Let’s remember the litas. Darius and Girėnas in litas banknotes

This year, 15 July marks the 90th anniversary of when our heroes Steponas Darius and Stasys Girėnas took off on their historic journey from the USA. In this article we will not only remember the historical feat but will commemorate one more time the 30th anniversary of the issuance of the litas. After all, the pilots have been on the most recognizable ten litas banknote for already 22 years. 

The flight of Steponas Darius and Stasys Girėnas across the Atlantic and their tragic death on the threshold of Lithuania is one of the most famous Lithuanian feats of the 20th century. S. Darius (Steponas Jusevičius) and S. Girėnas (Stasys Girskis) were both Samogitians. When they were young, they moved to the United States with their parents. Intending to make Lithuania famous by flying over the Atlantic, on 15 July 1933 they took off from the New York Airport. They died on a stormy night in Prussia, near the town of Soldin (now Myślibórz in Poland).

Trans-Atlantic flight
The American-Lithuanians S. Darius and S. Girėnas met in 1927. They were united in their passion for planes, and both had the idea of crossing the Atlantic to reach Lithuania, thus making the name of Lithuania known. Even now, there aren’t many small planes able to overcome such a distance — at that time this idea was even more courageous. In 1932, after purchasing a six-seater plane called Pacemaker from the US company Bellanca for $3,200, the Lithuanians began to prepare it for the flight. The name “Lituanica” was proposed by the editor of the Lithuanian newspaper Naujienos. Money was collected for the flight by both American-Lithuanians and Lithuanians living in Lithuania. Planned route: New York-Newfoundland-Atlantic Ocean-Ireland-Kaunas. A total of 7,186 km. The plane could have flown about 8,000 km. 

Lituanica took off from the New York Airport on 15 July 1933. The pilots also carried with them a postal package (the world’s first trans-Atlantic mail). After crossing the Atlantic Ocean, due to bad weather conditions near Ireland, Darius and Girėnas turned north and crossed Scotland and the North Sea on the way to Germany. Lituanica crashed on the night of 17 July, near the village of Kuhdamm, near Soldin (now Polish territory, Pszczelnik village). There were only 650 km left to reach their target. The accident was officially reported as the result of a storm or a breakdown of the motor (according to an unofficial version, the plane could have been shot down by the Nazis). 
 Although the goal was not achieved, the names of S. Darius and S. Girėnas entered the history of global aviation. The Lituanica plane stayed in the air for 37 hours and 11 minutes and flew (to the crash site) 6,411 kilometres. At that time, it was the second-best result in the world of a flight without landing. The flight was also the second most accurate in aviation history. Darius and Girėnas opened the way for air mail between the American and European continents.

This flight of the heroes of our nation is commemorated both in works of art (films, paintings, sculptures, etc.) and in Lithuanian money — a commemorative copper-nickel alloy 10 litas coin was issued in 1993 (this was the first ever collectors coin issued by the Bank of Lithuania). The portraits of the pilots and the aircraft Lituanica were depicted on the 10 litas banknote.

10 litas banknote

The theme chosen for this banknote is like a tribute to the Lithuanian expatriate. It is symbolic that the diaspora also helped to create litas — the team of creators included the Australian-Lithuanian Kęstutis Lynikas, who worked at the Bank of Australia for a long time. 

In 1991, Darius and Girėnas were depicted in litas banknote projects on the 5 litas banknote (created by the artist Giedrius Jonaitis), and a portrait of Vydūnas was planned to be depicted on the 10 litas banknote. However, the young painter Alvydas Mandeika, who started to create it, failed to present a project that could convince his colleagues; therefore, it was decided to transfer the design of the 10 litas banknote to G. Jonaitis, and the portrait of Vydūnas was abandoned. 

After the temporary abandonment of the small denomination banknotes and the concentration of all efforts on the big ones, G. Jonaitis applied the composition of the 5 litas banknote in 1991 to the 10 litas banknote in 1991. The centre of the obverse featured portraits of pilots, and on the reverse — Lituanica, flying over the stormy ocean from America to Europe, to Lithuania. The most interesting thing is that the author thought that his composition was only an idea, according to which an actual drawing would be created later. However, this option was the one actually chosen, and the banknote was issued without special ornaments or security features. 
When preparing the project for the 1993 issue, G. Jonaitis, at the request of the Bank of Lithuania, placed the portraits on the right edge of the banknote. This way, the banknote’s composition was more similar to the other banknotes in the series, and there was room for a watermark and a larger denomination number on the left side. Compared to the drawing of the first issue, the engraved portraits of S. Darius and S. Girėnas suffered — if not for the clothing of the pilots, it would have been difficult to recognise them. The continents and the plane were painted with textbook accuracy, with the hard lines of a technical drawing. Such changes were made so that the image of the first issue would be similar to a banknote, making it harder for forgers to copy. Just like the first issue of the banknote, the 1993 issue was printed by the United States Banknote Corporation. 
In 1997, another issue of the same banknote was printed in the English printing house Thomas De La Rue. The obverse looks more homogeneous, the bright nominal number emphasises the character of the money. Many more innovations were introduced on the reverse. Neither the main components nor their layout changed, only Europe “got back” its southern part. The author of the project critically assessed his drafted banknote: “The graphics of the banknote became more complex, more diverse, but I do see shortcomings — a rather rough background, in some places it cannot be hidden by the spot-painted wave.” As we finish talking about the third issue of the 10 litas banknote, we can note that the money had become more secure. 
In 2001, the fourth issue of the 10 litas banknote appeared. The original composition of the banknote, created by G. Jonaitis, changed more vividly only with the printing of the second issue, and later only the production technology improved, and security features increased. In 2001, the banknote was printed by Orell Füssli Security Printing Ltd, based in Zurich, Switzerland. If we did not know that the banknote was printed by other firms, that the portraits of the pilots were re-engraved, and only had an analysis of the flow and character of the lines of engraving, we might think that the portraits on all three issues were engraved by the same master. Only with very careful comparison could the differences be observed. The portraits of the newer issues were larger, perhaps a little more like the pilots we know so well. The reverse components remained the same as in the previous issues. According to the integrity of the composition, the professionalism of the execution, and the colour culture, this was probably one of the most successful Lithuanian banknotes. 
The 2007-issue banknote with additional protection was printed by the German banknote printing company Giesecke & Devrient GmbH. 

The drawings of the last two issues were probably the most accurate, and they were protected by a host of security features. We can also notice a few nice details. For example, in the lower left corner, the obverse and reverse have a mark that is an exact match on both sides — a tiny Lituanica aeroplane. Another detail that made the banknote very popular among US collectors was not easily visible to the naked eye. Darius is depicted wearing a hat bearing the mark of the famous U.S. Chicago Palwaukee Airport and the words “Milwaukee and Palatine” (the areas from which the name of the airport originated). Darius always wore this hat in public.

True, the banknote itself was and is appreciated around the world, probably not only because of this feature but also because of its unique design. In 2009, its image was on the cover of the famous US paper money catalogue, World Paper Money.
On 1 January 2015, the litas were replaced by the euro. The 10 litas banknote has become a numismatic treasure.