World Coins

Swiss shooting medals star in SINCONA auction

The Swiss have a longstanding legacy of peaceful neutrality, but the nation also has a history of sport shooting and target practice.

Modern Swiss marksmanship often plays off the 15th century legend of William Tell, a tale set in the early 1300s of a Swiss hunter and patriot skilled enough to shoot an apple off the head of his son. 

The nation’s shooting legacy has a rich numismatic component in the form of medals issued as prizes and in celebration of local, regional and national shooting festivals.

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Swiss International Coin Auctions, popularly called SINCONA Ag., offers more than 3,000 lots of medals and memorabilia related to this topic in the firm’s 40th auction. 

The William Tell Collection sale is scheduled for May 18 in Zurich.

Shooting festivals 

The first shooting festival known in Switzerland was held in 1504, while the modern era of shooting festivals began in 1824 in Aarau, according to Jurg Richter, the auction house’s managing director (and author of Die schutzentaler und schutzenmedaill?en der Schweiz.)

The first national shooting festival medals were issued for the Confederation festival held in Fribourg in 1829. The peak of cantonal and national (confederation) shooting festivals came in the second half of the 1800s, but the events continue into modern times and still feature a commemorative component.

The auction house is offering what it calls “one of the largest private collections of shooting medals” and memorabilia. The collection was built across 50 years, and the firm believes that the catalog “will become a reference work for many years for collectors of shooting medals.”

Many medals were issued both with and without loops, and on others, loops were sometimes removed or added depending on a recipient’s or buyer’s choice.

Medals have served as awards for the victors in the shooting contests, and dozens of examples in the auction are inscribed to winners. Other examples were available for sale during the festival.

Multiple metals were used for the shooting festival medals, with bronze, silver and gold the most frequently encountered. However, some medals were struck in aluminum and perhaps other metals.

The shooting festival medals are generally round, but some rectangular issues are also known. The medals reflect changing artistic aesthetics in two centuries of issue. Many of the sale’s medals are available for a few hundred dollars or less, with starting bids on many lots at about $50 or less.

Early shooting medals

One of the earlier medals in the collection offered in the auction comes from Cevio, in the canton of Ticino.

The 1847 silver medal features a hand-engraved obverse and a charming reverse with an allegorical figure (likely William Tell) and a legend referencing the carabinieri, a type of gun.

The example in the SINCONA auction includes the original loop. The auction house classifies the medal as Extremely Fine to Uncirculated, and offers it with a starting bid of 1,000 Swiss francs (about $1,009 U.S.).

Another early medal is the highlight of the auction, the pinnacle of the collection.

This rare 1865 gold 5-franken piece from Schaffhausen is one of two examples known and was issued for the federal festival.&

The regional coat of arms graces the obverse, while Helvetia (the female personification of Switzerland) corrals the son of William Tell, who holds the legendary arrow-pierced apple.

The 31.44-gram medal is in About Uncirculated condition, according to the auction house.

The medal has an opening bid of 100,000 Swiss francs ($100,918 U.S.).

A gun club

A rectangular medal from 1902, issued in Geneva, features a nontraditional use of a gun.

The medal celebrates a wall-scaling reenactment, held in honor of when Swiss forces defeated a surprise attack by troops representing Charles Emmanuel I, Duke of Savoy. The sneak attack occurred on the night of Dec. 11 and 12, 1602, and a society, the Compagnie de 1602, sprung up centuries later to honor the event.

The 1902 medal marks the 300th anniversary of the attack, and shows a combatant wielding an arquebus (type of gun), not in a display of marksmanship, but swinging it like a baseball bat or hockey stick to attack an opponent. 

The medal is Extremely Fine to Uncirculated, the firm said, and has an opening bid of 250 francs ($252).

Bronze standouts

Bronze medals from the first three decades of the 20th century are intriguing.

Bronze examples are usually the most common, while precious metal versions command larger sums because they (generally) had a higher cost, in line with their intrinsic value.

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A bronze medal from Küssnacht, a village in the canton of Schwyz, marking the 1902 cantonal shooting festival, therefore, is an anomaly.

Only 10 examples of this medal are known in bronze and the auction features two examples.

Both are Uncirculated, and both have starting bids of 300 francs ($303), twice the opening bid for two silver medals from the same event.

A 1927 bronze medal from Brugg in the canton of Aargau is a reminder of the long legacy of shooting in Switzerland. The medal marks the 400th anniversary of the regional shooting organization with the dual dates 1527–1927 on the obverse.

The Uncirculated medal opens at 50 francs ($50.43).

American connection

An issue of Switzerland’s shooting festival medals in modern times celebrated an American connection.

Medals commemorating the 2003 cantonal festival in Liestal, Basel, depict Gen. John August Sutter, a Swiss man born in 1803 who made a name for himself in America.

Sutter owned the mill that took his name, and the discovery of a gold nugget at that mill triggered the California Gold Rush.

A gold miner pans for the elusive metal on the obverse of the medals (which were struck in both silver and gold). Sutter graces the reverse of the medals.

The dual dates commemorate the 200th anniversary of Sutter’s birth.

The gold medal, with a mintage of 150 pieces, was struck in Proof. An example has an opening bid of 500 francs ($504.43).

Access the auction catalog through here.

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