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. This version was issued to the specifications of the Latin Monetary Union and had a composition of 83.5% silver and 16.5% copper.
This second silver version of the Half Franc was issued until 1967 and was demonetised on 1st April 1971 when the country changed to the current cupronickel Half Franc coins.
In 1896, only 28 specimens were struck, and no coins were issued for general circulation.
The obverse, which has remained unchanged 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.
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. 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 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: 1896 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 B of Swissmint (formerly known as the Bern Mint, then the Federal Mint of Switzerland).