BDAR

Lithuania’s national currency in the interwar period

After the restoration of the State of Lithuania on 16 February 1918, the Seimas and the Government began discussing the adoption of the national currency. However, the laws on its adoption and the establishment of the Bank of Lithuania were only passed in 1922 when inflation was rising at a threatening pace. The national currency was named the litas, while its one-hundredth part – centas.

The contract on the banknote production was signed on 29 August 1922 with the Andreas Haase printing house in Prague. The printing house undertook to deliver the banknotes to Kaunas in November-December, hence the new currency started circulating only in early 1923. Due to rising inflation at the time, it was decided to produce temporary money to be put into circulation until permanent banknotes were available. A contract for their production was signed with the Otto Elsner printing house in Berlin on 31 August of the same year. The printing house already had multiple banknote drawings and background patterns, thus all it took was to select the desired drawings and add the text and the symbol of the Vytis. The printing plates were produced in three days, while the banknotes were printed and delivered within three weeks. The provisional currency in six denominations was dated 10 September 1922. Due to the urgency of the order, the banknotes were small, their drawings were simple, while their quality was poor.

Based on the order of the Ministry of Finance, the litas was to be introduced on 1 October 1922, but in reality the exchange of litas started one day later because 1 October was a Sunday. Therefore, the official date of the adoption of the national currency is considered to be 2 October 1922 when the exchange of Ostmarks into litas officially began (at the fixed rate of 1 litas to 175 auksinas). The tight monetary policy conducted by the Bank of Lithuania helped maintain the litas exchange rate stable even during the years of economic downturns.

The permanent banknotes in twelve denominations were dated 16 November 1922. Their designs were created by Adomas Varnas. The banknotes were higher in quality compared to the provisional notes, but were printed without watermarks, using unsophisticated techniques, and thus were often counterfeited. In order to prevent counterfeiting, three different variations of the 5 litas banknotes were issued.

With a considerable increase in currency in circulation in 1924, the Bank of Lithuania, seeking to facilitate payments, decided to issue banknotes of larger denominations, namely 500 litas and 1000 litas. The banknotes were printed by Bradbury, Wilkinson & Co Ltd in England. These were high-quality and uniquely designed banknotes made on special paper with watermarks, coloured fibres, and an intricate background drawing. The serial number was printed in red ink.

Due to excellent work, it was decided to print all other Bank of Lithuania banknotes at the same English company. In 1927, the General Council of the Bank of Lithuania decided to print new 10 litas notes based on the design of the artist Antanas Žmuidzinavičius. The banknotes of subsequent issues were printed to the designs of Adomas Galdikas. The contracts with Bradbury, Wilkinson & Co Ltd set out high technological requirements for banknote printing: the main drawings were to be printed using hand engraved steel plates. The 10, 50 and 100 litas banknotes appeared in circulation in 1928, 5 litas notes – in early 1930, and the 20 litas notes – in 1931.

The jubilee 10 litas banknote was to be issued in 1938. The front of the banknote was supposed to feature a portrait of Antanas Smetona and a facsimile of the Act of Independence, while the back should have had a picture of the signatories. The banknote, however, was not issued into circulation (only specimen banknotes have remained).

On 20 June 1924, the Seimas passed the Law on Coins, granting the State Treasury the exclusive right to mint and issue metal currency. The bronze coins were minted at King’s Norton Metal Works in Birmingham, the silver ones – at the Royal Mint in London. The coins were put into circulation in early 1925. In 1936, the Spindulys Mint in Kaunas also started minting coins. The author of the coins was the artist Juozas Zikaras. In preparation for the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of Independence of Lithuania, a silver 10 litas commemorative coin, with a portrait of President Antanas Smetona and the Columns of Gediminas, was issued into circulation.

When Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union on 15 June 1940, the Soviet currency – the rouble – was put into circulation next to the litas. The circulation of litas was banned completely in 1941. It restarted only on 25 June 1993. 

The entire exhibition is available in the Lithuanian Integral Museum Information System (LIMIS).