30th anniversary of the litas. The first collector coins

This year marks thirty years since the litas began to circulate again in Lithuania after a more than 50-year break. This happened on 25 June 1993. We had the litas for a significant part of our history until the introduction of the euro in Lithuania in 2015. During this period, Lithuania changed and modernised, and the litas became an important symbol of the change of independent Lithuania. In this series of articles dedicated to the 30th anniversary of the litas, we will discuss the most important stages of the development of the litas, its issuance, and remember the most important elements of the design of litas banknotes and coins. Today — the first collector coins. 

The first Lithuanian collector coin was issued only in 1993, but the idea of minting such coins arose much earlier. Still, during the establishment of the Lithuanian Mint, in 1990, the Government entrusted the functions of ordering the production of collector coins to the Ministry of Finance.

The possibility of minting collector coins in foreign mints according to models developed by Lithuanian or foreign artists was considered. At a meeting of the Board of the Bank of Lithuania on 17 December 1991, it was decided to announce a contest to create the first four collector coins. Two coins were intended to commemorate the two-year anniversary of the restoration of independence of the Republic of Lithuania, the third coin was intended to commemorate the country’s return to the International Olympic Committee and participation in the 1992 Olympic Games. The fourth coin could be created on a theme chosen by the authors themselves. 

There was very little time for the contest. Already on 20 January 1992, works projects, sketches, layouts, or other final works had to be submitted to the Bank of Lithuania. The winner of the first place was to be awarded 3,000 roubles, second place — 2,000 roubles, third place winners — two prizes each of 1,000 roubles. However, the jury, which consisted of professional artists, historians, and one official of the Bank of Lithuania, assessed the contest as a failure and did not award the first and second places. 

On 14 June 1993, together with other historical resolutions adopted by the Litas Committee (on the issuance of litas and others), a resolution on the issuance of commemorative coins was adopted. According to it, to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the flight of Steponas Darius and Stasys Girėnas across the Atlantic, the first 10 litas collector coin from a copper-nickel alloy was to be issued. The issuance volume of the coin was estimated at 10 thousand units. Soon a decision was taken to commemorate Pope John Paul II’s visit to Lithuania and to issue a 10 litas copper-nickel alloy collector coin with an image of the pope in the same issue. 

The coin dedicated to the anniversary of the flight of S. Darius and S. Girėnas was created by the artist Petras Garška. Its design was quite simple. On the obverse — the coat of arms of the Republic of Lithuania, a rider (the vytis), and under it — the inscription 10 LITŲ LIETUVA. On the reverse — a portrait of the two pilots, and under it — the inscription DARIUS IR GIRĖNAS, the years 1933 and 1993 are written in the left column. While preserving the pre-war tradition of writing meaningful words on the edge of the coin, this coin was inscribed with ŠLOVĖ ATLANTO NUGALĖTOJAMS [Glory to the conquerors of the Atlantic]. 

The composition of the obverse of this coin, created by the painter P. Garška, was also used in a coin dedicated to the visit of Pope John Paul II to Lithuania. The reverse of this coin was created by the artist Leonas Pivoriūnas. It features a portrait of the Pope in profile praying, above him, in a semicircle, the inscription JONAS PAULIUS II, on the left side of the portrait — the date in Roman numerals, on the right — the inscription LIUDYKIME KRISTŲ [Witnesses to Christ]. On the edge of the coin — TIKĖJIMAS MEILĖ VILTIS [Faith Love Hope]. 

The coins were issued on 16 July and 2 September 1993 respectively. It was expected that they would have particularly high demand, so sales even to the employees of the Bank of Lithuania themselves was limited. However, the issue of an overprint and the inadequately high price (LTL 116) resulted in poor sales. Only about a third of the coins were sold. Later, by a resolution of the Board of the Bank of Lithuania, the undistributed circulation of the coins was destroyed. 

The World Lithuanian Song Celebration was scheduled to be held on 6–10 July 1994 to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the organisation of these festivals in Lithuania. The Ministry of Culture and Education and the Organising Committee of the World Lithuanian Song Celebration asked for a coin to be issued on that occasion. The mint proposed to use the available blanks and mint a 10 litas copper-nickel alloy coin analogous to previously issued coins. The production of as many as 15 thousand units was proposed, and later it was increased to 40 thousand. The inscription for the edge was also proposed — SKRISKIT SKAISČIOS DAINOS [Fly bright songs]. The coin was designed according to Petras Gintalas’ project: on its obverse, as in previous coins of this denomination, the figure of the coat of arms of the Republic of Lithuania was represented by a knight (Vytis), while the denomination was indicated with the inscription LIETUVA, while the reverse depicted two kanklės symmetrically positioned against each other. At the bottom was the year — 1994, to the top along the edge — the inscription PASAULIO LIETUVIŲ DAINŲ ŠVENTĖ [World Lithuanian Song Celebration]. The coin was put into circulation on 1 July 1994. It was minted in a more sophisticated technological way and is of proof quality. The relief of the coin was matte and the surface — mirrored. Although the price of this coin was lower than the previous one — LTL 15, it wasn’t very popular either. About 5,000 units were sold (the number of units sold in the following year was increased to 11 thousand), while the remainder was destroyed again.

The Bank of Lithuania was preparing to issue the first 50 litas collector coin dedicated to the Lillehammer (Norway) Winter Olympics. On 13 April 1993, the Lithuanian National Olympic Committee (LNOC) asked the Bank of Lithuania to issue a silver coin bearing the symbol of the LNOC. Later, the request was made more specific — the coin was to be minted from silver, it would display the logo of the LNOC, the inscription LILLEHAMMER-94, and the symbol of the sport of skiing. 

Two coin projects were received — from the artists P. Gintalas and L. Pivoriūnas. The latter defeated the former, but in financial disputes with the mint, Pivoriūnas refused the prize and did not continue his work. P. Gintalas’ project became the main one. The obverse of the coin depicts the knight of the coat of arms of the Republic of Lithuania, below to the left was the inscription 50 LITŲ, on the right edge — LIETUVA. At the bottom, on the reverse, are the figures of two skiers, above them — the logo of the LNOC, on the left — LILLEHAMMER, on the right — 1994. Along the edge of the coin — the inscription * CITIUS * ALTIUS* FORTIUS. The volume of the coin issuance was estimated at 25 thousand units. 

When the Mint presented the first minted trial coins to the Bank of Lithuania, there were concerns about their quality. An investigation revealed a number of shortcomings which were most likely related to the level of cleanliness in the mint at the time. The investigation continued until the end of the Olympic Games. Under these circumstances, it was decided to stop ordering these coins and to not put them into circulation. Several hundred coins remained as souvenirs (all of which were marked with the inscription DRAFT). The government usually gave such souvenirs to foreign guests and delegations. Later, when the Bank of Lithuania issued more collector coins, the unused balance was returned to the Bank of Lithuania and handed over to the Money Museum.

It was only on 19 April 1993 that Viktoras Miltakis, Chair of the Board of Directors of the Lithuanian Mint, approached the Bank of Lithuania and proposed to set up a permanent evaluation committee to approve the drafts of circulation banknotes and coins created, to announce contests for the creation of coins, and to evaluate and approve the best works. Representatives of the Bank of Lithuania, the Heraldry Commission, the Institute of History, the Forensic Science Centre, museums, and the mint were proposed to be included in the commission, which would operate under the Bank of Lithuania or the Government. Procedures for the issuance of new coins were developed.

In 1994, a permanent commission for the assessment and approval of new coin projects was also appointed. Regulations for the creation of new coins and the approval of drafts were drawn up. The first meeting of the new commission took place on 8 November. It discussed the plaster models of the first 50 litas silver coin dedicated to the 5th anniversary of the restoration of Lithuania’s independence. Only the sculptor Antanas Žukauskas participated in the contest for the design of the coin. This first silver proof-quality coin was issued on 8 March 1995. The main initiator of its emergence was the President of the Republic of Lithuania, Algirdas Brazauskas. The Presidential Palace selected the inscription for the edge of the coin: Vincas Kudirka’s words from the Lithuanian national anthem: TEGUL MEILĖ LIETUVOS DEGA MŪSŲ ŠIRDYSE [Let love for Lithuania burn in our hearts]. Information about the issuance of the coin was widely disseminated among Lithuanians living abroad. Lithuanian diplomatic missions, foreign Lithuanian organisations, and individual enthusiasts were involved in this dissemination. Such advertising yielded positive results and the entire 5,000 units issuance was bought very quickly. 

Although a commission was set up next to the Lithuanian Mint to evaluate and approve new coin projects, at the beginning of its work, collector coins were minted without a clear strategy for their issuance, approved distribution procedures, and forward-looking plans. In such a situation, it was difficult to select the right topics, to determine the quantity of coins to be put into circulation, establish the selling price, and address other relevant issues. Some of the first issues of coins were not distributed. Following the transfer of the mint founder rights, held by the Ministry of Finance, to the Bank of Lithuania by the Government Resolution of 27 January 1995, the situation began to change. On 4 April 1995, a permanent commission for the design, production and issuance of coins was established under the Bank of Lithuania. Under the contract with the Bank of Lithuania, numismatists, artists, historians, specialists in various other fields, and scientists were invited to work as consultants. The Commission’s work focused on the development and issuance of collector coins. However, many other issues related to the creation and production of money were also addressed. Planning of coinage was now done several years in advance and plans for their issuance were drawn up. On 1 June 1995, the terms of the contests for the creation of coins were approved and provided for the publication of closed contests for the preparation of graphic coin designs with the participation of selected authors. The graphic design of one side of a coin was paid for: first place winner — 15 MSL (minimum standard of living), second — 10 MSL, third place — 7.5 MSL. A new contract was signed with the author who would win the contest, for the creation and maintenance of the plaster model. Gradually, certain general provisions, principles of action were formed, necessary decisions were taken, further working methods and directions were provided, so it became easier to evaluate the works, prepare the terms of the contest, adopt a final opinion on various issues of money creation. With the exception of rare cases, the basic operational principles set out by the Commission were strictly respected.