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Explaining the images on Swiss franc banknotes

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
Explaining the images on Swiss franc banknotes
What a pretty colour scheme. Image: SNB

Sure, you have it in your wallet, but have you ever taken a really good look at motifs portrayed on Switzerland’s paper money, and wondered what it all means?


When you think of ‘money,’ it is likely to be more in terms of how much of it you have; you probably don’t give much thought to its colour or design.

But though with its bright, eye-catching hues of yellow, red, green, blue, brown, and purple the franc may look a bit frivolous, appearances are deceiving because Switzerland’s currency is a real heavyweight on global financial markets.

But there is more to this money than meets the eye — only when you have a good look at each banknote will you understand that there is nothing even remotely haphazard about it.

Instead, a lot of thought went into the design and conception of each bill in the most recent — ninth — series, which replaced, between 2016 and 2019. the rather drab-looking banknotes of yore.

According to the Swiss National Bank (SNB), which has an enviable task of printing money, “more than 20 years have passed since the last banknote series was issued and, during this time, the world has undergone a technological quantum leap.

What is new about these banknotes?

To begin with, they moved away from the depiction of famous Swiss people (who seem to have never smiled) who ‘appeared’ in the eighth series — for example, Alberto Giacometti, one of the 20th century's most important sculptors, was featured on the 100-franc bill, while the image of abstract artist Sophie Taeuber-Arp appeared on the 50-franc note.

The image of Switzerland's hero, Roger Federer, was never depicted on any bill, however.

Each note in the new series "depicts a typically Swiss characteristic, which is then illustrated graphically using a key motif. 

While each of the six denominations — 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, and 1000-franc bills — tells its own story, some common designs are featured on all.

Photo by Claudio Schwarz on Unsplash

They are a hand in motion, representing action; and a globe, which shows “how Switzerland sees itself as part of an interconnected world," the central bank explains.

Interestingly, “in the sequence of notes from 1000 francs to 10 francs, the earth rotates once on its axis and passes through one full day."


Swiss money really does talk... least through the images it conveys.

“Together, the six banknotes reflect the diversity of our country, which is known for its organisational prowess, for its vibrant cultural scene, for the wealth of experiences it offers, as well as for its humanitarian tradition and its track record as a research hub and place of dialogue,” the SNB says.

Neatly packed 10-franc notes. Image: SNB

What exactly do those images represent?

The image on the yellow 10-franc note pays tribute to Switzerland’s rail network and longest tunnels.


The red 20-franc bill depicts the open-air international film festival that takes place each year in Locarno’s Piazza Grande.

Snow-capped mountain peaks can be seen on the green 50-franc note, while the 100-franc blue one celebrates Switzerland’s many waterways.

In a nod to Geneva’s CERN, the largest particle physics laboratory in the world, the brown 200-franc bill illustrates a particle collision.

The highest denomination, the purple 1000-franc banknote features Switzerland’s parliament and, in a larger sense, the country’s multilingualism.

You can learn more about each of Switzerland’s unique banknotes from this video. 

And even more information about Swiss francs can be found here:

READ ALSO: The seven things you should know about Swiss money


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