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Swiss Shooting Thalers (pronounced as if the “t” in “taller” were replaced with “th”) are commemorative coins issued by the 26 cantons, or member states, of Switzerland. They pay tribute to the shooting festivals or “Schützenfest,” that take place regularly in Switzerland. These Shooting Thalers are very popular with world coin collectors and are well-known for their beautiful and intricate designs depicting of marksmanship, heraldry, patriotism, and various cantonal themes.
The Thaler itself is a well-known European coin that was issued and circulated for roughly 400 years between the 15th and 19th centuries. They were issued by a number of different European countries, and their high silver content allowed them to be used heavily for trade. Additionally, Thalers strongly influenced the creation of Spanish Milled Dollars, both in use and name.
The first Shooting Thalers were issued while the Thaler was still a circulating coin. Despite this, Shooting Thalers were not intended for circulation and were allegedly used as a “bullseyes” for early shooting festivals. Although other countries, notably Germany, have also issued coins for shooting tournaments, only those issued by Switzerland are considered to be Shooting Thalers. In addition, these coins are not the same as the shooting medals that were intended for circulation.
As B.J. Searls of PCGS explained in her April 22, 2013 article on Shooting Thalers, originally the “free shoots” tournaments were used to raise money for the widows and orphans of fallen soldiers who died in defense of their country. Today,Schützenfest has become home to the largest rifle shooting competition in the world, drawing 200,000-300,000 people each year!
Their purpose is not entirely recreational, however. Switzerland does not have an army and instead depends on its own citizens for national defense and carrying arms is fervently supported in the country. Shooting festivals are especially popular in Switzerland and Germany, which both have a long tradition of widespread gun ownership but low gun death rates.
MCM’s in-house world coin expert, Hayden Tubbs, said that he has been interested in these coins for a long time and enjoys collecting them. He noted that he has seen steady interest in Shooting Thalers over the years and that prices on eBay have increased substantially from where they were a few years ago.
Earlier this year, he was fortunate enough to obtain some of these Swiss coins for an MCM promotion, and those issues sold very quickly. Some of them even sold out the day they went on sale! Just six of the Shooting Thalers from that group are currently available.
Collectors will be interested to know that there are two separate periods for the Shooting Thaler commemorative coin series:
The first is from 1842 to 1939, and those coins are mostly very rare and hard to obtain. Individual coins can cost $1,500 or more, though MCM currently carries a 1883 5 Francs Silver Shooting Thaler for under $300. Hayden explained that there “is a small but serious group of collectors for the early issues” and pointed out that an 1859 issue graded Mint State 67 by the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) sold in a Heritage auctions earlier this year for $5,000. You can purchase a lower grade version of this 1859 5 Francs Silver Shooting Thaler for under $900!
This older group was issued in the same size and metal content as their circulating counterparts, and in some rare cases, some of them did circulate. All of these early issues are business strike coins that exist today in various states of preservation. This group consists of 22 coins, including a silver 40 Batz, a silver 4 Francs, 17 different silver 5 Francs, one silver 10 Francs, and two gold 100 Franc coins. This first series ended in 1939 with the outbreak of World War II.
The second period consists of silver and gold proof coins issued since 1984. These Shooting Thalers have some great designs that typically feature images of Helvetia, the Swiss version of Lady Liberty who represents Switzerland and its finest ideals, on the reverse. The modern silver issues have a diameter of 37mm, a weight of 25g, and are made of 90% silver.
The silver coins are almost all denominated 50 Francs, while the gold coins were 1,000 Francs until 1994, and have been 500 Franc coins since then. It was due to the efforts of deceased California coin dealer Richard Nelson in the early 1980s that the Shooting Thaler program was revived in 1984 and continues to this day.
Mintages for recent issues have been much lower than they were in the 1980s and 1990s. The lowest mintage for silver was the 2013 silver coin with only 1,000 issues. The gold coins are much lower - 1997, 1998, and 1999 all had mintages under 100 coins each!
Completing a set of the 29 silver proofs issued since 1984 is a do-able, though challenging, goal. PCGS and NGC both have registry sets for that group of coins. Some of these issues have very low populations of Proof 70 examples, as Hayden noted. Because of their popularity, great designs, and low mintages, modern Shooting Thalers have a solid track record of performance in the numismatic marketplace.
Unlike other modern world coin series that started off with a lot of interest, but then saw a decrease in popularity after many different coins were issued, modern Shooting Thaler coins have remained a two-coin per year series. Additionally, mintages have been kept very low, which has helped sustain interest.
Hayden also notes that with all the interest for these coins within Switzerland, relatively few of these coins will make it to the U.S. market. When those factors are coupled with the “small but serious collector base,” he mentioned, there is clearly a bright future for the Shooting Thaler series.
Hayden was recently able to track down another nice group of these pieces from various international sources. This group includes a few of the early issues as well as a nice assortment of modern issues. If you want to try your own hand in collecting these impressive Swiss Shooting Thalers, now is the time to start!
||Louis is an award-winning numismatic journalist and writer specializing on modern coins. He has been writing a weekly column for CoinWeek since May 2011 called “The Coin Analyst,” which focuses primarily on modern U.S. and world coins and developments at major world mints. In August 2015 he received the Numismatic Literary Guild’s award for Best Website Column for “The Coin Analyst.” He is also a contributor to several magazines, including Coin World, where he writes a bimonthly feature;The Numismatist, the American Numismatic Association’s monthly publication, where he writes a monthly column on modern world coins; and American Hard Assets. He began writing about coins in 2009. He is a founding member of the Modern Coin Forum hosted by ModernCoinMart and has written articles for MCM since 2014. He has collected classic and modern U.S. and world coins since he was about 10 and first joined the ANA in the 1970’s. He was previously a congressional relations specialist and policy analyst at the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress and a syndicated columnist and news analyst on international politics and national security for a wide variety of publications. He has been writing professionally since the early 1980s.|