The Half Franc coin is a circulating denomination of the Swiss Franc. Given that Switzerland has four official languages, it has three different names: Franken in German, franc in French and Romansh, and franco in Italian. It is worth noting that the denomination is a "half franc" and not "50 centimes" for historic reasons, being initially modelled on a denomination of the French franc which was a "demi franc", and to distinguish it from the smaller denominations; initially, all "francs" (including the half franc) were full-bodied silver, while the centimes were either billon (low-grade silver) or base metal.
The first version of the half franc coin featuring a seated figure of Helvetia was designed by Friedrich Fisch and engraved by Antoine Bovy. The reverse shows the value, a numeral ½, and a language-neutral abbreviation of the denomination, Fr. within a wreath whose left part consists of oak branches and the right part of various Alpine flowers. This original reverse has remained unchanged and is still used on current coins. This version was heavier than current coins (2.5 grams) and made of 0.900 silver. It was only issued in 1850 and 1851 and was struck by the Paris Mint. It was demonetised on 1st January 1869, then for several years there were no half franc coins in circulation.
In 1875, the obverse was changed to a new design by Albert Walch featuring a Standing Helvetia. The metal was somewhat debased to 0.835 silver. This second version of the Half Franc was issued until 1967 and was demonetised on 1st April 1971.
Current Half Franc coins are made of cupro-nickel and weigh 2.2 grams; this version (retaining the original reverse and the second obverse) was first issued in 1968 and is still currently produced.
The first version of the obverse (issued in 1850 and 1851 only) features a seated figure of Helvetia, the female personification of the Confederation of Switzerland, resting on a plough whose two handles are seen to her right, and some grains; with her left hand she holds a triangular shield resting on the ground which bears the Swiss Cross inside an oval; her right arm is extended toward the left side of the obverse, pointing into the distance. The legend HELVETIA is around above her head. The engraver's name A. BOVY is in large letters to her left, written counter-clockwise (i.e. the letters face the opposite way to the legend).
The second obverse (issued from 1875 to the present) features Helvetia standing on a platform, her head facing to the left. In her right hand (at the left), she holds a lance, and with her left (at the right), she props up a shield with the Swiss Cross at centre. In exergue is the legend HELVETIA. On all coins made from 1874 to 1982, there are 22 five-pointed stars along the rim of the coin, going from the lower left to lower right boundaries of the obverse. These represent the 19 full Swiss cantons of the time and the six half-cantons, which are collectively represented by the three remaining stars. However, when the Canton of Jura broke away from Bern in 1979, the number of stars was no longer accurate. As a result, a new star was added to the right of Helvetia's likeness in 1983. On examples of all dates, the tip of Helvetia's lance extends to the rim and separates the ninth and tenth stars in the sequence. Nine of the stars are engraved up to the lance, two between the lance and Helvetia's face, and 11 or 12 to the right of the central allegorical figure, depending on the year of issue.
The engraver's signature, A.BOVY INCT. (an abbreviation for the Latin text "Antoine Bovy incidit", meaning "engraved by Antoine Bovy), is located around below, displayed counter-clockwise in small letters. It is split in two by the legend: "A.BOVY" appears to the left of "HELVETIA", and "INCT." to the right.
The reverse, which has remained unchanged since 1850, shows the value - a numeral ½, and a language-neutral abbreviation of the denomination, Fr., above the date: [year] within a wreath whose left part consists of oak branches and the right part of various Alpine flowers.
Below the ribbon of the wreath is the mint mark: the letter A for the Paris Mint (1850 and 1851) or the letter B for Swissmint (formerly known as the Bern Mint, then the Federal Mint of Switzerland) from 1875 until present, with the exception of the years between 1970 and 1985 (incl.) when there was no mint mark, and partly 1968 and 1969, when some of the coins had a mint mark and others did not.