The history of the Swiss banknote is the subject of a new exhibition at the Gutenberg museum in Fribourg. Entitled "Swiss Banknotes", it might equally have been called "Money as Art".This content was published on June 8, 2001 - 14:35
As the exhibition shows, "art and money" is a phrase which does not only apply to the high prices often fetched at auction for modern and contemporary paintings. The artists themselves have frequently been commissioned to design paper money.
For example, the Swiss painter Ferdinand Hodler applied his considerable artistic talent to the 1911 series of banknotes in Switzerland, and the current series features portraits of such giants of the art world as Alberto Giacometti and the architect Le Corbusier.
But the Fribourg exhibition, organised in collaboration with the Swiss National Bank, is not confined to the aesthetic attractions of franc notes.
It points out that the Swiss are relative newcomers to the world of paper money, having introduced banknotes only in 1825 - centuries after the Chinese made them common currency.
The first were issued by the Deposito-Cassa of Bern. Other cantonal banks soon followed suit, and until 1883 each canton had its own banknote designs. Since 1907, the national bank - rather than the cantons - has been responsible for the issuing of paper money.
At present there are 250 million notes in circulation, and the exhibition reveals the technical process which goes into making them.
But no exhibition about banknotes would be complete without a section devoted to counterfeit money. The Gutenberg museum shows both the methods employed by forgers and the counter-measures taken by the police to foil them. It has also arranged real bank notes alongside counterfeit ones, and invites visitors to tell the difference.
swissinfo with agencies
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