Interview with Jürg Richter about the SSV silver coin
On 2 June 2023, Swissmint launched a new special coin: the SSV silver coin. We asked Jürg Richter, an internationally renowned expert on Swiss shooting talers and medals, five questions about Switzerland and its Schützentaler.
Switzerland and its shooters have a very special relationship. Could you tell us more about this and explain what part coins play in it all?
The tradition of shooters and shooting clubs (Schützenvereine) goes back a long way. The first free shooting contest, in Zurich, took place over 500 years ago in 1504. This tradition has had a formative influence on Switzerland, symbolising the country’s defensive capability, cohesion and willingness to defend itself against foreign armies. It is still very much alive today. The Schützenvereine and the refresher courses for armed forces recruits after completion of their basic military training are just two examples of this.
Schützenvereine were given a high level of responsibility. They ensured that Swiss shooters were able to practise using their weapons and remained proficient at marksmanship. Even from today’s perspective, it’s easy to see how the shooting exercises took on a competitive and sporting character. For a long time, the shooting festivals and events were more than just sporting challenges. As well as shooters from Switzerland and abroad, they attracted a host of VIPs, and gave ordinary citizens the chance to rub shoulders with government officials.
In the early days of the shooting festivals, issuing commemorative medals or tokens was not yet common practice. From 1842, elaborately designed Schützentaler (shooting talers) were minted. These also had a monetary character. The medals were both awarded as prizes and sold by the manufacturers from their stands at the festivals. They quickly became popular as collectibles.
“I would even venture to suggest that these coins will be bought by people with no previous interest in coin collecting.”
In your publications, you emphasise the role of the federal shooting festivals and the Swiss Shooting Association as a cradle for the Swiss federal state founded in 1848. Hasn’t that role been rather forgotten these days?
It certainly has. The Swiss Shooting Association was founded at a time of strong foreign influence and domestic strife, when the urban and rural population were craving a new galvanising force. With the federal shooting festivals, this new, unified energy emerged. The Switzerland-wide spirit they embodied transcended federalist and extreme clerical attitudes.
No surprise, then, that Schützenvereine were very popular even before the establishment of the Swiss federal state. The first federal shooting festival was held in Aarau in 1824, and in the years that followed, these festivals and the shooting clubs came to play an important role in society. These major national events were also, to some extent, a cradle for the creation of the federal state in 1848. In that year, the armed citizen became a constitutive element of this new state, and the shooting clubs seem to have been the logical choice for taking on the task of organising compulsory shooting practice for every Swiss soldier.
What are Schützentaler and what is their significance for Switzerland and for numismatists both here and abroad?
Schützentaler are popular as collector’s items far beyond Swiss borders. Between 30 % and 40 % of collectors are based in Switzerland, 20 % in Asia, another 20 % in the United States, and the rest in other countries around the world.
This enthusiasm for Swiss shooting talers is undoubtedly due to the high level of minting craftsmanship and the depictions of weapons, warriors and heraldic as well as allegorical symbols on both sides of the coins. Schützentaler are – and will remain – emblematic of Switzerland’s self-image of “armed neutrality”.
Collectors are also fascinated by the way the Swiss identify with shooters, shooting clubs and the shooting talers. Of course, defence capability and the fascination with weapons as a means of maintaining patriotic independence are key factors too.
Schützentaler are – and will remain – emblematic of Switzerland’s self-image of “armed neutrality”.
About Jürg Richter
Jürg Richter is a passionate numismatist. Born in 1963, he began collecting Swiss coins as a child, trained as a numismatist at the Swiss Credit Institution and UBS, and worked as a specialist in gold and silver coinage and as a counterfeiting expert in Swiss coins and banknotes. He has been the managing director of SINCONA AG since 2011 and is the author of many publications including “Die Schützentaler und Schützenmedaillen der Schweiz”.
Text: Gerald Barth, Augenweide, Photo: Jürg Richter, SINCONA AG