Numismatists in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia have joined forces to tell the story of the national currencies of the Baltic states. A traveling exhibition commemorates the anniversaries of the litas, lats and kroon – and the stories of the three nations encoded in them. The article appeared in the magazine Baltic Business Quarterly.
Money makes the world go round – or even spin out of control. It is the most important commodity in an economic system and the general medium of exchange. Issued in the form of a national currency, it not only has the role of legal tender, but is also the prime symbol of state sovereignty. Few should know this better than the Germans, who were so proud of their Deutschmark. But also in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, the national currencies have been important cornerstones, signs and symbols of their statehood and independence.
Commemorating the anniversaries of the Baltic currencies, numismatists from the three countries have set up a joint traveling exhibition that traces the monetary history of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Entitled "100 years: Litas, lats and kroon" and presented in the three local languages and English, the public exhibition shows the emergence, creation and restoration of the currencies. "It is a journey through the three Baltic states and two historical periods in which they are connected by a similar history from a political, economic, cultural and ideological point of view," said Dalia Grimalauskaitė, historian at the National Museum of Lithuania and one of the curators of the exhibition.
Using a set of 12 questions, the authors of the exhibition examine the creation of the Baltic currencies in two stages of history. The first part is about the long and winding road to the introduction of the litas, lats and kroon at the beginning of the 20th century and their evolution in the interwar period, while the second part of the exhibition relates to money during the Second World War, the period of occupation and the restoration of national currencies in the 1990s.
Same, same but different
Ahead of and during the First World War and the following wars of independence, various kinds of money appeared across the Baltics in a coming and going of currencies and tenders. For the newly founded states in 1918, it was not easy to restore order in their chaotic monetary systems but after transitional periods they put their own national currencies into circulation. All of them were backed up by gold – the most solid foundation known in the world at that time.
The Lithuanian litas was the first Baltic currency to be introduced – entering circulation on October 2, 1922. Exactly a month later, the Latvian lats followed suit, whereas the Estonian kroon was only introduced six years later on September 1, 1928. All three currencies were reintroduced when the Baltic states regained their independence at the beginning of the 1990s. So this year marks the 30th anniversary of the restored lats and litas, while the kroon already celebrated last year. However, none of them circulates anymore since the Baltic countries have all adopted the euro.
"The main idea of the joint exhibition is to show what is common, what is similar and what is completely different in the monetary history of the three Baltic countries," Mārtiņš Vāveris, researcher at the department of numismatics of the Latvian National Museum of History, told Baltic Business Quarterly during a guided tour through the exhibition in Riga, adding that the currencies are looked at mainly from a numismatic point of view. "We tried to highlight the technical aspect of the money – where it was made, what is was made from, who made it and who designed it. We look at it as an object. We do not speak about how it functions and hardly go into economics at all."
Created in close cooperation between the three national history museums, the exhibition presents banknotes and coins, money making equipment and other monetary items from the two periods in showcases. Display boards and video installations also show how each country chose the name and design of their currencies. Included are also unusual name proposals and designs for banknotes and coins that were not realized. Among them stands out a sketch of a Lithuanian coin with an upright sitting pig, while other banknotes resemble play money from board games. The various names offered for the currency include the dragon as the main unit that is divided info dwarfs.
In each country, the exhibition is further supplemented by exhibits from other museums, memorial institutions, archives and private collections. "One of the objectives was for each country to emphasize its own story and national currency history when the exhibition is in that country," Vāveris explained, adding that several unique objects are exhibited for the first time.
In Latvia, this included the model of a silver five lat coin from the repository of the Royal Mint of Great Britain. The traveling exhibition started its journey last year in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius, where it was opened on September 22, 2022 at the National Museum of Lithuania and remained on display until February 5, 2023. It proved to be quite popular and was visited by approximately 9,600 people. Afterwards, it made its way to Riga and was shown at the Latvian National History Museum from March 4 to May 28, before moving on to Tallinn
for the summer. There it will be presented from June 15 to October 12 at the Estonian History Museum.
Editor: Kristina Kersa
Source: Baltic Business Quarterly