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The history of Samogitian money

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On 10 September 2019, the Bank of Lithuania issued the first commemorative €2 coin in the Lithuanian Ethnographic Regions series, dedicated to Samogitia. But was there ever Samogitian money? Let us tell you some stories about it. One of these stories is a more serious one that happened during the WWI, and the second is more fun and happened during the Lithuanian National Awakening, when people had already felt the wind of freedom and had plenty of humorous ideas.

Seda’s money

Seda is a town in Northwestern Lithuania, located 24 km from Mažeikiai. Today it has less than a thousand residents but retains the status of a town, being one of the smallest towns in Lithuania.
Historical sources mention Seda since the 13th century and as early as in the 15th century it was already a famous trade centre with Livonia. Therefore, the cash flow passing through this town should have been quite significant.

During the WWI, when Lithuania was occupied by the German Empire, local occupant money was issued in Seda in 1915. Due to a metal shortage and economic turmoil in Germany, Germans issued local temporary necessity money (notgeld). It was only valid in specific, small territories (towns, villages, settlements). Such a method of issuing temporary money was also applied in occupied territories, Lithuania included. Having occupied Lithuania in 1915, Germans were issuing commemorative, silver medals and local money. The first money of this kind showed up in Seda County. Its war captain, Pauly, issued paper kopecks in denominations of 3, 5, 10, 15, 25 and 50 on 2 November 1915; these kopecks were intended for local circulation and small payments. They were vouchers (temporary debt obligations) printed on one side of poor-quality paper. They had a denomination, date of issue and the publisher – county director (Kreisamtmann) printed on them in German. Their validity was verified by the Seda county director’s stamp. Notgelds appeared even earlier than Germany’s occupant money – roubles and kopecks. However, they were in circulation only for a year and were taken out of circulation on 10 November 1916.

These banknotes are very rare nowadays, but the Money Museum of the Bank of Lithuania has one example (15 kopecks) on display.

Residents of Seda remember notgelds to this day and are even proud of them. In 2015, the town held a festival to commemorate a hundred years of Seda’s money. For ths occasion, the old money was recreated, an anniversary festive 100 SEDU banknote was created and commemorative postal stamps were issued. There was even a play, called “Sedos notgeldai” [The Notgelds of Seda] created.
Seda wasn’t the only town in Samogitia during WWI where local notgelds were issued, the Klaipėda Region that was part of Germany’s territory at the time also had them. Telšiai, occupied by Germans in 1915, may have had vouchers issued with a stamp of the Telšiai committee for the support of war-affected residents and the signature of Rabbi Yosef Bloch.

Litas

It may come as a surprise to you that in 1989, in Samogitia, litas was issued. We all know full well that litas was issued only in 1993. So what is the deal with this Samogitian litas?
So here’s the story: in 1989, a Samogitian, Kazys Almenas, had the idea to organise a big Samogitian festival – a fair with its own money. An artist Vilius Puronas designed Samogitian banknotes that had all the features of real money. Banknotes of five denominations, three of litas and two of cents, were printed on yellowish paper with geometric ornament watermarks. The obverse of these litas featured portraits of Lithuanian and Samogitian rulers, whereas the reverse featured ancient soldiers. Cents were decorated with fragments of fairytale illustrations by the popular artist Kazys Šimonis. Banknotes were created as a collage, with plenty of ornaments, engravings and humorous phrases in Samogitian. For example, there was this phrase: "Katras pasimislys dėrbtė netėkrus piningus ir anus skleste, tas gaus katuorgas iki aštuoniu metu" (Who tries to counterfeit money and distribute it, will be sentenced to up to eight years of hard labour). The same phrase (just not in the Samogitian dialect) was also printed on occupant money of the German Empire (ostmarks and ostroubles).

The money was really popular amongst festival goers. As its author, the artist Puronas, remembers, everyone entering Šiauliai sports’ hall had to exchange their roubles to Samogitian litas and could exchange them back to Soviet currency when they were leaving the Samogitian territory. In the evening it turned out that more than 3,000 Samogitian litas were taken home as souvenirs. When Mikhail Gorbachev, the then leader of the Soviet Union was visiting Šiauliai in 1990, it was intended to give him a set of these banknotes during his meeting with the city’s intelligentsia. Unfortunately, this didn’t happen because his itinerary changed.

Coin dedicated to Samogitia

The national side of the commemorative €2 coin dedicated to Samogitia depicts the historic coat of arms of Samogitia with a bear standing on its hind legs, with a chain collar on the neck. The bear is situated against a shield topped with a crown held by an armoured soldier (the symbol of courage, sacrifice and patriotism) and a goddess with an anchor (the symbol of hope). 

The author of the coin’s national side is the painter Rolandas Rimkūnas.

The commemorative coin dedicated to Samogitia is the first one in the Lithuanian Ethnographic Regions series and the rest of them will be released by 2023, dedicated to the remaining four ethnographic regions: Aukštaitija, Dzūkija, Suvalkija and Lithuania Minor. The second coin in this series, dedicated to Aukštaitija, will be released at the beginning of next year.

The mintage of the €2 coin dedicated to Samogitia is 500,000 pieces.
 

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Last updated: 2021-07-08