The Swiss Mint has launched two new coins, one in gold and one in silver, and as this isn’t a hugely prolific mint, it seems an opportune time to catch up with their ouput from the first half of this year. The coins all follow a single format for silver and a single format for gold, so it all comes down to the coin subject and artwork.

Gold coins come but once a year. 2014 saw a release commemorating a century of Swiss National Parks, while 2015 featured an altogether more impressive landmark, celebrating a huge 2,000 years since the forming of Aventicum, the capital of the Helvetii tribe that helped give the Swiss their national identity. This year the subject matter is an extremely impressive engineering achievement that is literally just about to be opened, so no looking back to the past this time. The Gotthard Base Tunnel through the Alps is to be the world’s longest tunnel at a fantastic 57km (35 miles) in length. Despite the length and the technical challenges, the tunnel was completed in just 17 years. Opening in just two days time, the Swiss are rightly proud of this and have launched a gold coin that depicts the opening at the northern end. Struck in 11g of 90% pure gold, the design by Fredi Trumpi is modern and clean, going for a stylistic vision of the entrance rather than a realistic one to fine effect.

Also by Trumpi, the southern end of the tunnel is depicted in the years first silver coin and is clearly in the same style. Marc Roulin designed the mints 150 Years of the Swiss Red Cross coin and it’s a clever piece, distilling down all the elements of this humanitarian organisation into a potent depiction – very clever. The third silver coin, just launched, was designed by Italian-born engraver, Remo Mascherini, and celebrates the Swiss love of wind (the music, not the Blazing Saddles campfire kind….). Brass Bands are very popular in Switzerland, and the coins depiction of a wind instrument (at this point I’m doubly pleased it’s the music kind!!) over a string of musical notation gets the message across with exceptional clarity.

All the silver coins are produced in an unusual 0.835 fineness that, while it has been used in many European countries in the past,  has largely been moved away from in recent years. There are 30,000 of each struck in an uncirculated quality, and a further 5,000 struck in proof with a presentation box. We’d not normally see the point in commemorative coins in the former finish, but the quality is high and the prices low. The difference in cost is quite hefty indeed, just 25CHF (£17, $25, €23) for the uncirculated compared to 55CHF (£28, $55, €50) for the proof, so if the design is more important than the outright collectability, it’s a great way to get the coin at a huge saving, especially so as both are identical in composition. All are available to buy from the Swiss Mint coin shop (blue button link below).

Gotthard Base Tunnel – the core of the new flat route though the Alps

Located in the centre of Europe, Switzerland has always been an important hub in European goods and passenger transport. When the Schöllenenschlucht gorge was made crossable in the 13th century, so began the transformation of the Gotthard axis into one of the most important transport links over the Alps.

What was initially a mule path of gravel and stone slabs had become the first reasonably navigable transport route over the Gotthard pass by the start of the 19th century. In those days, it took over 48 hours to travel from Zurich to Lugano in the stagecoach. The same journey had been reduced to just eight
hours with the opening of the Gotthard summit tunnel in 1882. Thanks to technological developments and higher speeds, the journey along the same route has been further shortened over the years to 2 ¾ hours today.

The opening of the Gotthard Base Tunnel will bring yet another improvement. As soon as the access roads are extended from 2020 and the Ceneri base tunnel is put into operation, the passenger’s journey from Zurich to Lugano will take a mere two hours. Goods traffic will benefit in particular from the new route through the Alps. Its design as a flat route means that higher speeds can be achieved and long and heavy goods trains can be used without requiring additional locomotive engines. The annual freight capacity can thus be increased from 20 million to about 50 million tonnes, which makes rail a competitive alternative for trans-Alpine goods transport.

The Gotthard mountain range has always played a special role in the lives of people on both sides of the Alps. For centuries, muleteers transported all sorts of goods over the Gotthard Pass on their mules. Despite major risks, this was a very busy road as it was the shortest connection over the Alps. The advent of the railway and the building of the first Gotthard Tunnel brought about radical change. The mountain pass was stripped of its previous importance overnight by the capacity of the rail link which opened in 1882. The road tunnel which opened in 1980 revolutionised the transalpine traffic once more, this time to the detriment of the railway line. This year, a new chapter is being written in the Gotthard’s long transport history. After a record-breaking construction period of just 17 years, the construction experts and engineers are set to complete the 57 km Gotthard Base Tunnel on time. The official opening ceremony of the world’s longest tunnel will be held at both tunnel portals on 1 June 2016.

The new 20-franc silver coin shows the tunnel’s north portal in Erstfeld. It is available in the qualities ‘uncirculated’ and ‘proof’ in a presentation case. The new 50-franc gold coin shows the tunnel’s south portal.

Switzerland, a land of wind music

All over the country, there is hardly a large festival where a wind band does not ensure a lively atmosphere. These bands enrich village and town life with their performances and contribute considerably to a sense of community among the local population. Switzerland has a well-deserved reputation as a country of wind music. Almost every village and town has at least one wind band. Unlike other countries, where civil wind bands copy the ensemble of military bands, what is most commonly found in Switzerland is Harmonie music (with woodwind and brass instruments) as well as pure brass ensembles, mixed brass ensembles (brass and saxophone instruments; Metallharmonie) and brass bands in the English style.

The first civil wind societies were founded as early as the late 18th and early 19th centuries in the style of a military corps. Some of these organised a music festival in Zofingen in 1862, which led to the founding of the “Federal Wind Band Federation”. By 1865, the federation had 14 societies. Nowadays, the Swiss Wind Band Association, as the umbrella organisation, has over 2,000 societies of various sizes, organised in one of the seven national and 24 regional or cantonal associations. Overall, these associations represent some 80,000 musicians, i.e. young or young-at-heart musicians, directors and youth band members. In addition, there are also many other ensembles such as wind orchestras, brass bands, big bands or “Guggen” musicians, who do not belong to any association.

150th Anniversary of the Swiss Red Cross

On 17 July 1866, General Henri Dufour, Federal Councillor Jakob Dubs and other prominent figures met in Bern with the goal of founding the Swiss Red Cross (SRC). This new organisation was initially called the “Aid organisation for Swiss soldiers and their families” and reflected the organisation’s purpose at that time of supporting the Armed Forces medical services in times of war through voluntary workers. This was also one of Henry Dunant’s basic ideas, who aimed to set up national associations in all countries that would prepare themselves in peacetime for caring for injured soldiers.

The SRC’s service during both world wars consolidated the aid organisation’s position and enhanced its reputation at both national and international level. After World War II, its focus shifted increasingly from military to civilian aid. In addition to training first-aid assistants for the Armed Forces, it is now engaged in many other activities which include the training of professionals for civilian nursing, assistance for the socially disadvantaged, nursing and care in the home, first aid training and ambulance support, blood transfusion service, air and water rescue services, emergency response, and support for refugees and asylum seekers. With 500,000 members and 72,000 volunteers, which accounts for almost one percent of the population, the Swiss Red Cross is currently Switzerland’s largest humanitarian organisation.

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SPECIFICATION

DENOMINATION COMPOSITION WEIGHT DIAMETER FINISH MINTAGE BOX / COA
50 SWISS FRANCS 0.900 GOLD 11.29 g 25.0 mm PROOF 4,500 YES / YES
20 SWISS FRANCS 0.835 SILVER 20.0 g 33.0 mm PROOF 5,000 (+ 30,000 Unc) YES / YES
THE SWISS MINT