There is no firm knowledge where the first Lithuanian coins (14th – 15th c.) have been minted. We can only presume, because the coinage was the ruler’s privilege, they have to be minted in the center of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (GDL) – Vilnius. Vilnius Mint could be opened in the middle of 15th century. The fact is that the Mint was working in 1495, because it was opened to introduce money reform of GDL – 1 groat was made up of 10 denarii. But the Vilnius Mint struck only two denominations of coins: half groats (about 15-20 million pcs.) and denarii (about 45-50 million pcs. were minted). From 1506 the Mint was closed.
In 1508 the Sejm in Navahrudak passed a resolution to re-open the Vilnius Mint. The Mint started operating on 9 February 1509, although the first half-groats were struck with dies engraved with the date 1508. The half-groat coins dated 1508 are very rare coins. The previously Gothic script on the coins wes replaced with Renaissance script. The Eagle is depicted with a crown. By 1529, about 17.1 million half-groats had been minted. The symbol V, which presumably stood for the name of the Vilnius Mint, appeared on the half-groats. The valuable Lithuanian coins spread to the neighbouring countries and competed with local currencies. The use of Lithuanian coins was first banned in 1517 in Livonia and in 1532 – in Prussia as well; the Sejms of Lesser Poland in 1513 and of Poland in 1515 expressed their opposition to Lithuanian coins. With the start of negotiations on a monetary union with Poland in 1529, the Vilnius Mint was shut down.
When war with Moscow broke out anew in 1534, the GDL invited the large expensive Polish and mercenary armies. To maintain them, the Vilnius Mint was re-opened in 1535. The first Lithuanian groats, similar to Prague groats, that were widespread in Europe, were minted in 1535-1536. About 3-4 million groats were minted. Towards the end of the war the Mint discontinued its operations. The issue of the groat ended the GDL’s currency reform. Lithuanian groats were counted in kapas (60 units) and rubles (100 units).
In 1545 the GDL Land Treasurer Iwan Hornostaj bought a building for a mint in Vilnius on Vokiečių Street, which cost 500 kapas of Lithuanian groats. Modern equipment was purchased and die engravers were hired in western Europe. Silver for the Mint was mainly supplied from Krakow, part of it – from Danzig. Initially, coins were minted to satisfy the needs of the market and of the ruler. To supplement the market, traditional coins such as denarii, half-groats, groats and – for the first time – obols, worth a half-denarius, were struck. For trading with Poland and Prussia, coins of the Polish weight standard – groats, three-groats and six-groats – were struck. The first Lithuanian gold coins, ducats, were also struck in Vilnius in 1547. The volumes of work at the Vilnius Mint were huge. 881,204 obols and 375,263 groats of the Lithuanian weight standard were struck in 1545-1546.
Due to the shortage of silver and low profits, in 1522-1562 Sigismund Augustus leased the Mint to Jewish businessmen. The Mint was under leadership of Gabriel Tarla (1555-1565). When huge dissatisfaction over the reduced fineness of the coins arose, leasing of the Mint to Jews was terminated both inside and outside the country.
Marriage of the sister of Sigismund Augustus, Kotryna Jogailaitė, to Duke Johan of Sweden took place in 1562 in Vilnius. Major guests were presented with the Lithuanian 10-ducat coins that had been struck for the first time. On a sole occasion, 3-ducat coins were struck as well. In 1564 Vilnius Mint began markin the coins with the monogram of Sigismund Augustus, to make them legal in coin circulation. When, in 1565, Sigismund Augustus commemorated his 45th birth anniversary, coins portraying him with the indicated denomination 30 were struck in Vilnius.
Due to large coinage volumes, another mint was opened in Tykocin, Podlaskie (presently Poland) in 1564-1568. Lithuanian half-groats, and groats, as well as satirical three-groats, were struck to the Polish weight standard.
Demanded by the Seimas of the GDL, in 1566 Sigismund Augustus granted a privilege to transfer the Vilnius Mint’s handling, hiring of mint-masters and payment of wages to land treasures, granted still independence to this Land Treasurer. After the Union of Lublin was signed on 1 July 1569, the Vilnius Mint discontinued its operations (in 1571). The Mint re-opened in 1577.
Under the rule of Stephen Bathory the Mint began minting shillings for the first time, but minted mainly three-groats. Few thalers and ducats has been minted. On the occasion of the recovery of Polotsk, ten-ducat coins – portugals – were minted in 1580.
During the long rule of Sigismund Vasa (Sigismund III Vasa) only one, Vilnius Mint operated in the GDL. The king made a commitment to allow the Treasury to govern the Mint. The 1597 and 1598 three-groats marked with a coin master’s mark – a bull’s head, pierced by two hooks – belonged to Simon Luderman (1597-1599), who later became a distinguished mint-master of the Mecklenburg Mint. In 1600 coin masters were forbidden to place their marks on coins.
The coinage supervisors were: Voivode of Vilnius, Christopher I Radziwill “the Thunder” in 1584-1603,
When visiting Vilnius in 1601, Sigismund Vasa ordered to close the Mint down because of the16 poor quality of the coins, but it was in operation until 1603. When the Mint was re-opened in 1606, a lot of double-denarii, shillings and groats were minted. In 1615 the Vilnius Mint burnt down, but it was re-opened after the fire. To speed up the coinage, an efficient coin roller was used. In 1616 the Mint’s assayer was Georg Helvetius. In 1616-1621 the coinage supervisors were Jan Karol Chodkiewicz, in 1623-1633 – Leon Sapieha.
The Vilnius Mint also struck representational gold coins as well: 10-ducats (portugals) were struck in 1616 on the occasion of the King’s 50th birth anniversary and in 1617-1618 – to commemorate the successful war against Moscow, while 5 ducats – in 1621-1622 to commemorate the war against Turkey. In 1627 the Mint was closed down.
With Wladyslaw IV Vasa coming to the throne (1632-1648), Lithuanian coins were not minted. The Vilnius Mint was re-opened only in 1652. At the beginning of 1653 a plague epidemic broke out in Vilnius and, when several of the staff died, the Mint shut down temporarily. The epidemic lasted until 1654. An outbreak of war with Russia in May of the same year hindered resuming coinage because major funds for the financing of the war came from the GDL Treasury. A war with Sweden broke out shortly, in 1655.
The Mint is said to have operated at more than one site. The Grand Duke’s castle mill, which stood not far from the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania, produced rolled tin. From there, the tin or blans with a roller-impressed coins were taken to the main mint, which might have operated in the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania or in the territory of the Lower Castle, or to the old mint in Vokiečių Street.
In 1660-1666 Lithuanian coins were minted at even six mints. Till 1664 to 1666 404,344,800shilling were coined in the Vilnius Mint. In 1666 the Vilnius Mint was closed and no coins were minted in the territory of Lithuania from that time.
The last coins of the GDL were minted during the Northern War (1700-1721). Having been defeated by Sweden (in 1706), Augustus II was forced to renounce the throne. Unable to open a mint in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, he agreed on coinage with Russia. In 1706-1707, in addition to Polish coins, coins of two denominations – three-groats and six-groats, marked with the coat of arms and initials of the GDL Treasurer, were minted in Moscow. They were illegal coins of Augustus II. With these coins Russia supported the fight of its ally Augustus II with Sweden.
After the third partition of the Polish and Lithuania Commonwealth in 1795, a large part of Lithuania was annexed by the Russian Empire. Russian coins began to be used in Lithuania. So there was no mint till the thirties of 20th century.
The litas appeared in circulation in 1922. A law on coinage was passed by the Seimas in 1924. The law granted the State Treasury the right to mint and issue coins. On September 10, 1924, the Ministry of Finance announced an auction on coin mintage, 14 mints from different countries participated in the auction. The commission of the auction decided to choose company King’s Norton Metal Works from Birmingham. The company for the silver coins was also from England – Royal Mint.
In 1936 the Ministry of Finance raiced the question of establishing a mint in Lithuania. Soon the organization of a mint in Kaunas was started together with the new law on coins.
The new coins were minted at the Spindulys mint in Kaunas from 1936 to 1939 bearing two dates of issue: 1936 and 1938. The mint was arranged in the premises of the Spindulys company which was large enough to include lithography, offset, zincography departaments and bindery besides the printing house and the newly established mint. The company was headed by Jonas Kareckas-Karys. In Kaunas coins were minted on blanks manufactured in Belgium. The 1 cent coin first minted on May 16, 1936. That day is to be regarded as the date of the foundation of the Spindulys mint.
In 1938, to commemorate the 20-th anniversary of the independence of Lithuania, 10 litas jubilee coins portrayting President A. Smetona were printed. At the beginning of June, 1938, the Spindulys mint company minted one or two gold coins using stamps of the above mentioned coins. One of these coins and a 10 litas silver piece were presented by the management of Spindulys to the President of the Republic.
In 1938 it was planned to issue 2 litas coin with a new design bearing the portrait of A. Smetona. The overse of the coin wasn’t approved of.
There was a plan to print litas banknotes also, but the plans were interrupted by the soviet occupation in 1940.
The Lithuanian Mint was restored on the 10th of December, 1990, upon the decision of the Lithuanian Government.
In 1992 the state enterprise Lithuanian Mint started striking 1, 2 and 5 centas Lithuanian circulation coins. Since 1993 the Lithuanian Mint has produced collector coins. The first 10 litas cooper and nickel alloy coin was issued to mark the 60th anniversary of the flight across the Atlantic by Steponas Darius and Stasys Girenas.
The Lithuanian Mint is still opened today and its the only mint in three Baltic States. Lithuanian Euro coins are minted in the Lithuanian Mint.
The short film introducing to the Lithuanian Mint