Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.
By Frank Passic, ANA 90821
The Numismatist May 1981 pages 1178-1191
More articles about Numismatics by Frank Passic.
Lithuanian-American Citizens Club Token, 1908. Aluminum, 26mm.
Center design is a stylized Vytis, a Lithuanian knight.
An examination of the history of Lithuania uncovers one of the most fiercely nationalistic people ever to struggle for national autonomy. Located on the eastern shore of the Baltic Sea, Lithuania is today bounded on the north by Latvia, on the south by Poland, and on the east side by the Soviet Union. At one time in the middle ages Lithuanias empire reached from the Baltic to the Black Seas, covering 350,000 square miles. When Lithuania came under Russian control in 1795, the Russians did all they could to Russify the Lithuanians, but they were continually met by stiff opposition. During the last half of the 19th Century, oppression increased as parochial schools closed and printed matter was forbidden. Repressive measures were forced upon the people, adding to the misery of the Lithuanian nation, which already suffered from famine and mass unemployment.
Area surrounding Lithuania
Hundreds of thousands of Lithuanians fled their homeland. Emigration to America eventually totaled 635,000 individuals, approximately 20 percent of the population of Lithuania! They arrived at Ellis Island impoverished, penniless, and unable to speak the English language but full of hope – the hope of freedom, a new life and unlimited opportunity.
Helping the Lithuanian immigrant was the Brooklyn Chapter of the Lithuanian Alliance of America, which gave aid to those at Ellis Island. The Brooklyn Lithuanian-American Citizens Club held a special conference in May of 1911 to plan a strategy for helping those who were scheduled for deportation back to Lithuania. The No. 4 issue of Tevyne (1896) stated, At present, masses of Lithuanian emigrants are arriving in New York. Every ship from Hamburg brings tens and hundreds of Lithuanians. Many are sent back and the Alliances Brooklyn Chapter is working its hardest for the good of those poor peoples…
In general, the immigrants stayed in New York only briefly, then moved westward to Pennsylvania, where they found employment building railroads and working the coal mines. Numerous Lithithuanian organizations, newspapers, and societies were organized in Pennsylvania. These served as the prelude to those that were to be established later in Chicago as Lithuanian immigrants moved westward. Many Chicago lodges were actually branches of those that were first established in Pennsylvania.
The first group of Lithuanians came to Chicago in 1870, when eighteen men arrived with a railroad crew. Because of its central location with industry and development, Chicago became the goal of the thousands of impoverished Lithuanian immigrants seeking a new life. Groups of Lithuanians came in 1880 and 1885, with the first colony being established on the North side of the city. After that, the influx of Lithuanians to Chicago grew at an enormous rate. It is estimated that between 1880 and 1914 more than 47,000 Lithuanians settled in the city, congregating in the Bridgeport and Town of Lake districts. By 1923, the Lithuanian population had grown to over 90,000, confirming the fact that Chicago contained the largest Lithuanian population of any city in the world, even more than Kaunas, Lithuania.
The Bridgeport section, where many Lithuanians settled, was named after a Lithuanian immigrant from Tilsit (East Prussia/Lithuanian Minor) named Ansas Portas. Portas owned land on the south side of the Chicago river at a bridge crossing, and people referred to the area as the bridge to Portas, which was later changed to Bridgeport. The Bridgeport section served as the nucleus of the Lithuanian community from the early years of immigration to Chicago through the era of World War I.
Due to the difficulty they had in obtaining jobs, Lithuanian immigrants began to settle around the stockyards where work was available in the slaughterhouses and steel mills. By World War I, approximately 25 percent of the ethnic work force in the se industries was Lithuanian, and it is estimated that a total of 100,000 Lithuanians worked in the stockyards in Chicago during their existence. The grim and horrible conditions Lithuanian workers faced there were the thee of the classic novel, The Jungle (1906) by Upton Sinclair.
The Lithuanian contribution to the city of Chicago is significant in several ways. First, it provided the city with an added labor base upon which the citys industries grew and prospered. Second it accelerated the building of ethnic neighborhoods., adding to the distinctive variety found in the citys cultural life. Third, it spurred the formation of new businesses and more affluent.
The Lithuanian immigrants to Chicago frequently made their habitats close to the Catholic churches, which gave them a certain moral and material support. The first waves of Lithuanian immigrants associated with already established Polish parishes. However, as the Lithuanian national consciousness became stronger and friction with the Poles increased, a large number of conflicts and disputes arose between Poles increased, a large number of conflicts and disputes arose between Poles and Lithuanians who were members of the same parish. The main area of conflict centered around the question of whether Lithuanian or Polish would be the language of sermons and confessions.
These disputes became severe and even violent. The press of the day frequently reported these incidents in public newspapers. For example, in 1877 in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, the Lithuanian church members barricaded themselves in the church and would not allow the Polish pastor to enter. In Freeland, Pennsylvania in 1894, a fight ensued between Lithuanian and Polish parishioners, in which the participants exchanged revolver shots, several persons were wounded, and the police had to intervene. As many of these Lithuanian immigrants moved west to Chicago, they were determined to establish their own parishes, independent of Polish influence.
Despite many handicaps, early Lithuanian immigrants did establish their own native-language parishes, newspapers, societies, businesses, taverns, and organizations, all of which contributed to the emergence of the ethnic Lithuanian in American society. Many of these early societies, which have long since disappeared, issued small token chips which were good for a purchase at the particular establishment. These tokens are a lasting memento of the early history of the Lithuanian immigrant to the city of Chicago. They are a reminder of the bond of national identity that caused people to band together in fraternal organizations as they adjusted to their new life in America.
The collection of Lithuanian American lodge tokens presented here was originally assembled by the late Dr. Alexander M. Rackus (1893-1965), himself an immigrant who came to Chicago. A member of the ANA, Rackus wrote several articles for the Numismatist in the 1920s and 1930s, and served as historical/numismatic curator of the Vytautas, the Great museum in Kaunas, Lithuania, 1936-1940. A listing of the Chicago lodge token appeared in the November, 1948 issue (No. 4) of the American-Lithuanian Philatelic Specialist, which Dr. Rackus published in Chicago after the war. However, the collection mysteriously disappeared over the years and was feared lost. In September of 1979 it was discovered in a small box behind some shelves in a closet, in the archives of the Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture, 4012 Archer Avenue in Chicago. In the same box were also early Lithuanian lodge tokens from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Brooklyn, New York. Since that discovery, the collection has been cataloged, photographed and placed on permanent exhibit at the museum.
As the reader will discover, these small tokens display various inconsistencies, spelling errors, and poor grammar. Many of the spelling variances are due to the heavy Polish influence under which the Lithuanians tried to establish their own separate identity. Though the Lithuanian written language was being purged of Polish influences, that influence still shows up on many of these tokens. For example, the Lithuanian letter s which is sh in English, comes out as a Polish sz on the text of some of the tokens. The word Lietuvos, meaning Lithuanian, comes out as a Polish influenced Lietuwiszku, or with other variances. In addition, in the Lithuanian language there is no letter w, but the letter v is used. Yet the letter w shows up on numerous tokens. These are just a few of the many interesting problems which occur in these tokens.
1935 photo of Dr. Alexander M. Rackus (1893-1965) who originally assembled the collection cataloged here.
The following is a catalog of Lithuanian lodge tokens of Chicago with historical notes on the societies that issued them.
1. Society of Saint George the Knight
Aluminum, 26 mm.
In 1881 several Lithuanian families settled in the area around Noble Street and attended the nearby Polish churches. Wishing to establish their own independent Lithuanian language society, the Society of St. George the Knight was founded in 1884 as the first Lithuanian organization in Chicago. However, several of its members moved elsewhere, and the group disbanded. In March of 1891 the society was revived, and in 1892 the first Lithuanian Roman Catholic church in Chicago was built at the corner of Auburn (now Lituanica) Avenue, at 33rd Street. The first parish priest was Father Valentinas Cizauskas, who raised funds for the structure. The wooden church was erected in 1892 under the direction of Father Jurgis Kolesinkis.
St. Georges Church, the first Lithuanian Roman Catholic Church in Chicago. This brick structure, erected in 1902 during the pastorate of Father Mateusas Kriauciunas, is still in use today.
A relief of St. George the Knight slaying the dragon guards the entranceway to St. Georges Church.
Fund raisers at St. Michaels church pose for a portrait in 1916.
2. Society of Saint Stephen
Aluminum, double oval, 15 x 19mm. Beaded border.
3. Society of St. Michael The Archangel
Aluminum, 26mm. Dotted border.
4. Society of All Saints
Aluminum, octagonal. 25 x 27mm. Dotted border on obverse.
5. Knights of the Lithuanian King Mindaugas
Aluminum, 25mm. Beaded border both sides.
6. Society of Saint Prince Casimir
Aluminum, 26mm. Dotted both sides.
7. St. Casmir Society
Aluminum, 25mm. Dotted border both sides.
8. Society of the Grove of Lithuania
Aluminum, 25mm. Dotted border obverse, beaded border reverse.
9. National Guard of the Lithuanian Grand Duke Algirdas
Aluminum crenated, 25 x 30mm. 8 petals. Dotted border obverse, beaded border reverse.
10. Saint Domininks Society
Aluminum crenated, 25 x 30mm. 8 petals. Beaded border both sides.
11. Society of St. Stanislaus Bishop and Martyr
Aluminum crenated, 26 x 30mm. 8 petals. Beaded border obverse, dotted border reverse.
12. United Lithuanian Societies
Aluminum, 24mm. Dotted border both sides.
13. Society of the Lithuanian King Mindaugas
Brass, 25mm. Dotted border both sides.
The Providence of God church and school.
Father Michael Krusas (1879-1950), one of Chicago's most formidable Lithuanian priests.
14. The Providence of God Society
Brass, 21mm. Dotted border obverse, plain border reverse.
Obverse inscription: PROVIDENCE OF GOD SOCIETY, with an all seeing Eye of God in the center.
Reverse: GOOD FOR 5˘ DRINK.
The Providence of God Society was organized in 1900. Located at 717 W. 18th St. and Union Avenue, a combined church and school was erected in 1901, and 1905 the parish rectory was opened under the direction of Father Edward Steponavicius. One of the parish's most formidable priests in the early years was Father Michael Krusas (Kruszas) (1875-1950). Under Krusas direction, the church building was erected in 1914. It still stands today, just west of the Dan Ryan Expressway, where it can be seen from the highway. Krusas later became the pastor of St. George's church, and was one of the highly respected church leaders in Chicago. In 1979 the Providence of God parish had the high honor of being visited by Pope John Paul II during his tour of America.
15. and 16. Grand Duke Gediminas Society
Brass, octagonal. 27 x 29mm. Grooved dotted border both sides.
17. Society of Brothers and Sisters of Lithuania in America
Brass, octagonal, 27 x 30mm. Dotted border obverse, beaded border reverse.
18. 19. and 20. Saint Martins Theatrical Society
Brass, 23mm. square.
21. Lithuanian Theatrical Society of St. Martin
Aluminum, 25mm. Obverse bears a fine line border, the reverse has a dotted border.
22. Saint Rochs Mutual Benefit Society
Brass, double oval, 24 x 28mm. Both sides bear a dotted border.
Our Lady of Vilnius Parish on West 23rd Place.
23. Our Lady of Vilnius of the Dawn Gate
Bronze, octagonal 25 x 27mm. The obverse has dotted border; the reverse a beaded border.
24. 25. and 26. Lovers of the Fatherland Lithuanian Society
No. 24: Brass, 25mm. No. 25: Aluminium octagonal, 24 x 27mm. No. 26: Brass escalloped, 25 x 30mm. 8 petals. No. 24: 5˘; No. 25: 10˘; No. 26: 25˘.
27. Lithuanian National Society
Bronze octagonal, 25 x 27mm. Both sides bear a dotted border.
28. Butvill Tavern
Aluminum, 24mm. Both sides bear a dotted border.
29. Womens Society of the Dawn Gate
Bronze crenated, 25 x 30mm. 8 petals. The obverse has a dotted border; the reverse, beaded.
This listing of Lithuanian lodges in Chicago is not exhaustive. Other tokens were issued by such organizations as: The Lithuanian Sons and Daughters Hall on South Halsted, the Lithuanian American Republican League, and others. These tokens frequently appear as mavericks in coin dealers token boxes, and it takes a dedicated collector to know how to find them.
There were three other items that were minted by the World War I era immigrants which although not tokens, should be mentioned here. The first is the medal issued as part of a ribbon in 1907 by the Womens Society of the Dawn Gate (as token 29).
Bronze with loop, 31mm.
Obverse inscription: STEBUKLINGA S. P. VILNIUS AUSTROS VARTUSE.
Translation: Miraculous Blessed Virgin of Vilnius of the Dawn Gate.
Reverse inscription: LIETUVOS GLOBIEJI MELSTIS UZ MUMIS MOTERU DRAUGYST UZDIETA LAPK. LL. 1907. WESTSIDE, CHICAGO, ILL.
Translation: Patroness of Lithuania, Pray for Us. Womens Society, Begun November 1907.
This society ceased to function in 1936.
The Lithuanian Congress held in Chicago, June 8-11, 1919, approved the gift of a cast bell from Lithuanian Americans to their fatherland. The 1200 pound bell, modeled after the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, was paid for by donations from Lithuanian Americans and was shipped to Kaunas on January 12, 1922. It was rung for the first time on February 16, 1922, Lithuanias Independence Day. Those who contributed $5 or more to the construction of the bell were eligible to acquire the Lithuanian Liberty Bells Honor Badge, a bronze medal with ribbon and pin-back bronze bar. The striped ribbon is yellow, green and red, the three colors of the Lithuanian flag and the bell depicts Vytis mounted on a charging steed.
Bronze, with bar and ribbon, 4mm.
Bar inscription: LAISVE LIETUVAI
Translation: Freedom for Lithuania
Bell inscription: O, SKAMBINK PER AMZIUS VAIKAMS LIETUVOS KAO LAISVES NEVERTAS KAS NEGINA JOS
Translation: Ring through the ages for the children of Lithuania, that worthy of freedom is he who fails to defend it.
The year 1930 marked the 500th anniversary of the death of Lithuanias greatest patriarch, Vytautas the Great. Under Vytautas, Lithuania stretched from the Baltic to the Black Sea in the early 15th century. It was Vytautas who defeated the Teutonic Knights at the famous Battle of Tannenberg (Zalgiris) in the year 1410. In Lithuania in 1930, a year-long celebration was held, commemorating the anniversary of Vytautas death.
The Lithuanians in Chicago issued a special medal/badge to commemorate the event. Struck in both bronze and aluminum, each bore a cloth ribbon-pin bearing the colors of the Lithuanian national flag: yellow, green, and red.
Bronze or aluminum, 30mm.
Obverse inscription: VYTAUTAS DIDYSIS LIETUVOS KUNIGAIKSTIS with a bust of Vytautas in the center.
Translation: Vytautas the Great, Lithuanian Grand Duke.
Reverse inscription: 500th ANNIVERSARY OF THE DEATH OF VYTAUTAS. 1430-1930. CHICAGO, ILL. In 1979 a hoard of these medals surfaced at the Balzekas Museum in Chicago, and the majority of them were subsequently sold to Lithuanian numismatists. The bronze version of this medal is much scarcer than the aluminum.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Frank Passic was born in 1953 in Albion, Michigan, and attended Albion Public Schools, graduating in 1971. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1975 from the Spring Arbor College where he majored in the Social Sciences.
An ardent numismatist, Passic has been a member of the Albion Coin Club since 1964 and presently serves as the clubs general chairman for their annual coin show. He also serves on the board of governors of the Michigan State Numismatic Society. In addition, he holds membership in the Albion Coin Club, Michigan State Numismatic Society, American Numismatic Association, International Bank Note Society, and the Central States Numismatic Society.
Passic is co-founder of the Lithuanian Numismatic Association and editor of its publication, The Knight. He has written numerous articles that have appeared in such publications as The Numismatist, World Coin News, Coin World, IBNS Journal and others. Since 1979 he has served as numismatic curator of the Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture in Chicago.
This collection of tokens has a special personal significance for the author. As he explains it, My grandparents came over to America in 1913 from Lithuania and went to Chicago during the era these tokens were issued. My grandfather worked in the steel mills there and lived on S. Halsted, in the Bridgeport section. In 1918 he moved to Albion, Michigan. You can imagine my surprise when I came across a token of the Providence of God Society, the place where my grandparents were married by Father M. Krusas in January of 1914!
More articles about Numismatics by Frank Passic.
All text copyright, 2016 © all rights reserved Frank Passic