Swiss 20 Franc
(Helvetia or Vreneli)
Grade range: Uncirculated/Brilliant Uncirculated
Minted 1897 - 1935
Actual Gold Content: .1867 troy ounce
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The Swiss 20 Franc 'Helvetia' is one of the most popular and highly sought-after pre-1933 European gold coins. At roughly one fifith of an ounce, it trades for comparable premiums to modern bullion coins of the same size, is highly recognized and liquid in international markets, and moves in direct concert with the gold price.
The Swiss 20 Franc was minted more or less continuously from 1897-1930, with a total mintage of just under twenty million pieces (see accompanying mintage chart). It was reintroduced in 1935, and the three year post-1933 mintages dwarf that of the rest of the historical (pre-1933) era.
The Swiss 20 Franc Helvetia is referred to informally as the "Vreneli" derived from "Verena" which is Switzerland's equivalent to the United States Lady Liberty. Modeled by Francoise Engli, this female visage appears on the obverse of the gold coin with the word "Helvetia" written above her head. When the Roman Empire extended northward into Gaul during the second century B.C., the Helvetii were the dominant tribe in the area, and thus Switzerland became known to the Romans as Helvetia. On the reverse is a picture of the Swiss Cross surrounded by a shield, lying on an oak branch.
Owing to its central geographic location among the great powers of Europe, Switzerland has been a commercial and banking center for centuries. It is famous for its role in the gold market where "the gnomes of Zurich" are said to hold much sway. The "gnomes" made their first splash in the gold market when they convinced South Africa that Swiss bankers would be a better market for its gold than the London variety. Russian gold business quickly followed the South African lead. Noted gold authority Timothy Green once said that, "Gold is as much a part of Switzerland as the Alps and skiing."
Many individuals in Europe and elsewhere who do not trust their own governments and financial systems trust the Swiss to handle their money. As a result, much of the world's privately held gold is stored secretly in Swiss vaults. For centuries, Swiss bankers and money men have recommended gold coins and bullion as standard portfolio inclusion.
Investor Note: Some firms offer the far more common 1935, 1947, and 1949 mintages at a lower comparative price to the earlier coinage. If your interest is to acquire items dated before 1933, be certain that you are not inadvertently buying a post-1933 item.