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Anniversary of the first mint in the Republic of Lithuania

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16 June 2021 marked 85 years since the first mint started its operation in independent Lithuania. Established in Kaunas, which was the capital of Lithuania at that time, it minted coins up until Lithuania’s occupation in 1940. Why was there a need for such a mint? How did its operation start and what coins did it produce? 

Where Lithuania minted its coins before opening a local mint? 

The litas was adopted in 1922 and, two years later, in 1924, the Law on Coins was passed. Up until then, paper cents were printed and used, however, they would wear out very quickly. Pursuant to the law, the state treasury was given exclusive rights to mint and release into circulation aluminium, bronze, silver and gold coins. Two England’s mints won the tender and were chosen by the Ministry of Finance to mint them: Birmingham-based Kings Norton Metal Works, and to mint silver litas coins – London-based Royal Mint. The first coins entered circulation in 1925. Those were bronze cents of 1, 5, 10, 20 and 50 denominations as well as silver litas of 1, 2 and 5 denominations (500 fineness, 50% silver). For more information, see Lithuanian coins issued in 1925.

Why was it established in Lithuania?

Rapidly growing economy and the development of trade led to a shortage of circulation coins. It was estimated that it would be more beneficial to have a local mint instead of minting coins abroad. On 3 June 1936, the Law on Coins was adopted. It provided for the mintage of coins of the new design: 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 cent bronze coins, 1, 2, 5, and 10 litas silver coins and a 50 litas gold coin. The new design was created for 1, 2 and 5 cent as well as 5 and 10 litas coins (and these were the only coins minted at the mint). Same as before, they were designed by sculptor and artist Juozas Zikaras. Soon after passing the law, preparatory works for the mint’s establishment started. The Ministry of Finance granted the rights of coin mintage to a joint stock company Spindulys that was situated in Kaunas. Spindulys, which underwent reorganisation from a state-owned press to a joint stock company in 1928, was a large enterprise. In addition to the press and the mint that was being established, the company was also engaged in such activities as lithography, offset printing, zincography and bookbinding. Very soon, a mint was set up in the basement of its premises (Miško g. 11, currently a hotel). The mintage process was to be supervised by the Supervisory Institution of Securities  Issuance of the Tax Department. The mint was run by Jonas Kareckas Karys, a public figure, economist, journalist and numismatist. In 1936, he was sent on a business trip to Belgium where he got acquainted with the operation of the Royal Mint of Belgium. After all, coins in Kaunas were minted out of metal alloy blanks produced in this very mint. No one was making such blanks in Lithuania, as purchasing them from Belgium was much cheaper. The composition of coin blanks imported from Belgium used to be checked by the Metal Technology Laboratory of the Faculty of Technology of the Vytautas Magnus University. Another item imported from Belgium was master stamps that were used to make secondary stamps for coin mintage. The first 1 cent coin blanks were brought from Belgium to Lithuania in March 1936. 

Beginning of the mint’s operation

In March, Jonas Kareckas-Karys announced that the mint was at the last stage of its set-up, the blanks had reached Lithuania and the mintage press was almost finished being installed. 1 cent coins were started to be minted on 16 May of the same year, although the official date of the mint’s opening is 16 June 1936.

The mint’s premises consisted of the main hall where coins were counted and stored in iron cabinets. Another room accommodated two mintage presses and also acted as a storage space for coin blanks and minting tools. All the rooms were locked by two different keys and two seals. The keys and seals were guarded by the head of the mint and a representative of the State Control. The entryway was guarded by armed men round the clock. The mint had metal doors and window bars. Interestingly, the first coins were minted before an alarm and a telephone were installed. Later on, this blunder was corrected. Eight employees of Spindulys were assigned to mint coins there.

What kind of coins were minted?

In 1936, the mint issued new 1, 2 and 5 cent coins. After issuing cents, it released 1 litas silver coins using the stamps of 1925.
In 1936, the mint also managed to issue new 5 and 10 litas silver coins dedicated to Lithuania’s patriarch Jonas Basanavičius and Vytautas the Great (750 fineness). Inscriptions on the edge of the coins read “Nation’s welfare – your welfare” (on 5 litas) and “The strength of the nation lies in unity” (on 10 litas). Interestingly, these inscriptions were minted in different directions: one could be read when looking over the obverse and the other – over the reverse. Jonas Kareckas-Karys presented the Board of Spindulys company with this issue. The Board concluded that it would greatly slow down the mintage process if the mistake was to be corrected, thus it had to be ignored. 

When preparing for the 20th anniversary of Lithuania’s independence, it was planned to issue a 2 litas silver coin featuring Antanas Smetona. Trial samples were minted but, for unknown reasons, the coins themselves were never released. Instead, it was proposed to mint 10 litas coins of the same design but of previous size and weight. In the summer of 1938, a total of around 100,000 of such coins were minted. 

Kaunas mint’s craftsmen also minted a souvenir gold coin. It was minted by using the print of the 1938 anniversary 10 litas silver coin dedicated to 20 years of Lithuania’s independence. It was gifted to Antanas Smetona on his name day by the employees of Spindulys mint who minted the coin at their own expense.

On 2 February 1939, Jonas Kareckas-Karys handed over all the coin stamps that were used for coin minting to the Bank of Lithuania for safekeeping. When the necessary amount of coins was minted, the mint stopped its operation. Since its opening, it produced around 10 million 1 cent coins, around 5 million 2 cent coins, roughly 5 million 5 cent coins as well as nearly 2.5 million 2 litas silver coins and almost 1 million 10 litas silver coins. 

State securities were printed at Spindulys printing house too. Jonas Kareckas-Karys also supervised this process. He even made sure that all the necessary machinery was purchased to print banknotes in Lithuania (as they were printed in England at the time). However, Lithuania’s occupation stopped these plans in their tracks.
 

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Last updated: 2021-07-27