They’re back, and it certainly isn’t a good thing. Counterfeit 5-franc coins valued at an exchange rate of about $5 U.S. have been detected in increasing numbers throughout the past two years.
Switzerland’s 5-franc coin is one of the highest value circulating coins in the world. The coin circulates alongside a 1,000-franc bank note, one of the highest denomination bank notes in use anywhere. The results aren’t surprising – both are the target of counterfeiters.
Counterfeit 5-franc coins aren’t anything new, but nevertheless they are annoying as well as a threat to the Swiss economy.
Between 1985 and 1993 the coin had an incused rather than raised lettered edge. There were so many counterfeits of these coins that they were removed from circulation on Jan. 1, 2004, alongside some 10- and 20-centime coin dates, all declared to be demonetized due to having been heavily counterfeited.
The situation is not as dire this time, but it is still being watched closely by the Swiss National Bank. According to bank statistics, about 14,000 fake 5-franc coins were detected and removed from circulation during 2014. During 2015 the number fell to about 7,600 fakes. This compares to an average of about 1,000 bogus coins detected annually in each of several years prior to this time.
This is about one coin in a thousand or a tenth of one percent that are bad. Great Britain is busy redesigning its £1 coins because of counterfeits that equate to about 2.6 percent of all coins of that denomination in circulation. At the time this article was being written, Switzerland was not planning on demonetizing, redesigning or withdrawing any of its coins.
According to Swissmint Managing Director Marius Haldimann, “Of course the crooks look where they can make the most money. Most fakes come from Italy. Given the material costs, you really need organized crime to produce them.”
It is known that a small car loaded with about 5,000 fake 5-franc coins was recently stopped at the border between Switzerland and Italy.
Some of the recently detected fakes are easy to spot, while others are not.
“Even the man on the street can tell something is amiss,” said Haldimann as he dropped a counterfeit on a table.
The coin made a tin-like sound. Switzerland uses a better quality metal alloy that is coupled with high quality workmanship as well as design security features the mint doesn’t usually discuss.
The coinage press at the mint facility in Berne can produce 50,000 5-franc coins daily. According to a March 4 Bloomberg Business report, the coins are struck with pressure equal to the weight of a 220 Volkswagen Golf.
Haldimann said, “For a beer and a bratwurst in pricey Switzerland you need high denomination coins.”
Haldimann indicated there are about 5.3 billion Swiss coins with a total weight of about 17,000 metric tons in circulation. The demand for coins is increasing both through population growth and an increase in tourism. Swissmint has been increasing annual production by about a third over the past 20 years.
The diameter and weight of the 5-franc coin was reduced in 1931, the coin dropping in weight from 25 to 15 grams. Design changes have taken place in 1888, 1922, 1924 (minor changes) and in 1931 (due to the diameter reduction).
Today William Tell continues to appear on the obverse wearing a rather fashionable hoody similar to what you might expect a bank robber in the U.S. to wear. Make no mistake about it, the Swiss are not about to allow any counterfeiters to hijack this coin.