Designed by the Zurich sculptor Paul Burkhard in 1922, the Swiss five-franc coin celebrates its centenary this year. It makes reference in several aspects to biblical messages, perhaps recalling that money serves above all to lack nothing.
The shepherd on the reverse of the Swiss coin. [Gaëtan Bally – Keystone]Still very present in daily life in Switzerland, the five-franc coin holds a very special place in purses. Imposing, it is the only one on which Helvetia does not (or no longer) appear. It is decorated on the obverse with the famous Alpine shepherd, the head turned to the left.
It is not the rest of William Tell, despite a certain resemblance. The error, frequent, is forgivable because the hero of the Swiss myth (that of the statue of Kissling in Altdorf) appeared in 1914 on the note of five francs. In 1922, Paul Burkhard’s hooded alpine shepherd replaced the half-naked Helvetia figure.
On the reverse of this 31.45 millimeter diameter coin weighing 13.2 grams of cupro-nickel (alloy composed of 75% copper and 25% nickel) are edelweiss and other Alpine flowers.
The idea of divine provision
And on the edge is the motto in Latin: “Dominus Providebit” (The Lord will provide). It is taken from the Old Testament and the Bible would have nearly 170 references to this idea of divine provision.
Paul Burkhard’s alpine shepherd also recalls the Bible and its Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd! I shall not lack anything”.
The message could be that the money is there for food or protection, but not for shameful enrichment or speculation. Money also takes its name from alms in slang.
And we should perhaps see, in the omnipresence of God on the five-franc coin, the responsibility conferred on the person who holds the money.
An “anti-fraud” inscription
The inscription “Dominus Providebit” already appeared on the edges of Bernese coins in the 18th century.
It then also fulfilled a practical function: to prevent the scratching of these coins, which were then in silver, to enrich themselves fraudulently. When the letters were clearly legible, it proved that the part was intact.
Radical loss of value in a hundred years
In 1922, the Swiss population could buy six kilos of white flour or 14 liters of milk with five francs. Today, this amount only allows us to afford two kilos of flour or two and a half liters of milk.
But the Neue Zürcher Zeitung points out that, on the other hand, you can easily afford a Credit Suisse share with one penny. And we will even be given change.