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, centimes were either billon (low-grade silver) or base metal while all "francs" (including the half franc) were full-bodied silver; the composition of the half franc was 90% silver and 10% copper.
This first version of the half franc coin featuring a sitting figure of Helvetia was designed by Friedrich Fisch from Aarau 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, new half franc coins were issued with a new obverse by Albert Walch featuring a Standing Helvetia. His design is still used today.
The obverse features a sitting 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 (for Antoine Bovy) is in large letters to her left, written counter-clockwise, i.e. the letters face the opposite way to the legend.
There are two privy marks in the exergue; to the left, a hand pointing right, the privy mark of Charles Louis Joseph Dierickx - director (mint master) of the Paris Mint; to the right, a greyhound head looking right, privy mark of Jean-Jacques Barre, the mint's chief engraver.