My Coin of the Month for February (Volume 2 Number 6) is an NGC graded MS-64, 1930-B 20 Francs gold coin from Switzerland (KM #35.1). Due to an array of interesting events occurring in Switzerlands history, I have found it especially difficult to write this months edition of the Coin of the Month. Therefore, I have decided to focus specifically on the coins allegorical and historical context rather than writing a narrative on Swiss history.
This Swiss 1930-B, 20 Francs gold coin was minted in Bern, Switzerland with dies engraved by the Paris Mint. It is 21.2mm in diameter and weighs 6.4516 grams with an AGW of .1867 troy ounces. The gold fineness of this coin is 90% and the mintage is 3,371,764. Minting of this series of coins began in 1897 and ran continuously through 1916. After this, minting continued off and on until finally ending in 1949.
The Swiss 20 Francs coin is also known as the Euro before the Euro. In 1865, the nations of Switzerland, France, Belgium, Italy, and later Spain and Greece joined together to form the Latin Monetary Union. The main objective of the union was to standardize the weight and fineness of gold and silver coins among member nations. This allowed the coins of each member nation to circulate freely in the other member nations. Thus, the Italian 20 Lire, the Belgian 20 Francs, the French 20 Francs, the Spanish 20 Pesetas, and the Greek 20 Drachma all had equal parity with the Swiss 20 Francs. The Latin Monetary Union dissolved in 1926, while Switzerland continued to mint the gold 20 Francs coins until 1949.
This coin known as the Vreneli or Helvetia is a major departure from the previous 20 Francs coin featuring a representation of Lady Liberty. While the personification of Vreneli also represents liberty, I think the name Vreneli captures more of the heart and soul of the Swiss people. To make my point, the name Vreneli may also represent a character named Vreneli in the story of Swiss folk hero William Tell. The name Vreneli could also be a derivative of the word Verena which is a female effigy representing the Confederation of Switzerland. The name Helvetia comes from an ancient group of Celtic people called the Helvetii and was the name given to the region by the Romans in 58 BC. Helvetia has since evolved into the female personification of Switzerland she is today. Even the name Swiss Miss is used to characterize this coin because of the apparent youthfulness of the women featured on the obverse representing the free and independent spirit of the Swiss people.
The design for this coin came by means of a contest won by Fritz Landry whose first initial and last name appear on the coins obverse. A young woman named Francoise Engli serves as the model for Vreneli.
With the Swiss Alps as a backdrop, the obverse of this coin features the bust of a young woman with plaited hair wearing a garland of edelweiss flowers around her neck. The name Helvetia appears over the top of the mountains. The reverse features a Swiss Cross on an ornate shield tied with a ribbon to an oak branch behind it. The shield and oak branch separate the value of the coin 20 with the denomination FR for Francs. The date and mintmark appear on the bottom rim of the coins reverse. The edge of this coin features 22 stars in relief.
Lending to the charm of this coin is the legend of the edelweiss flower that grows in the harsh environment of the Alps. Protected by gnomes, the beautiful ice queen with a heart as cold as her name, sings her beautiful song from high atop the Swiss Alps. Lured by her lovely voice, shepherds would climb the mountains to her abode. Upon their arrival, the ice queen toyed with their hearts until she was bored with them at which point the gnomes tossed them from the mountains unto their death. This went on for many years until the ice queen met a man she fell in love with. Unfortunately, this did not sit well with the gnomes who feared that their immortal ice queen would marry a mortal man. Filled with jealousy the gnomes conspired to toss her beloved off the mountain. Hurtling to his death in the valley below, his heart burst asunder in full view of the ice queen. Seeing this, the ice queen whose icy heart was melting, shed one tear that fell from her cheek and onto the ground turning into an edelweiss flower. Later male suitors in order to show their love would climb dangerous peaks in search of the edelweiss flower. The edelweiss flower is then a symbol of love, bravery, strength, and dedication.
In the year 1291 AD, three cantons in the heart of todays Switzerland united to form the Old Swiss Confederacy. As a comparison, cantons in Switzerland are much like states in the United States. Among the three original cantons is the Canton of Schwyz. Today the Swiss flag of a white cross against a red background is an adaptation of the coat of arms for the Canton of Schwyz. Used originally to identify soldiers from different cantons under a common banner, the flag of the Swiss Army became the flag and national identity of Switzerland after a brief civil war in 1840. Thus, the reverse of this coin featuring a Swiss Cross on an ornate shield represents the unity of the cantons. That shield tied by ribbons onto an oak branch then represents the strength and independence of the Swiss Confederation.
In 1798, the Revolutionary French Army defeated the Old Swiss Confederation. The French then established the Helvetian Republic abolishing the cantons and imposing a new centralized government. This government was very unpopular with the Swiss people because it abolished hundreds of years of tradition. This led to a compromise in 1803 and the establishing of the Swiss Confederation restoring cantonal autonomy to 19 cantons. After the final defeat of Napoleon, the Congress of Vienna in 1815 fully restored Swiss autonomy, established 22 cantons, and guaranteed Swiss neutrality. Eventually this loose confederation of cantons gave way in 1848 to a new federal Constitution modeled after the United States Constitution. Many of the principles of this constitution have been in force ever since. Thus, while US coins displaying 13 stars represents the 13 original colonies, the 22 stars in raised relief on the edge of this coin represents the 22 cantons of the 1815 Swiss Confederation.
This coin is one of the most popular gold coins in Europe and proudly resides in my Inspirational Ladies Custom Set. I hope that you have enjoyed reading this months edition of the Coin of the Month, so until next month, happy collecting!
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