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CHF - Swiss Franc

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The Swiss franc is the official currency and legal tender of Switzerland and Liechtenstein. In addition to that, the Italian exclave Campione d’Italia also considers it its legal tender. The Swiss franc is the only franc that is still in circulation in Europe. It is made up of 100 smaller units called centimes (in French), Rapped (German), centesimo (Italian), or rap (Romansh). The currency code for the Swiss franc is CHF, which stand for Confoederatia Helvetica franc.

The franc is available in two forms: banknotes and coins. The coins are minted by the Swiss Mint, while the banknotes are issued by the Swiss National Bank. In order to remain neutral, because of the many languages that are spoken in Switzerland, the inscriptions on the coins are in Latin. Due to the exceptional stability rating that the Swiss economy enjoys, the Swiss franc is often considered as “hard currency”, and is often bought in times of great economic uncertainty and instability.

History of the Swiss Franc

The origins of the franc can be traced back to the period before 1798, when there was a total of 75 entities minting coins in Switzerland, including the 25 cantons and half-cantons and 16 cities, which amounted to about 860 different coins, each with its own denomination, value and monetary system. Among the currencies in circulation were the Basel thaler, Berne thaler, Geneva thaler, Fribourg gulden, Luzern gulden, Schwyz gulden and many others. The monetary system changed when a new currency, based on the Berne thaler, was introduced by the Helvetic Republic, in 1798. The value of this new currency, dubbed the Swiss franc, was equal to that of 6¾ grams of silver. It was further divided in to 10 batzen or 100 centimes. The franc was issued and used right until the demise of the Helvetic Republic in 1803.

However, even though no longer available, it had a profound impact on currencies that succeeded it, because most of them were modeled on the franc. Out of all the currencies that were issued in 22 cantons and half-cantons of the Swiss Confederacy from 1803 to 1850, only 15% of them that were in circulation were local, with the majority of them being foreign currencies, which were brought into the country by mercenaries and traders. The already confusing situation wasn’t helped by the fact that some private banks began producing their own banknotes, which amounted to a staggering number of 8000 different coins and banknotes that were available in circulation.

An easier-to-navigate monetary system was adopted in 1848, after the new Swiss Federal Constitution made it clear that the only official body allowed to make money would be the Federal Government. Less than two years later, the first Federal Coinage Act was instituted, which made the franc the official monetary unit of Switzerland. Its value was set at 1:1 ratio with the French franc, effectively replacing all the different currencies used in each one of the cantons. Since the 1920s the value of the Swiss franc was linked gold, meaning that 40% of it was backed up by gold reserves. This tie was discarded back in 2000, after a referendum.

Swiss Franc Coins

From 1850 onwards, coins could have been found in denominations of 1, 2, 5, 10 and 20 centimes, as well as ½, 1, 2, and 5 francs. The difference between them was the fact that the 1 and 2-centime coins were minted in bronze, the 5, 10, and 20 centimes were struck in billon (also containing anywhere between 5 and 15% of silver), while all the coins denominated in francs were stuck in .900 fine silver. By 1879, billon coins were replaced by cupronickel ones (the 5 and 10-centime coins). The 20-centime coins, however, were struck in nickel. Coins denominated in francs were reduced in size, with their weight going down from 25 to 15 grams, and .835 fineness.

The 1-centime coin was minted until 2006, although it could rarely be found in circulation. It had been reduced to playing a minor role in the monetary economy since the 1970s. Those who still has a use for them, such a collectors, could have obtained them by paying an additional 4 centimes per coin in order to cover production costs. Its status as legal tender was finally revoked in 2007. From 1879 to 1948, there were little changes introduced into the original design of the coins. One of the changes was the inclusion of the ring consisting of 22 stars, where each star represented a single canton. Following the expansion of the Swiss federation, the design was changed to feature 33 stars, in 1983.

Swiss Franc Banknotes

After the Swiss National Bank became the only institution allowed to issue banknotes in 1907, notes featuring the 50, 100, 500, and 1000-franc denominations were introduced in circulation. In the following years, the 5, 10, and 20-franc notes were issued. It is important to note that each of the notes was issued in three different versions: French, German and Italian. 1996 saw the discontinuation of the 500-franc notes, and the introduction of the 200-franc note.

So far, there has been a total of eight series of banknotes issues by the Swiss National Bank, with only six available for use by the public. The sixth series, printed from 1976 onward featured famous figures from the scientific world. The notes from these are no longer legal tender, as they were revoked. The citizens have until 2020 to replace them, before the note lose all value. It is estimated that the value of the notes is close to 130 million Swiss francs.

The seventh series was printed in case there was a mass counterfeiting of the current series. This series was destroyed after the Swiss National Bank developed new security features, and abandoned the concept of having a reserve series. The eight series features a unique, vertically-oriented design incorporating art themes. It was released in 1995. This series also contains advanced security features, which have been widely advertised. All banknotes are quadrilingual.