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History of mints in Lithuania

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There is no exact information on where the first Lithuanian coins (in the 14th–15th c.) were minted. We can only presume, because the minting of coins was a privilege of the rulers, they had to be minted in the centre of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (GDL) – in Vilnius. The Vilnius Mint could have been opened in the mid-15th century. We know for a fact that the mint was already operating in 1495, because it was officially opened to introduce the monetary reform of the GDL – at the heart of the monetary reform was the aim to strengthen the value of the national money and withdraw from circulation the Prague groats that prevailed at the time. The Lithuanian groat, which consists of 10 denarii, remained the quantifiable unit. It was a decimal system, very advanced and at the time the only one in Europe. At that time, only denars and half-groats were minted. The mint was closed in 1506.

In 1508, the Sejm in Navahrudak passed a resolution to re-open the Vilnius Mint. It started operating on 9 February 1509, although the first half-groats were struck with dies engraved with the date 1508. The previous Gothic script on the coins was replaced with a Renaissance script. The Polish 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.
 

Half-groat of 1529 with the V letter (as The Vilnius Mint). Obverse   Half-groat of 1529 with the V letter (as The Vilnius Mint). Reverse

When war with Moscow broke out once more in 1534, the GDL hired the large and 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 issuing of groats ended the GDL’s currency reform. Lithuanian groats were counted in kapas (60 units) and roubles (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 in Western Europe and die engravers were hired. Silver for the Mint was mainly supplied from Krakow, but some came from Danzig as well. 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 minted in Vilnius in 1547. The volumes of work done at the Vilnius Mint were huge: 881,204 obols and 375,263 groats of the Lithuanian weight standard were struck in 1545–1546, while in 1550–1554 – 5,688,160 denarii and 3,627,571 half-groats.

The sight of 16th century Vokiečių Street with the Vilnius Mint   Coin signs of 16th century

Due to the shortage of silver and low profits, in 1522–1562 Sigismund Augustus leased the mint to Jewish businessmen. The mint came under the leadership of Gabrielius 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.

The marriage of Kotryna Jogailaitė, the sister of Sigismund Augustus, to Duke Johan of Sweden took place in 1562 in Vilnius. The most important guests were presented with the Lithuanian 10-ducat coins that had been struck for the first time. On one and only occasion, 3-ducat coins were struck as well. In 1564, the Vilnius Mint began marking the coins with the monogram of Sigismund Augustus, to make them legal tender in circulation. When, in 1565, Sigismund Augustus commemorated his 45th birth anniversary, coins portraying him in the denomination 30 were struck in Vilnius.

Due to large coinage volumes, another mint was opened in Tykocin, Podlaskie (modern-day Poland) in 1564–1568. Lithuanian half-groats and groats, as well as satirical three-groats, were minted here.

In 1566, Sigismund Augustus granted the privilege of control over the Vilnius Mint to the GDL Land Treasurer, Mikalojus Naruševičius. He was granted even greater autonomy by the 1568 resolution of the Seimas in Grodno, which transferred maintenance of the mint, the hiring of towns and the payment of wages to the Land Treasurer. After the Union of Lublin was signed on 1 July 1569, the Vilnius Mint discontinued its operations (in 1571). 

Coats of arms: Above Leliwa (Jan Hlebowicz), under Fox (Leon Sapieha)   Marks of mint master Petr Platyna (1569-1593)

The Mint re-opened in 1577 and it already had its own staff. The Leliva coat of arms of Jonas Glebavičius, the Land Treasurer, was stamped on the coins from 1580 to 1583, but on coins from 1584, the treasurer’s coat of arms was no longer minted. The coins from 1585 to 1586 contain the coat of arms of Chancellor Leonas Sapieha.

Under the rule of Stephen Bathory, the Mint began minting shillings for the first time, but minted mainly three-groats. Few thalers and ducats were minted. On the occasion of the recovery of Polotsk, ten-ducat coins – Portugaloser – were minted in 1580.

During the long rule of Sigismund Vasa only one, the 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 from placing their marks on coins.

The mint supervisor in 1584–1603 was the Voivode of Vilnius, Krzysztof Mikołaj “the Thunderbolt” Radziwiłł, while in 1603–1616 – Mikołaj Krzysztof “the Orphan” Radziwiłł.

Christopher I Radziwill “the Thunder”   Nicholas Christopher Radzwilli “the Orphan”

When visiting Vilnius in 1601, Sigismund Vasa ordered to close the Mint down because of the poor quality of the coins, but it remained in operation until 1603. Although re-opened in 1606, in 1615 the Vilnius Mint burnt down, but it was rebuilt. To speed up the coinage, an efficient coin roller was used. In 1616–1621 the mint’s supervisor was Jan Karol Chodkiewicz, in 1623–1633 – Leon Sapieha. The Vilnius Mint struck representational gold coins: 10-ducats (Portugaloser) 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.

Since coins were not minted in the GDL for a long time, the Vilnius Mint was opened only in 1652 under the reign of John II Casimir Vasa. In the beginning of 1653, a plague epidemic broke out in Vilnius and, when several of its 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 minting 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 location. 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 blanks with 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 at Vokiečių street.

In 1660–1666, Lithuanian coins were minted at as many as six mints. From 1664 until 1666, 404,344,800 shillings were minted at the Vilnius Mint. 

In 1666, the Vilnius Mint was closed and coins were no longer minted in the territory of Lithuania.

The last coins of the GDL were minted during the Great 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 made an agreement 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, Ludwik Konstanty Pociej, were minted in Moscow – the illegal coins of Augustus II. 

Six-groat of Augustus II, 1706. Obverse   Six-groat of Augustus II, 1706. Reverse

After the third partition of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1795, Lithuania lost its statehood and did not have its own mint until the 1930s.

The litas entered into circulation in 1922 while the Law on Coins was passed by the Seimas in 1924. The law granted the State Treasury the right to mint and issue into circulation aluminium, bronze, silver, and gold coins. The Ministry of Finance announced a tender for mints, and selected the Kings Norton Metal Works (Birmingham, UK) and the Royal Mint (London, UK). The first coins were minted in 1925 – 1, 5, 10, 20, 50 cent bronze coins and 1, 2, 5 denomination silver litas coins (fineness – 500, 50% silver). 

In 1936, the Ministry of Finance raised 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 mint was established on the premises of the Spindulys company, and the building was large enough to include lithography, offset, zincography departments and a book bindery, along with the already-existing 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 first 1 cent coin first minted on 16 May 1936 and this date is considered that start of the activities of the Spindulys Mint.

The opening of the Spindulys Mint in 1936   The building of Spindulys Mint in inter-war period

In 1938, to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the independence of Lithuania, 10 litas coins portraying President Antanas Smetona were printed. In early June 1938, Spindulys minted one or two gold coins using the 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 a 2 litas coin in a new design, bearing the portrait of President Smetona, but the obverse of the coin wasn’t approved. There were also plans to print litas banknotes, but this was interrupted by the Soviet occupation in 1940.

The Lithuanian Mint was restored on 10 December 1990, by a decision of the Lithuanian Government.

In 1992, the state enterprise the Lithuanian Mint started striking 1, 2 and 5 centas Lithuanian circulation coins. Since 1993, the Lithuanian Mint has also produced collector coins. The first 10 litas copper and nickel alloy collector coin was issued to mark the 60th anniversary of the flight across the Atlantic by Steponas Darius and Stasys Girėnas.

The Lithuanian Mint today   Logo of the Mint of Lithuanian

The Lithuanian Mint is still open today and it is the only mint in all three of the Baltic States. Lithuanian euro coins are minted in the Lithuanian Mint.

See here a short film introducing the Lithuanian Mint:

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Last updated: 2021-07-08