The building, located alongside the A63 motorway and next door to a drive-in supermarket, is the Établissement Monétaire de Pessac, one of two facilities run by Monnaie de Paris, one of France’s oldest institutions, with roots that can be traced all the way back to the 9th century. The institution was founded subsequent to the Edict of Pistres promulgated by Charles the Bald, King of West Francia, in 864. Although most of the acts in the capitulary were primarily aimed at protecting cities and the countryside from Viking raids, the Edict also covered the minting and acceptance of coinage, and formalised penalties for counterfeiting.
The spiritual home of Monnaie de Paris, which today employs 500 people, is on the Seine-side Quai de Conti in central Paris. Originally built in 1775 as the Manufacture Royale de la Monnaie, the Paris establishment, as well as housing a museum, now handles coin design duties and continues to manufacture medals and limited edition “objets d’art”. Fortunately, it is the Quai de Conti building which features on the institution’s logo...
Meanwhile, the somewhat less elegant Pessac plant, which was built in 1973 and where 250 employees are based, is responsible for the manufacture of mass-circulation coins. Pessac handles the full minting process, from the production of the collars and dies, manufacturing and polishing the blanks, the striking of the coins themselves, to packaging, storage and distribution. The factory’s current daily output can routinely hit 9 million units. In 2010, no less than 1,500,000,000 coins were produced! Not all of those coins were euros; foreign currencies account for one quarter of the output in Pessac.
While the euro entered general circulation ten years ago on January 1st 2002, the eight different euro coins were being minted at the Pessac factory from May 1998 onwards. During the three years leading up to the switch, 12 million units were being produced daily. France was one of five countries to decide against striking all first coins with a 2002 date, so check your pocket, purse or jar to see how many of your coins were minted in Pessac during the years before they actually entered circulation! That decision has also been of interest to numismatists who have keenly snapped up highly-collectable sets of coins that pre-date the switch to the euro.
The Pessac plant is not solely focused on production. It is also home to two important bodies set up to detect, dissect and counteract counterfeit operations: France’s Centre National d’Analyse des Pièces (CNAP) and the European Technical and Scientific Centre (ETSC). And, of course, the euro in France extends beyond coins and Monnaie de Paris. Two Banque de France establishments in the central France region of Auvergne manufacture euro banknotes, which feature single Europe-wide designs (unlike the coins, which feature individual national faces): the paper is produced in the town of Vic-le-Compte while printing duties are handled in Chamalières.
- Find it: Voie Romaine, Pessac
- To see behind the walls of the factory, this Jean-Christophe Ballot photo report on the Monnaie de Paris website is an excellent starting point. The official website also features a guide to each of the eight stages in the production of euro coins. If you wish to travel back in time, this archive footage shows Dominique Strauss-Kahn, then French finance minister, launching the production of the first coins in May 1998.