Swiss francs

Swiss francs

Swiss francs (Schweizer Franken, Franc Suisse or Franco Svizzero) have been the primary currency of Switzerland since 1850, after the country was formed into the Swiss Confederation. As well as being legal tender in all 26 Swiss cantons, the currency is also used in Liechtenstein and in some Italian enclaves around Lake Maggiore.

The franc has a reputation for being a highly stable currency, due to the stability of Switzerland itself and the strength of the Swiss banking system. The currency is decimalised, with Swiss rappen (centime or cents (French) centesimo (Italian)) as its smaller denomination.

History of the Swiss franc

Before Switzerland’s independence, the country used the coinage of the state that was currently occupying the territory. This could range from early Roman coins to the thalers, guilders, groschen and Reichsthaler used by the Holy Roman Empire (HRE).

It was under the HRE that the Old Swiss Confederacy was born in 1291. At the time, the rural cantons of Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden (later Obwalden and Nidwalden) did not have a specific coinage, choosing instead to use imperial, Habsburg or even bartering as currency.

Swiss cantonal currencies

Between 1291 and 1798, 25 of the 26 cantons of Switzerland minted their own coins in 75 different locations throughout the country. This led to around 860 different coins in circulation, each with its own value and denomination. Many of these currencies had their origins in the French livre and the gulden used in southern Germany.

Some of the most common coins in circulation were the Bern livre, Geneva livre, South German gulden, Zurich gulden and the Central Swiss gulden. One Bernese livre was divided into 20 sols, 10 batzen or 40 kreuzer.

The Helvetic Republic

In 1798, the French Emperor Napoleon invaded Switzerland, replacing the Old Swiss Confederacy with the Helvetic Republic. This French client state was far more centralised than the confederacy, standardising the currency into a Swiss franc or frank. The original currency was based on the most common currency at the time, the Bern livre.

The Republic would only last five years before being dissolved in 1803. During the interim period between 1803 and the restoration of the Swiss Confederacy in 1815, many cantons chose to keep the franc as their currency.

Standardisation and adoption of the Swiss franc

By 1820, an estimated 8.000 different coins were in circulation around Switzerland. Many were issued by individual councils (Gemeinde), churches and cities. By 1820, only 15 percent of currency in Switzerland was Swiss, the majority being the South German kronenthaler. The confusion around Old Swiss Confederate, Helvetic, cantonal and local currencies led some cantons to form monetary unions.

The cantons of Bern, Basel, Fribourg, Solothurn, Aargau and Vaud started to issue the same coins. These still carried the coat of arms of each canton, similar to the symbols of countries in the Eurozone, and were marked by a Swiss cross and the letter C.

In 1848, after the Sonderbund War, the Swiss adopted the Federal Constitution. This stipulated that only the government of Switzerland could mint Swiss money. In 1850, the Federal Coinage Act was introduced, and the modern Swiss franc was born.

What do Swiss francs (Franc Suisse) look like?

Swiss francs (Franc Suisse) have been through nine different design iterations since 1850. The currency today is issued by Swissmint, the official mint of the Swiss Confederation.

Swiss franc banknotes

Swiss franc banknotes are designed by Orell Füssli Arts Graphiques SA in Zurich. The notes are divided into 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 1.000 Swiss franc bills. Each bill gets larger as the value increases, going from 126 x 74mm to 181 x 74mm. According to the 2008 edition of the Guinness World Records, Switzerland’s eighth edition of notes was the most secure banknote in the world, with 18 different security features.

All Swiss banknotes are displayed in the four national languages: German, French, Italian and Romansh. According to data from the Swiss National Bank, as of 2010, there were over 46 billion Swiss francs' worth of notes in circulation.

Colour of Swiss franc bills

Ever since the first series of banknotes were commissioned in 1907, Switzerland has had a tradition of producing colourful banknotes. Along with commemorating historical sites and famous people from Switzerland’s history, each note has a specific colour and size to make them easy to identify.

In the latest version of Swiss banknotes, commissioned in 2017, the colours are yellow (10 Swiss francs), red (20 Swiss francs), green (50 Swiss francs), blue (100 Swiss francs), brown (200 Swiss francs) and purple (1.000 Swiss francs).

Swiss franc coins

The current series of Swiss franc coins are 5 rappen, 10 rappen, 20 rappen, 50 rappen (shown as 1 / 2 francs), 1 franc, 2 francs and 5 francs. Despite once being made of silver, they are now made of silver cupronickel, with the exception of the 5 rappen coin, which is made of aluminium bronze; giving the coin its typical golden look.

Symbols of Swiss francs (Franco Svizzero)

Up until 2017, Swiss franc (Franco Svizzero) banknotes used to show prominent figures or events from Swiss history. This could range from the artist Le Corbusier to anatomist Albrecht von Haller. Today, the notes all include a hand “showing the world” Swiss achievements, with each note describing “typical Swiss characteristics.” These are:

  • 10 Swiss francs: “Organisational talent”, shown by the Gotthard Base Tunnel and Swiss watchmaking.
  • 20 Swiss francs: “Creativity”, shown by the Locarno Film Festival, butterfly and iris.
  • 50 Swiss francs: “Wealth of experiences Switzerland offers”, shown by the mountains, and paragliding.
  • 100 Swiss francs: “Humanitarianism”, showing Swiss rivers and water flowing along a mountainside.
  • 200 Swiss francs: “Scientific expertise”, showing a particle collision from the CERN Large Hadron Collider in Geneva.
  • 1.000 Swiss francs: “Communicative flair”, showcased by the number of languages spoken by Swiss cantons and in political debates in the Swiss Federal Assembly in Bern.

Frequently asked questions about Schweizer Franken

Swiss francs (Schweizer Franken) have a reputation for being highly stable and valuable. As of 2019, they were the seventh-most traded and transferred currency in the world, according to the Bank for International Settlements.

Why are they called Swiss francs?

The franc was first introduced to Switzerland by Napoleon’s Helvetic Republic. The currency was adopted in 1798 as Switzerland’s first centralised form of money. France had established the franc as its national currency three years earlier, and with the language similarities between a large part of Switzerland and their new conquerors, the franc was adopted for simplicity.

Why is the Swiss franc's designation CHF?

The official designation for the Swiss franc is “CHF”. This is because of the official Latin name of Switzerland: Confoederatio Helvetica. Therefore, the official designation of CHF means Confoederatio Helvetica Franc.

Why doesn’t Switzerland use the euro?

Switzerland is not part of the European Union, and therefore cannot be part of the Eurozone. Despite this, the euro can be found in circulation throughout Switzerland, especially in border communities and airports.

How much is the Swiss franc (CHF) worth? (Swiss franc to euro (EUR) , US dollars (USD) to Swiss francs, Indian rupee (INR) to Swiss franc)

Throughout the past 10 years, the Swiss franc has maintained its status as a strong currency. The franc usually finds itself valued at between 0,98 to 1,20 USD to CHF, 1,07 to 0,94 EUR to CHF and around 66 to 95 INR to CHF.

Exchanging old Swiss banknotes?

Outdate Swiss banknotes that were issued after 1976 can be exchanged for regular currency at the Swiss National Bank. The notes can be exchanged 1:1 with modern currency. To find out where you can exchange these notes, check out the official instruction sheet from the Swiss National Bank.

Read also