A Solothurn kreuzer from 1573. Photo: Swiss National Museum

Scrooge McDuck and Switzerland

The kreuzer was used in Switzerland for almost 400 years. The coin was official currency in many parts of Switzerland until 1850.

When the conversation turns to kreuzer, most Swiss people will automatically think of Scrooge McDuck. Donald Duck’s rich uncle is known for his greed and he saved up every dime (or kreuzer in the German language version) anyone could ever save. Kreuzers do not only have a role in the world of Walt Disney’s cartoons, they could also be found throughout Switzerland.

For almost 400 years, kreuzers were probably the most important small coins being circulated every day in Switzerland. It was not only a method of payment, but was also used to measure the value of other coins. Kreuzers began to be minted in Switzerland in 1425 and were in circulation until 1850. The kreuzer originally came from Tyrol and soon spread far and wide in Austria and abroad, and Switzerland was no exception. The coin was produced by numerous Swiss mints in the 15th century.

Minting agreement secures trade

In the second half of the 16th century, a new type of kreuzer emerged in Switzerland. In the west of Switzerland, the cantons of Bern, Fribourg and Solothurn had always followed the method of minting coins used in Savoy and France. Nevertheless, they did not mint their coins with a standard ratio of metals and produced different types of coins. This made trading extremely difficult. To improve the situation, the three cantons concluded a minting agreement in 1560 and pledged to use the same weight and type of precious metals to make coins in future. The most important coin to be produced after this agreement was the kreuzer with the coat of arms of the person or authority responsible for the mintage on the face of the coin and a simple cross on the back.

Kreuzers were also minted in Valais from around 1570. However, they were too low in silver and too light compared to the kreuzer made by the allies. For this reason, in Western Switzerland, the kreuzers minted in Valais were valued at five rather than four pieces per batzen, which was another kind of coin at the time. The batzen was first minted in Bern at the end of the 15th century and spread throughout the old Swiss Confederation and parts of Southern Germany. It remained in circulation until 1850.

The minting agreement was renewed in 1592 and, along with Bern, Fribourg and Solothurn, the Principality of Neuchâtel, the City of Geneva and the Diocese of Sion now also signed. It was agreed that coins would be minted with the same ratio of metals, which mainly applied to the kreuzer in this agreement. The standardisation only lasted for a short time, however. The beginning of the 17th century saw a clear deterioration in the coins everywhere. Everyone went back to minting the coins however they wanted and the silver content decreased with each new mintage until it hit an all-time low during the Thirty Years' War in 1622. The kreuzer became steadily less significant until 1850, when it was replaced by the rappen.

A Bishop Hildebrand I von Riedmatten (1565 - 1604) kreuzer from the Diocese of Sion; 1583. Photos: Swiss National Museum

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Swiss National Museum
Three museums – the National Museum Zurich, the Castle of Prangins and the Forum of Swiss History Schwyz – as well as the collections centre in Affoltern am Albis – are united under the umbrella of the Swiss National Museum (SNM). The permanent exhibitions at the museums present Swiss history from its beginnings to the present, and give an insight into Swiss identities and the rich tapestry of our country’s history and culture. Temporary exhibitions on current topics add to the experience.

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