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The value of francs in Maigret stories

From the Forum

At the Insee site there is chart of the value of the French France equivalents
to the current Euro, and a downloadable PDF File of the French Franc equivalents
to Euro year by year since 1901...

1/15/01 - Can anyone tell what was the approximate US ($) value of French Francs (FF) used during Maigret's time? I believe some 'new' and 'old' FF are mentioned in various books. Thanks.

Vladimir Krasnogor

1/22/01 - About a week ago Vladimir Krasnogor wrote asking the "approximate US$ value of French Francs (FF) used during Maigret's time?". Of course "Maigret's time" covers a lot of years, and resists clear definition. I don't recall seeing references to "old francs" and "new francs", but in 1960, France revalued its currency, to 1/100 of the previous value. 100 Francs became 1 New Franc (NF). Initially, old notes were overprinted with the new denominations, then new bills were printed in "New Francs," and finally, the "New" designation was removed. So most Maigret stories were written "in old francs." Here's a list of 50-60 references to francs in the stories, arranged chronologically by when they were written. (The codes in the right-hand column are based on the French titles.) Perhaps some economist among the readers can clear up the matter of the exchange rate...

1/29/01 - Before World War I, when France was firmly on the gold standard, a franc was worth about 19 cents, or 5.18 to the dollar. It declined drastically in the '20s, to 25 to the dollar, i.e., 4 cents. That's one reason Americans of little means found France such a great place to live. After Britain, and then the U.S. abandoned the gold standard, the franc actually rose to about 15 to the dollar by 1935. Of course there was terrible inflation after World War II — in the end, the old franc literally wasn't worth a sou.
(A sou, BTW, was 5 centimes, or 1/20 of a franc, the equivalent of the American penny. But it was also a symbol of the inflation France suffered in the 18th and early 19th centuries: the sou was the equivalent of the English shilling at one time, and instead of francs, the French had "livres" (pounds) just like their neighbors across the Channel).
Oz Childs

2/1/01 - Oz Childs tells us the value of FF from the start of 1900 till 1950. This time frame makes an interesting coincidence, because when I checked a local bank, I could only get the value of FF going back to the 1950's.
It looks like in the '50s the FF fluctuated between approximately 500 to 700 FF for US$1. After the change to new francs, in the '60s and '70s the FF fluctuated from approximately 5 to 7 FF to US$1, with the average about 5.50.
Later on, I'll recalculate the table to find (a) the approximate value in $ of FF amounts at the time when the action took place, assuming it happened in the year of writing, and (b) the approximate value of those amounts in today's dollars, assuming inflation of 5% per year.
P.S. In the table, one amount should be added. In Maigret's Boyhood Friend, written in 1968, the amount stolen by his friend from the victim was 48,000 francs. I would never have known this if it were not the very amount that started my curiosity of the value of FF.

Sample calculation of FF value
2/2/01 -

Years Sample
in FF
FF per US$
Approx. Value
in contemporary
Approx. Value
in today's (2001) US$
at 5% per year inflation
1929-1931 1000 25 40 1300
1931-1935 1000 25 40 1000
1936-1939 1000 15 67 1400
1950-1959 1000 600 2 15
1960-1971 1000 5.5 182 800

So, the mystery is probably solved. The 48,000 FF stolen by Maigret's boyhood friend in 1968 would be today in 2001 about 48 x 800 = US$ 38,400. Perhaps not large enough to provide him for the rest of his life, but quite a significant amount considering the circumstances of the case.

francs in Maigret stories

In 1960, France revalued its currency, to 1/100 of the previous value. 100 Francs became 1New Franc (NF).
Initially, old notes were overprinted with the new denominations, then new bills were printed in "New Francs,"
and finally, the "New" designation was removed.

M found a tube of Veronal... a screw of paper that had contained heroin. He found eleven packets, each containing one gramme in the rep cover of the armchair, worth at least 1,000 francs at retail prices. [1929-30-LET]
M, a senior police Superintendent with a salary of 2,200 francs a month. [1929-30-LET]
Abeille Company, life insurance company paying Aurore Gallet 300,000 francs on a policy taken out by Émile Gallet in 1925. [1930-GAL]
Gallet told M he had 30,000 francs when they married, had had a difficult time as a child, and spent several years in Indo-China. [1930-GAL]
Duranty de la Roche paid Tiburce de Saint-Hilaire 30,000 francs to switch names, as he had some money from his father who was a horse dealer in Nantes. [1930-GAL]
M had seen the man, Louis Jeunet, send himself a package of 30,000 Belgian francs, to 18, Rue de la Roquette, from Brussels, as "printed matter". [1930-31-PHO]
William Kirby and his wife came in. They had been driven there in a chrome-plated American car, at least 250,000 francs. [1930-31-TET]
By Pont Mirabeau he fished in his pocket for the 10-franc note. [1930-31-TET]
Johann Radek said that Bob, the barman at the Coupole, had a fine house in Versailles, and a fancy car, an income of 4-500,000 francs a year from tips. [1930-31-TET]
M hailed a taxi for the Gare d'Orsay, changed his mind and took it to Arpajon, 300 francs round-trip. [1931-NUI]
Else Anderson's Turkish cigarette was burning in a porcelain bowl. The price on the packet was 20 fr. 95.... They lived on 2,000 francs a month and she smoked one or two packs a day. (over 1,000 francs). [1931-NUI]
1,000-franc notes had been found floating in the Seine at the Bougival lock the day after the murder. [1931-OMB]
M could hear billiard balls colliding. A sign on the wall: cocktails, 6 francs. [1932-FIA]
A salesman accosted passersby, a winter overcoat, fine English cloth from 200 francs. [1932-FIA]
Yves Joris' account had been credited with 300,000 francs, from the Dutch Bank, Hamburg. [1932-POR]
In the Guide Michelin the Hôtel d'Angleterre was listed as first class, rooms from 25 francs, bathrooms, meals from 15 to 18 francs... [1932-FOU]
M read in the paper that a M. Graphopoulos had been arrested in Nice, after winning over 500,000 francs in a salle de baccarat. [1932-LIB]
Émile Ducrau said he was offering the police 20,000 francs if they found out who'd attacked him. [1933-ECL]
He said he gave his mistress 2,000 francs a month and her clothes. [1933-ECL]
M. asked Ducrau, "I imagine your company's worth about 40 million francs?" "Close. About 50." [1933-ECL]
Ducrau asked M if he made about 60,000 francs. "Much less," he replied... [1933-ECL]
Ducrau offered M. 100,000 francs a year to come in with him. He raised it to 150, but realized M. wasn't interested. Later he said he'd go to 200,000... [1933-ECL]
They stopped for gas - his chauffeur asked Ducrau for 100 francs. [1933-ECL]
Ducrau bought a cherrywood pipe for 2 francs. [1933-ECL]
Old Arthur Aerts, the skipper of the Astrolabe was Belgian, said to have a hoard of 100,000 francs on board. [1936-PEN]
M calculated that they must not have more than 300 Belgian francs left. [1936-PEI]
Rita was not really a maid. She was shocked at getting change from a franc, wasn't familiar with sous... [1937-38-AMO]
Joséphine Crozier had received a million francs insurance at her husband's death. After investments she was worth 4 or 5 million. [1937-38-BAY]
Mme Deligeard paid Dr. Liévin 200 francs for coming to see "her aunt". He usually got a 10-franc fee from his patients. [1937-38-BAY]
M. said that they were actually in such dire straits that on some days the Philippe Deligeard's didn't have 100 francs in cash in the house. [1937-38-BAY]
Jean Vertbois had paid for the car, luxurious but old-fashioned, with five 1,000-franc notes. [1937-38-NOY]
Germain La Pommeraye said his wife had died in South America, to which she'd run off with a coffee planter. She'd taken 100,000 francs from his safe before she left. [1937-38-NOY]
It must have been the precious piece Motte had spoken of, where the Oriental artist had carved a scene with six figures. It was perhaps 10 or 12 centuries old, worth tens of thousands of francs. [1937-38-NOT]
Stephan Strevzki lived in a 12,000-franc flat in Passy, 17 Rue de la Pompe. [1939-HOM]
A man named Jaminet, a bookmaker, had presented a check at the Brussels office of the Société Générale, for 280,000 francs. [1939-MAJ]
Bonneau told M that when Prosper Donge was 16, as a dishwasher in Vitry-le-François, he'd stolen 50 francs from the till and caught a train to Lyons. [1939-MAJ]
M saw flowers worth several hundred francs in a Chinese vase in Oswald Clark's suite. [1939-MAJ]
Canut said he'd brought 150,000 francs with him to bid on the farm. [1939-VEN]
A fat wallet containing over a hundred 1,000-franc notes. [1939-VEN]
Frédéric Michaux said he had an insurance policy for 100,000 francs he could draw on when he was 50. [1939-VEN]
Albert Forlacroix's sister, Lise Forlacroix had run away to Poitiers. She bought M a razor for 3 francs 50. [1940-JUG]
Charles Dandurand had brought Mme Boynet 52,000 francs, quarterly rents from the house on Rue d'Antin. [1940-CEC]
A lawyer came to the Octave Le Cloaguen's every year from Saint-Raphaël with the 200,000 francs. [1941-SIG]
Alban Groult-Cotelle showed M a bill from the Hôtel de l'Europe in La Roche-sur-Yon, dated Jan. 7: breakfast, 6 francs, room, 30 francs... [1943-CAD]
Désiré had gone to the post office and mailed a money order for 500 francs to his son in Morocco. [1943-CAD]
Bernadette Amorelle came to M to have him take up her case. She offered him 50,000 francs if successful, 10,000 in any event. [1945-FAC]
Tremblet's wallet contained 100 francs and photos of his children. [1946-PAU]
M had a beer at the Brasserie Dauphine. He called out to Joseph to ask what he owed. It was 4 francs. [1946-PAU]
Seven years earlier Maurice Tremblet had won 3 million francs. [1946-PAU]
At the outset of his career, a public servant earned somewhat under 100 francs a month. [1950-MEM]
The hailstorm was one of the worst on record, damage amounting to millions of francs round Argenteuil. [1951-MEU]
When M had bought his goose-dung shoes, he had been in the Saint-Georges district, and had just been informed by his supervisor that he was to get a 10 franc per month raise, when 10 francs were really 10 francs. [1952-BAN]
The jewels in Éveline Jave's jewel case, about 30 million francs worth, came from the best shops in the Rue de la Paix. [1956-AMU]
Like people who make up numbers for the National Lottery, René Josselin had apparently bet at the pari-mutuel two or three times a week for 5,000 francs, without knowing anything about horses. [1961-BRA]
Roger Prou's brother-in-law, François Mourier who lent him 10,000 francs to buy out Léonard Planchon, had a butcher shop on Boulevard de Charonne. [1962-CLI]
M overheard a conversation in the street, about buying appliances, "100-franc monthly installments.. [1966-VOL]
Hélène Lange had a bank account with the Crédit Lyonnais, on the corner of Rue Georges-Clemenceau. Deposited about 5,000 francs each month. [1967-VIC]
Pigou had been staying at the Hôtel du Cygne, 3 francs a day for an iron bed with a straw mattress, no running water, toilet in the back yard. [1969-VIN]
Men like Léon Florentin might try to touch you for a loan of 100,000 francs to build a seaport in some remote territory, but might settle for 100 francs to avoid being thrown out of their lodgings. [1968-ENF]
M. found a biscuit tin with Josephine Papet's 48,000 francs in Florentin's shop. [1968-ENF]
Fernand Courcel lent Florentin a few thousand francs to "register the plans" for a seaside resort. [1968-ENF]
Florentin told M. all he had left to his name was a 50-centime piece. He said he could sometimes sell a piece of furniture for a couple of hundred francs. M. gave him a 100-franc note. [1968-ENF]
Victor Lamotte said he left Joséphine Papet 2,000 francs a month in an envelope. [1968-ENF]
Flotentin's neighbor, the painter, said he'd lent him 20 francs once or twice, occasionally as much as 50. [1968-ENF]
The concierge's bankbook went back many years, from 10- to 20-franc deposits, to 50 francs per month, except in January when it climbed to 100 to 150. The total was 8,322 francs and a few centimes. M. found 3 500-franc and 7 100-franc notes in her magazine. [1968-ENF]
Florentin had tried to blackmail Lamotte for 50,000 francs. [1968-ENF]
A withdrawal of 2,500 francs from Léontine Antoine's account suggested that she'd used it to buy her television set the previous Christmas. [1970-FOL]
Marcel Vivien had closed out his account, withdrawing around 12,500 francs... [1971-SEU]

The value of francs in Maigret stories
1/11/05 –
L'INSEE met en garde le public contre l'utilisation de son propre tableau d'équivalence du franc (Fichier PDF) : « L'INSEE tient à préciser aux utilisateurs de ces données qu'elles sont d'autant plus fragiles que les périodes utilisées sont éloignées, et qu'elles ne peuvent être l'objet d'une référence juridique. » Les Français le savent bien ; que depuis qu'il existe des indices de prix existe aussi une politique de l'indice mise en œuvre par les gouvernements successifs, les ministres des Finances, ayant pour seul but de trafiquer les chiffres, en modérant les prix dont l'INSEE tient compte, et en laissant les autres s'envoler. (Je suppose que ce phénomène est universel, et non propre à la France !) Les Français, bêtes au point de voter Maastricht et l'euro, ne sont pas dupes des chiffres en epsilon égrenés chaque mois par les commentateurs.
Les deux dernières années (1971-1972) de production des Maigret, le prix de vente de l'édition courante (poche Presses de la Cité, du type « PC n NS ») était de 4,90 F. Aujourd'hui, leur réédition dans le « Livre de poche » est à 5 euros. Se basant sur cette seule donnée, on peut poser 1 F-1971 = 1,02 €-2004. En réalité, cette valeur (1,02) serait encore à majorer, puisqu'il s'agit de rééditions ayant déjà largement rapporté à l'auteur et à l'éditeur depuis trente ans ! Le tableau de l'INSEE indique : 1 F-1971 = 0,85199 €-2003, soit un écart (minimal) de 20 %.
Le milliardaire suisse Simenon paraît peu au fait de la réalité française, au moins dans ses incohérents derniers romans - Maigret à Vichy, L'Ami d'enfance de Maigret... -, où les sommes mises en jeu défient toute vraisemblance (tant économique que fiscale, mais j'y reviendrai dans mes Carnets, si Steve m'en donne l'occasion).

Les extraits mentionnés dans « francs in Maigret stories » pèchent par omission, au moins en ce qui concerne Maigret se fâche (1945) (1), où figure une indication intéressante (si elle est vérifiée). Extrait cité :

Bernadette Amorelle came to M to have him take up her case. She offered him 50,000 francs if successful, 10,000 in any event.

Soit, en bonne langue française : « Cinquante mille si vous réussissez. Et, si vous ne trouvez rien, mettons dix mille, plus vos frais... » (Ch. 1, p. 14)

Plus loin (Ch. 3, p. 53-54) :

[Ernest Malik]
— [...] L'administration n'est pas très généreuse. Je ne sais pas combien elle te verse comme retraite.
Et Maigret, toujours doux et humble :
— Trois mille deux.
[Ernest Malik]
— [...] Voilà pourquoi je te dis...
— Combien ?
— Cent mille.
Il ne broncha pas, hochant la tête avec hésitation :
— Cent cinquante. J'irai jusqu'à deux cent mille.

Ernest Malik - le Percepteur... - offre cinq années (62,5 mois) de revenus à Maigret - à la retraite depuis bientôt deux ans (Ch. 1, p. 14) - pour s'en débarrasser ! Sa mère, Bernadette Amorelle, proposait déjà 16 mois de pension (cf. supra). Un mot, probablement rédigé par son fils, veut solder l'affaire pour 6 mois (Ch. 5, p. 81-82) : « Lors de ma visite inconsidérée à Meung-sur-Loire, j'avais laissé sur votre table une liasse de dix mille francs, destinés à couvrir vos premiers frais. Veuillez trouver ci-joint un chèque de la même somme et considérer cette affaire comme terminée. »

L'INSEE donne à 3 200 F-1945 comme équivalent 339,2 €-2003 ! Une retraite de commissaire de la Police judiciare (pressenti pour en être le directeur) ! La proposition de Malik - 200 000 F-1945 -, n'est pas plus réaliste (en plus d'être illégale) : 21 200 €-2003... Pourtant, Simenon était en France lors de la rédaction de Maigret se fâche. Alors ? De sa part, aucune notion de la valeur de l'argent (pour ce rapport 62,5) ? Délire de l'INSEE quant à l'équivalence ? Le manuscrit ayant été détruit par l'auteur... (Pourquoi, au fait, Simenon a-t-il détruit certains manuscrits, tout en vendant d'autres au profit des prisonniers de guerre ?)

1. Édition de référence : Presses de la Cité m 2 (1989) ; pagination : 7 ; 24 ; 41 ; 57 ; 73 ; 91 ; 109 ; 125-141.

Richard Budelberger

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