CRAIG KEPLINGER
NUMISMATIK

P.O. Box 5123, Coralville, IA 52241 Phone: (319)339-9447 | Fax (319)339-9465
E-Mail: keplingercoins@mchsi.com

Return to the Main Page


Pay me securely with any major credit card through PayPal!
Pay me securely with your Visa, MasterCard, Discover, or American Express card through PayPal!
Visa MasterCard Discover American Express

Prologue:

I am neither an expert concerning Swiss history, nor do I claim this timeline to be an exhaustive academic work. The intent is to merge historical perspective with the monetary history of Switzerland, with at least mention of some of the political details, important battles, treaties, heroes, etc. often celebrated by commemorative coins and medals. I may expand this again in the future, and welcome all readers to provide additional pertinent data, or more accurate insights than I have accomplished so far.

 

A Brief History of Switzerland and Its Coins

 

Switzerland is a country of approximately 41,300 sq. km (26,300 sq. mi.) bounded by Germany, France, Italy, Austria and Liechtenstein. Mountain ranges (Alps in the south, Jura Range in the northwest) course through the land, as well as rivers and several large natural lakes. Altitudes range from 200 meters to 4650 meters (15,200 feet). Official languages are German (Swiss German spoken, High German written), French, Italian and Romansch (sort of a modern form of Latin). There are 20 Cantons and 6 "half-Cantons" comprising the Swiss Confederation today. The total population is approximately 7.5 million. The history of Switzerland is long and complicated, but has resulted in a country with direct popular vote, neutrality in world conflicts, generous humanitarian efforts worldwide, and a high standard of living.

 

c. 200 BC:                  Coins circulating in the land of the Celtic Helvetians were imported from Swabian/Bohemian trade centers, and were later minted locally.

 

c. 100 BC:                  Silver and copper Celtic Helvetian coins were in circulation.

 

58BC-450AD:           Roman Era--Roman coins minted at the various military centers were in common use.

 

450-600:                    With the fall of the Roman Empire, the Swiss territories were claimed in succession by Germanic Burgundians, Alemannians and Frankish kings.

 

7th Century:                Religious/cultural centers of Basel, Sitten, Geneva and Lausanne produced small gold coins called "trienten" under Frankish control.

 

9th Century:                With fragmentation of Carolingian power, the Swiss territories reverted to Burgundian control (Holy Roman Empire) in 888. The Houses of Hapsburg and Savoy claimed the territories.

 

11th Century:              The authority to mint coins was retained exclusively by the church. Coins were minted by religious centers (Abbeys, Bishoprics, etc.)

at Basel, Geneva, Lausanne, Chur, St. Gallen, and Zürich.

 

August 1, 1291:         After the death of Rudolf, the "Forest Cantons" of Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden (in central Switzerland) joined in an "Eternal Pact" of mutual defense and independence from external control and


taxation. This league was the beginning of the Confederation. August 1st is the Swiss equivalent of July 4th in the U.S.

 

13th & 14th C.:            Besides the church, other entities, such as certain cities and land barons, gained the right to produce coinage. Many of these were "bracteats", similar to those minted elsewhere in Europe.

 

c. 1315:                      The story of Wilhelm Tell and the cruel Austrian governor Gessler originated about this time in Altdorf. Shortly thereafter the Austrian (Hapsburg) army was defeated at the Battle of Morgarten, and the Forest Cantons claimed independence.

 

1332:                          Luzern joined the Confederation, followed by Zürich in 1351, Glarus and Zug in 1352, and Bern in 1353.

 

1339:                          In the Battle of Laupen, Bern, with the help of the Forest Cantons, defeated a league of local feudal lords struggling for control.

 

1355:                          The infant Confederation declared full autonomy from the Austrian

Burgundians.

 

1386:                          The Battle of Sempach liberated another piece of the Swiss

territories from Austrian rule. Arnold Winkelried sacrificed himself to

Austrian pikes to open the Austrian lines for the victorious Swiss

league.

 

1388:                          The Battle of Näfels was another stunning defeat of Austria for

liberation of more Swiss territory.

 

1424:                          St. Gallen (City/Abbey) minted the first dated coin in Switzerland.

 

1444:                          The Battle of St. Jacob an dir Birs outside Zürich restored

Confederation unity.

 

1476:                          In The Battle of Murten, Charles the Bold was defeated, liberating

more territory to the Confederation, thanks to defenders from other

parts of Switzerland.

 

1481:                          The Stans Convention prevented civil war between city and rural

Cantons. It was a compromise between the eight Cantons that

confirmed the status of the Confederation as a loose partnership

of independent states. Fribourg and Solothurn also joined the

Confederation later that year.

 

1499:                          With the Battle of Dornach, more of Switzerland gained

independence from Holy Roman Emperor Maximillian I.

 

1501:                          Basel and Schaffhausen joined the Confederation.

 

1513:                          Appenzell joined the Confederation.

 

1515:                          Switzerland withdrew from expansionist policies and officially

declared neutrality toward external conflicts.

 

1519:                          The Protestant Reformation began. Central Switzerland remained

Catholic.

 

16th Century:              Silver was imported to Europe from America, increasing the supply of this metal available for coins. Cities, churches, emperors, land barons and Cantons all minted their own coins. Denominations were many, including more familiar ones such as Batzen, Pfennig, Centime, Angster, Rappen, Kreuzer, Schilling, Groschen, Dicken, Ducat, and Taler. Sizes, weights and composition (as well as design) for every denomination varied according to the issuer. Newer issues usually contained less intrinsic value than previous issues, leading to increased confusion and inflation. In 1525 Ulrich Zwingli, the leader of theReformation in Switzerland, officially described the need for standardization of money in the Swiss Cantons and Cities.

 

1618-48:                    The "Thirty Years War" caused the worst period in Swiss history (and Europe in general) for the conglomeration of coins of dubious value produced by many independent entities. With the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, Switzerland was recognized as a neutral state, fully independent of the Austria-dominated Holy Roman Empire.

 

1757:                          The 10 Batzen silver coin minted by Canton Bern was first referred to as a "Swiss Franc".

 

1798:                          The French invaded Switzerland and forced the collapse of the old Confederation. Napoleon created the short-lived "Helvetian Republic", intended to unite Swiss territories under his rule. This included a ban on Cantonal coins in favor of the Republic coinage of this period.

 

1803:                          The Republic was abandoned with the French retreat. The Confederation was re-established, with the addition of new Cantons of St. Gallen, Graubünden, Thurgau, Ticino, Aargau and Vaud. The Cantons again minted their own coins.

 

1815:                          The Congress of Vienna established Switzerland as a Federation and guaranteed its independence and permanent neutrality. Geneva, Valais (Wallis) and Neuchatel joined the same year.

 

1825:                          The Bank of Bern produced the first Cantonal paper money.

 

1836:                          The first draft of a unified "constitution" for the Swiss Confederation included a passage concerning standardization of money under a central "federal" authority.

 

1840:                          At this point there were approximately 860 types of coins in circulation in Switzerland, many with up to 10 design varieties, counterstamps (Bern), and overstrikes using earlier coins of similar size. These were produced by 79 entities that included 23 Cantons, 16 cities, 21 Bishoprics and other religious entities, and 15 foreign countries. About 80% of coins in circulation were of foreign origin. Acceptability of a particular coin varied from Canton to Canton and city to city. Trade was in chaos. Travelers (and businesses) were in a constant flux of complicated and dubious exchange rates for the myriad coins. Counterfeiting of coins in base metals was rampant.

 

1842:                          Canton Graubünden produced the first "shooting taler" with monetary value (4 Franken) for the Federal Shooting Festival in the city of Chur. Canton Vaud issued a (1 Franken) shooting taler in 1845, and Geneva a (10 Franken) coin in 1851. Beginning with the 1855 Festival the Eidgenossenschaft took over the issue of shooting talers for Federal Festivals. These were legal tender.

 

1847:                          In a Civil War, the protestant army, led by General Dufour, crushed the separatist Catholic Canton league.

 

1848:                          The "Bundes" Constitution (modeled after the U.S. Constitution) was finalized and adopted, detailing authority for a central government, but with great Cantonal autonomy. "Artikel 36" gave the central government the sole authority to mint coins.

 

1849-50:                    Standards for Swiss coins (100 Rappen = 1 Schweizer Franken) were established, including size, composition and value, identical to the French Franc and Belgian Franc at that time.

 

1850:                          The first Confederation silver coins (minted in Paris and Strassbourg) were introduced, with a design (by famed engraver Antoine Bovy of Geneva) that was received by the public (and politicians) with outrage ("…a [not very attractive] Helvetia seated on an uncomfortable plow, apparently pointing at nothing!").

 

1851-52:                    The public was allowed to exchange silver Cantonal coins for Confederation coins at complicated exchange rates. Approximately 66 million Cantonal coins were exchanged and melted. At this time the supply of silver coins was far short of need (and not well accepted for design), so the French and Belgian coins (of identical size, weight and composition) continued to be allowed as legal tender. Coins of Sardinia and Parma were also considered valid.

 

1853:                          The old mint in the city of Bern was acquired by the central government and work was begun to refit it. The first 1 Franken and 2 Franken Confederation coins struck in Bern were dated 1857.

 

1860:                          Switzerland adopted the double standard (silver and gold). French and Belgian gold coins become legal tender, as well as other gold coins by weight.

 

1864:                          The foundation of the International Red Cross was established in Geneva. Compulsory free education was also introduced.

 

1865:                          Switzerland, France, Belgium and Italy formed the "Latin Money Union", a step towards an early attempt to unify European coinage.

 

1870s:                        The war between Germany and France forced widespread acceptance of paper money in Europe. All of the Cantons issued their own paper currency at this time.

 

1872-82:                    Construction period of the "Gotthardbahn" railway across the Alps.

 

1883:                          Switzerland issued a standard gold coin (20 Franken "Helvetia").

 

1891:                          The Confederation established its authority to produce paper

currency.

 

1897:                          The design of the gold 20 Franken coin was changed to the popular "Vreneli". Through the end of production in 1949 the "Vreneli" was widely hoarded in Switzerland and abroad.

 

1905:                          As late as 1905, half the coins in circulation in Switzerland were still of foreign origin.

 

1906:                          The newly constructed Bern Eidgenossenschaft (Federal) Mint was dedicated. Today it is called "Swissmint".

 

1907:                          The Swiss National Bank was formed, and the first Confederation paper currency was issued (designed by Ferdinand Hodler).

 

1914-18:                    Swiss neutrality was preserved through WWI.

 

1926:                          The "Latin Money Union" was dissolved. From this date, only Swiss coins and currency were legal tender in Switzerland.

 

1930s:                        Liechtenstein adopted the Swiss Franc and it's minor coins and paper money as legal tender in the 1930s, producing only a few gold commemorative and medallic issues since then.

 

1939-45:                    Swiss neutrality was again tested in WWII, and remained intact.

 

1967:                          This was the last year of silver used in regular circulation coins (except the 1969 5 Franken. Apparently sufficient silver planchets existed and were used, after 1968 production in copper-nickel).

 

1974:                          The first "technical" proof coins were issued in proof sets. Prior to this, the mint produced "specimen" strikes or "first strikes" for diplomatic presentation, etc.

 

1979:                          The new Canton of Jura (formerly part of Bern) was recognized.

 

1992:                          The Swiss people voted against becoming a member of the European Economic Area (EEA), forerunner of the European Union.

 

2000:                          Switzerland entered into a series of bilateral contracts with the EU to insure continued trade and cooperation.

 

2002:                          Collectors Rejoice! Switzerland is not one of the twelve Western European countries (plus Vatican City) that adopted the Euro as standard currency in 2002. Switzerland will not join the European Union in the near future, and will continue producing the strong Swiss Franc-based coins. However, the Swiss people and Cantons did elect to finally join the United Nations this year.

 

The denominations begun in 1850 are still in use today, although the 2 Rappen was discontinued in 1974 and the 1 Rappen is produced only in small quantities, as it is not commercially needed. There have been few design changes since 1879. Date ranges indicate the design runs (composition changes are not indicated):

 

            1 Rappen: 1850-1946; 1948-present

            2 Rappen: 1850-1946; 1948-74 (discontinued)

            5 Rappen: 1850-77; 1879-present

            10 Rappen 1850-76; 1879-present

            20 Rappen 1850-59; 1881-present

            50 Rappen (1/2 Franken): 1850-51; 1875-present

            1 Franken: 1850-61; 1875-present

            2 Franken: 1850-63; 1874-present

            5 Franken: 1850-74; 1888-1916; 1922-28; 1931-present

            10 Franken (gold): 1911-22 (Vreneli)

            20 Franken (gold): 1883-96 (Helvetia); 1897-1949 (Vreneli)

            100 Franken (gold): 1925 (Vreneli)

 

MINTMARKS:          B  (or no MM) -Federal Mint in Bern (now called SwissMint)

B.  -Brussels

A   -Paris

AB or BB  -Strassbourg

 

This list does not include commemorative coins, "shooting talers", or hundreds of official medals issued (or authorized) by the cantons and federal mint over the years. Mintages for Swiss coins are quite small compared to the U.S. and other more populous countries.

/