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By Frank Passic, Numismatic Curator, Balzekas Museum

Balzekas Lithuanian Museum Review, April-May-June 2005 (#210), pp. 12-13

With the death of Pope John Paul II on April 2, 2005, we are reminded about the one commemorative coin issued by the Lithuanian Mint honoring this extraordinary Pontiff.

The year 1993 was an historic one for Lithuania. On June 25 the Lithuanian litas was restored as the official currency of the country, following 50 years of using an occupational monetary system. Coins and banknotes were issued bearing a Vytis emblem similar to that used before World War II.

The new Lithuanian Mint had officially begun minting coins in October, 1992, with the minting of 1, 2, and 5 centas denominations. As time went on, the minting of other denominations were added as new equipment was installed.

On July l6, 1993, the Bank of Lithuania issued its first modern commemorative coin. It was a 10 litu (KM-94) to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the tragic flight of Darius and Girenas. That coin was the first to feature the new modern-day version of the Vytis emblem, and was sculpted by the Mint’s designer, Petras Garska. Coins were packaged in a square clear plastic snap-type holder, with a green hard plastic insert to hold the coin.

Just two months later, on September 2, 1993, the Bank issued its 2nd commemorative coin, with the same type of packaging. Again a 10 litu, this one bore the same obverse Vytis design on the obverse, but the reverse had a special theme.

1993 Pope John Paul II Commemorative 10 Litu Coin, obverse view

1993 Pope John Paul II Commemorative 10 Litu Coin, reverse view

This 10 litu coin was issued to coincide with the historic pilgrimage of Pope John Paul II to Lithuania from September 4 to 8, 1993. His visit led him to several Lithuanian sites, including the Cathedral of Vilnius, the Hill of Crosses near Siauliai, and the Saints Peter and Paul Church in Kaunas.

Years of Soviet occupation had prevented the Pope from traveling to Lithuania beforehand to experience first-hand these Lithuanian landmarks. It is no secret that the mother of Pope John Paul II, Emelia Kaczorowska, was of Lithuanian descent. Unfortunately, she passed away in 1929 when her son was only 8 years old.

The numismatic statistics about the coin are as follows: Numismatic catalog number: KM-95. Weight: 13.15 gr. Diameter: 28.7 mm. Thickness: 2.7 mm. Metal content: Cupro-nickel (.750 copper, .250 nickel). Original mintage: 10,000. Sold/distributed: 5,000. Mintmark: LMK. Designers: Petras Garska (Vytis side), and Leonas Pivoriunas (Pope side). Edge: Lettered “TIKEJIMAS * MEILE * VILTIS *”

The obverse of the coin features the new contemporary Lithuanian Vytis emblem in the center. The inscription below the Vytis reads “10 LITU LIETUVA.” This obverse design by Garska is identical to the Darius-Girenas issue of two months earlier, with two major exceptions our readers might like to make note of:

1) The Darius-Girenas coin had the “LMK” (Lietuvos Monetu Kalykla/Lithuanian Coin Mint) mintmark to the viewers right of the horse’s hind legs. No such mintmark appears in that location on the Papal coin (more about this later).

2) While the obverse of the Darius-Girenas coin contained just a wire rim, the Papal coin bears a dotted border around the rim. The dots apparently were added later to the original Garska model, as these dots on the Vytis side are somewhat smaller than the dots that appear on the Pope side. The addition of the dots helps give this coin some added artistic beauty to what would have been a very plain obverse.

The reverse of the coin (note: American collectors however traditionally view the side bearing the portrait as the obverse, such as on the Lincoln cent or the Jefferson nickel) bears the image of the Pontiff facing right, with his hands folded in prayer. The top legend reads “JONAS PAULIUS II.” On the right to the left of the name in smaller lettering appears the words “LIUDYKIME KRISTU,” meaning, “Let Us be Witnesses for Christ.” The date 1993 appears horizontally in Roman numerals to the right of the letter “O” in “Jonas:” “MCMXCIII.”

This side also contains a dotted rim, but the dots are larger, more pronounced and artistically appealing than those that appeared on the Vytis side. These apparently were included as part of the original design. This side of the coin was designed by artist Leonas Pivoriunas. At the 8 o’clock position in stylized writing appears his monogram “Pivor.”

Now for an interesting observation. As mentioned earlier, on the Darius-Girenas commemorative, the LMK mintmark had appeared on the Vytis side to the right of the horse’s hind legs. That is noticeably absent on the Papal coin in that location.

Instead, on this coin, the LMK mintmark has been transferred to the Papal image side, just to the right of and in front of the Pope’s praying hands! Perhaps officials thought it was better for the Mint to be blessed by the Pope, rather than to be kicked by the hind feet of a horse! Or perhaps they outright needed the Pope’s blessing. This new overt placement of the mintmark occurred only on this coin. In subsequent commemorative coins the mintmark appears in its normal position somewhere on the Vytis side.

The edge of the coin is inscribed “TIKEJIMAS * MEILE * VILTIS *” meaning “Faith, Hope, Love.” This religious theme is taken from I Corinthians Chapter 13 in the Bible, verse 13. This religious text is in stark contrast to the years of oppressive atheism that Lithuania had to endure during the Soviet occupation. This coin was a reminder to the Lithuanian nation of their religious heritage.

Regarding this coin, there was controversy about it among the collecting community, along with the Darius-Girenas 10 litu. When the litas was issued in June, 1993, no 10 litu coin was issued. Instead, citizens used 10 litu banknotes instead. This was in contrast to before World War II when both coins and notes of that denomination were circulated. These 1993 10 litù coins are noticeably smaller in diameter than their 1936 or 1938 counterparts.

The 1993-dated commemorative coins were the first such ones issued by the new Mint of Lithuania. The quality was the best using the available equipment at the time. The coins have a mirror-like surface. A bone of contention among collectors concerned the outlandish issue price of 100 litu that the Bank of Lithuania was charging for these coins. Hoping to capitalize on the rising world numismatic market of the post-Soviet era, a price of 100 litu was set. At that time the value of the litas was not officially set, and for a time the ratio was almost 3 litai to 1 U.S. dollar. With the then-current exchange rates, a Darius-Girenas or Pope coin cost around U.S. $30. Later the value of the litas was officially set at a rate of 4 litai to 1 U.S. dollar, and the coins could be purchased for around U.S. $25.

Collectors across Lithuania complained about the high price for an ordinary-looking uncirculated-quality common metal cupro-nickel coin that would normally have a face value of U.S. $3.00 at best. As a result, the policy was changed in 1994 with the issuance of the Song Festival 10 litu commemorative proof (KM-96), when the price was lowered to around 25 litai. That coin was issued in proof quality.

For consistency however, and for fairness to those who had already purchase the coins at the high price, the price for the Darius-Girenas and Papal Visit coins were not lowered, but remained at 100 litai. Later, the Bank of Lithuania issued much larger diameter sized commemorative silver proof coins with issue prices of 90 litai.

The two UNC 1993 cupro-nickel coin prices naturally seemed “out of step” with comparative pricing of other Lithuanian commemorative coins. The Darius-Girenas coin was withdrawn from sale on July 15, 1998 with 4,500 having been sold. The Papal visit coin was withdrawn from sale on September 1, 1998 with 5,000 having been sold. The remaining unsold ones were destroyed.

In retrospect, it is too bad that the Papal visit (as well as the Darius-Girenas coin) coin could not have been minted in silver proof, or at least have been a circulating commemorative. These were in the early years of the new Lithuanian mint, and policies were still being formulated, as well as new equipment being acquired.

Current “trends” in the Krause-Mishler “Standard Catalog of World Coins” gives this coin a value of $45 in UNC, while the Darius-Girenas coin listed as $50. With the death of John Paul II however, it appears that more collectors will want to acquire this lone Papal coin issued by Lithuania as part of their collection. Watch for the prices to rise on this one in the marketplace.

Selected Sources:

Chester Krause & Clifford J. Mishler. “Standard Catalog of World Coins.” Iola, Wisconsin.

“Commemorative Coins.” Brochures, 1993. Bank of Lithuania, Vilnius, Lithuania.

“The Knight,” Lithuanian Numismatic Association, Columbia, Maryland. 1993. Various sources.

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