Prior to the coinage reform, the monetary situation in Switzerland was chaotic to say the least,
with 80 % of circulating coins being foreign. These entered the country via mercenary services and through the Alpine transit. “Only” the remaining 20 % were domestic coinage, made up of more than 860 types of coin with at least 8,000 different designs. In an effort to bring order to this chaos, the Federal Diet made repeated attempts to standardise the monetary system, but to no avail.
In retrospect, the term “chaos” seems almost an understatement. Prior to the coinage reform, Switzerland had a bewildering variety of coin types. Identifying counterfeit or bad coins was virtually impossible, and conversion involved consulting books of tables and instructions.
The Swiss franc was the currency of the Helvetic Republic, established following the collapse of the Old Swiss Confederacy after the invasion by French troops in 1793. The franc was divided into 10 batzen or 100 centimes. This was the first decimal currency system in the history of Switzerland. However, this attempt at reform failed and so monetary chaos persisted, with yet another type of coin added to the plethora already in existence. After the collapse of the Helvetic Republic in 1803, the prerogative of coinage returned to the cantons, which unsurprisingly did nothing to simplify the situation.