:
North Vietnamese đồng
Reason: independence
Ratio: at par, or 1 đồng = 17 French francs
Note: starting 1946
Succeeded by:
South Vietnamese đồng
Reason: independence
Ratio: at par, or 1 đồng = 10 French francs
Currency of Laos
1949 – 1957
Note: transitional notes dual denominated in piastre and kip were used between 1953 and 1957
Succeeded by:
Lao kip
Reason: independence
Ratio: at par, or 1 kip = 10 French francs
Currency of Cambodia
1949 – 1955
Note: transitional notes dual denominated in piastre and riel were used between 1953 and 1955
Succeeded by:
Cambodian riel
Reason: independence
Ratio: at par, or 1 riel = 10 French francs