World Coins

Swiss Army Knife subject of new silver €20 coins

Switzerland’s newest commemorative coin celebrates the nation’s famous export, the Swiss Army Knife.

Coin images courtesy of SwissMint.

A famous Swiss export, almost as well known as the nation’s chocolates, is the subject of a 2018 commemorative coin from Swissmint. 

The silver 20-franc coin celebrates the Swiss Army Knife, and more specifically its creator, Karl Elsener. Both Uncirculated and Proof versions are available, with the same design.

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The coins were released on Sept. 10, the 100th anniversary of Elsener’s death. 

In the 19th century, Switzerland was one of the poorest states in Europe and high unemployment forced many Swiss to emigrate. The creation of jobs was therefore greeted with open arms. With this in mind, Elsener (born in the canton of Schwyz in 1860) founded a cutlery workshop in Ibach in 1884. His idea was to manufacture soldiers’ knives in Switzerland that had previously been made in Germany. 

However, his single business was too small to obtain orders from the army. For this reason, in 1891 he founded the Swiss cutlers’ association, aiming to unite with other cutlers in Switzerland to manufacture the army’s knives. The first delivery was made the same year. The knife pioneer probably never then dreamed that his business would become a world-famous company, but by the time of his death in 1918, it was well on its way.

Developing an alternative

The soldier’s knife was very robust but also relatively heavy. So Elsener developed a lighter and more elegant knife with even more functions. 

He called this pocket knife model the “Officer’s and Sports Knife” and had it legally protected in 1897. However, unlike the soldier’s knife, this Officer’s Knife did not become official army equipment, but that did not affect its success. The “Swiss Army Knife,” as the Officer’s Knife was later called for export, became famous because of World War II. Victorinox AG, the company that makes the knife, is now run by the fourth generation of the Elsener family.

The term “Swiss Army Knife” was coined by American soldiers due to their difficulty in pronouncing “Offiziersmesser,” the German word for “officer’s knife.”

The Swiss Army knife generally has a main spearpoint blade, as well as various tools, such as screwdrivers, a can opener, and many others. These attachments are stowed inside the handle of the knife through a pivot point mechanism. The handle is usually in a stereotypical red color, and features a Victorinox, or Wenger, “cross” logo or, for Swiss military issue knives, the coat of arms of Switzerland.

The silver 20-franc coin was designed by Nadja Baltensweiler. 

The obverse shows the knife, its implements on display, against a background of a traditional Swiss mountain scene. 

The reverse carries the denomination, year of issue and Swiss cross symbol.

The coin is composed of .835 fine silver, weighs 20 grams and measures 33 millimeters in diameter.

The Proof version has a mintage limit of 5,000 pieces, and the Uncirculated version has a mintage of 30,000 pieces. 

The Uncirculated version retails for €30 from Swissmint, and the Proof version is priced at €60. 

To order the coin, visit the Swissmint website.  

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