The Twenty Francs coin is a denomination of the Swiss Franc. Given that Switzerland has four official languages, the Franc has three different names: Franken in German, franc in French and Romansh, and franco in Italian. The denomination is thus shown with a language-neutral abbreviation on the reverse: 20 FR.
Initially when federal Swiss coinage was introduced in 1850, all "francs" (from five francs down to a half franc) were full-bodied silver, while the centimes were either billon (low-grade silver) or base metal. In 1883, the first 20 francs gold coin was introduced, with a design like the 5 francs coin at the time (but with a slightly different shield on the reverse, and a different female personification on the obverse). It contained 6.45 g gold at 90% purity, conforming with the standard of the Latin Monetary Union. In 1895, the Federal Council decided that the coin should be made with a novel design. A depiction of Helvetia by Neuchâtel artist Fritz Ulysse Landry (1842 - 1927) was selected, which shows a female head with tresses in profile, with a garland of edelweiss and an alpine panorama in the background. The design was widely popular and given the endearing nickname of Vreneli.
The name of the coin could derive from "Verena", a personification of the Confederation of Switzerland in the female effigy, (similar to the French Marianne or the American Lady Liberty) probably modeled by Françoise Engli, shown on the obverse of the coin. The name of the design could also have roots in the tale of William Tell, in which a character named "Vreneli" appears. The coin is also known as a Helvetia from the inscription above the portrait. Helvetia actually connotes two ideas: it is a variation of the official Latin name of Switzerland, Confoederatio Helvetica or Swiss Confederation, and, by extension, it refers to the allegorical figure of the Swiss version of Lady Liberty.
The formal name is: Tête d'Helvetia (French), Helvetiakopf (German) or Helvetia Head (English).
A 10 francs version of the Vreneli was also produced from 1911 to 1922. The first series of banknotes, issued 1907, included no 10 or 20 francs denomination. The gold coins existed in circulation alongside the corresponding banknotes during 1911 - 1936. With the devaluation of 1936, the intrinsic value of the gold coins rose above their face value; however, they have never been formally demonetised, even though they were effectively withdrawn from circulation after 27 September 1936.
Within a beaded border, the obverse design of the coin shows a depiction of Helvetia - the female personification of Switzerland - by Fritz Ulysse Landry. Helvetia is seen in profile, facing left, her hair braided, with a garland of edelweiss flowers around her shoulders. There is an alpine panorama of high mountains (the Alps) in the background. The design is widely known by its nickname of Vreneli.
The artist's name F. LANDRY is incuse around right, on Helvetia's sholder.
Around above, the inscription HELVETIA (the Latin name of Switzerland).
The reverse design by Fritz Ulysse Landry features the Coat of Arms of Switzerland, being a Swiss Cross on a shield, with thin vertical lines in the background as a "heraldic colour" (tincture) signifying red. In the background behind the shield, an oak branch tied with a ribbon above the shield. The value 20 is to the left of the shield, and the denomination - abbreviated to FR - is to the right.
Under the shield, the date of issue: 1899. To the right of the date, the mint mark B of the Federal Mint of Switzerland (ex Bern Mint, now known as Swissmint).