Second of three Swiss steamboat coins shows off the classic lines of La Suisse in Lake Geneva

Following on from last years debut in their three-issue set of Swiss Steamboats silver coins, the Swiss Mint is launching the second of the trilogy. Also designed by Ueli Colombi, the Swiss marine artist responsible for Steamboat Uri in 2017, Steamboat La Suisse is another look at a rare classic ship in this landlocked country. While Uri plys her trade on Lake Lucerne, La Suisse sails serenely on Lake Geneva.

A nice design on offer, with a good view of the vessel that is perfectly proportioned and showing great perspective. Ships are one of those things easy to get wrong unless in plan or elevation view, but Colombi has done an impressive job. The engine schematic in the background is a nice touch and helps to fill a bit of negative space, much like the operator emblem on the first issue. The obverse is the standard Swiss Mint one – very clean, but simple and unimaginative.

Struck in 20 grams of 0.835 fineness silver, an unusual sight these days, it is struck in a choice of two finishes. The proof finish is the premier one and sells for 60CHF. This one has a mintage of 5,000 and sells for 60 CHF, although a limited number (250) signed by the artist were available for an extra 10 CHF. The proof is boxed, but the 30 CHF uncirculated isn’t. A much larger mintage of 30,000 marks this out as the popular choice, and 29,000 of them are supplied encapsulated only, but the other 1,000 are presented in a themed folder packed with backstory to the ship. The extra 10 CHF for the folder seems a little high, but I guess it’s good there’s a choice. The uncirculated is certainly good value compared to the proof, but the collector will probably want the proof. All are available to purchase now.

The steamboat, La Suisse

When the ship was commissioned by the Sulzer brothers in 1908, the Belle Époque euphoria in Switzerland had just peaked. The “La Suisse” paddle-wheel steamship was to become the largest and most elegant of all Swiss steamships. It has capacity for 850 passengers, is 78.5 metres long and 15.9 metres wide and is powered by a sloping 1400 hp (1030 kW) two-cylinder hot steam composite engine from Sulzer.

The steamboat, which had already received an award as a cultural monument of national importance, was also declared to be an historical monument by the canton of Vaud in 2011.

Over the years, the steamboat has undergone a number of technical and structural changes: in 1960, a switch occurred from heating with coal to heavy fuel oil and changes were made to the curved decks on the main and upper decks. In 1971, a new, cost-saving large boiler was installed, as well as a new wheelhouse and a new side entrance to the saloon; unfortunately, both are not as successful from an aesthetic point of view. In 1999, heating operation was changed from heavy fuel oil to light oil. In 2003, the electrical infrastructure was partially refurbished. “La Suisse” was extensively renovated between 2007 and 2009. Since then, it has been navigating the “Haut-lac” part of Lake Geneva from Vevey to Thonon.

The designer, Ueli Colombi

Marine artist Ueli Colombi was born in Thun in 1940. Even as a schoolboy he was fascinated by ships and spent every minute of his free time on or near the water. After training to be a sailor with Schweiz. Reederei AG in Basel, the son of well-known Thun architect Livio Colombi completed an apprenticeship as a draughtsman and then took a degree course at the technical university to become an architect. In the intervening time he kept returning to water.

After his degree, Colombi worked in Vancouver (Canada) for several years as an architect, then returned to Switzerland to continue in the same profession. It is no surprise that his projects included the restoration of steamboats, for example the “Blümlisalp”. At some point, he began to create stone lithographs of Swiss steamboats, before moving on to acrylic paintings. His subjects are people and ships, and he has been a full-time artist since 2005.

COMPOSITION 0.835 silver
WEIGHT 20.0 grams
FINISH Proof (or uncirculated)
MINTAGE 5,000 (30,000 unc)
BOX / COA Yes / Yes (proof)