World Coins

Gold pattern coins from 1950s soar during May 23 Swiss auction

Switzerland has a long reputation as a safe haven for gold, with several well-known Swiss gold products available to investors.

The country made an effort in the 1950s to create a new gold currency to maintain a global gold standard, and rare examples of this effort were recently sold at auction.

The Swiss auction house Peter Rapp AG sold the Brilliant Uncirculated 1959 gold 25- and 50-franc coins together as one lot May 23 for 97,600 Swiss francs ($96,644 U.S.), including the 22 percent buyer’s fee.

“That exceeded all expectations. Because the coins were never publicly offered at an auction, we had no reference value,” said Marianne Rapp Ohmann, managing director of the auction house. “Everyone believed that these coins would not be available at the collector’s market.”

By 1959, the Swiss National Bank had minted a total of 15 million gold 25-franc coins and 6 million of the 50-franc gold coins.

These coins were created with the intent to act as a stabilizing force for the price of gold. Though other economic powers agreed on the dollar as the international key currency under the Bretton Woods system, Switzerland wanted to maintain a gold standard and therefore minted these coins.

However, by the time the coins were about to enter circulation, the value of the gold in them had risen above face value, so issuing them was no longer practical (or legal).

The Swiss National Bank melted down most of the coins between 2006 and 2008, but as the bank maintains a nominal gold holding, some may remain as part of the official Swiss gold reserves.

Few examples of the coins were distributed, likely to dignitaries, according to the firm, and this auction was the first time these coins have been available to the public.

The 25-franc coin shows Swiss revolutionary William Tell, with outstretched arm as though bidding a halt, and a crossbow, giving the design the nickname “Militant Tell.” 

Painter Ferdinand Hodler created the source design.

The Latin inscription translating to “In arms liberty and peace” and the design were rejected for being too aggressive for a neutral country such as Switzerland.

The gold 50-franc coin shows the Rütlischwur (a legendary oath taken at the foundation of the Old Swiss Confederacy), after a painting by Jean-Georges Vibert.

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