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The French say 'au revoir' to last francs

February 17, 2012 | 12:34 pm

Franc
REPORTING FROM PARIS -- Amateur collectors worked the crowd for limited editions, warning against giving away potentially valuable bills. One doom-saying politician called for a return to the discarded currency. And people of all ages waited patiently to turn in their forgotten, worn-out francs.

A decade after being pushed aside by the euro, the franc on Friday officially became a relic.

It was the last day possible to exchange old currency for euros, an event attracting hundreds outside the Bank of France in Paris, the only location in the capital able to convert the colorful bills.

"A page in our history has turned," said Michel Gagnepain, 63, whose 70 francs brought him only 10.67 euros but showed up to be part of the historic moment. "I'm glad I came. There's a little folklore that comes with being here. After this, it's over."

Like many others waiting for fresh euros, Gagnepain had kept a few francs at home as keepsakes after they stopped being accepted as legal tender in stores.

By Saturday, most of the estimated $723 million worth of francs remaining in the world will be nothing more than pretty pieces of paper, as far as their monetary value goes.

But to many of those who huddled in the drizzle Friday, the old bills printed with portraits of French figures ranging from artist Paul Cezanne to writer Antoine de Saint-Exupery meant a lot more: the memory of a less anxious time, one that came before their Eurozone troubles.

"Francs remind me of the good old days, back when you were young, and went out with 100 francs, and you felt rich, happy! Today, 100 euros is nothing," said Patrick Berdah, 46, who was waving euros in the air, hoping to buy some old bills from the crowd and frame them for his children.

"With the euro, that’s when the problems started, and prices increased," he said of the currency transition, during which many complain that prices were rounded up. "I would have preferred staying with the franc. The bills are so much prettier!"

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-- Devorah Lauter

Photo: People line up at a branch of the Bank of France to convert French francs to euros in Paris on Friday. Credit: Thibault Camus / Associated Press

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