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The Medals of Petras Rimsa

By Frank Passic, ANA 90821

The Numismatist, May 1983, Page 910-928


Cover of The Numismatist, May 1983

On the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea lies Lithuania, the southernmost of the Baltic States and a land rich in numismatic history. Although Lithuanian coinage history dates back to the 14th century, the country’s relatively remote location in Europe and its history of repeated foreign occupations have left the field of Lithuanian numismatics virtually untouched. Often erroneously included with the coinage of Germany, Poland, Russia or the Soviet Union, Lithuanian numismatics is a specialty in its own light and offers the researcher an abundant opportunity for study.


The Republic of Lithuania, located on the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea.

Lithuanian medallic art is an especially untouched area of study, particularly because individual medals struck by various persons or groups were outlawed after World War II by the occupying Soviets, and because much technical data and certain design themes were censored. Much of the information available about Lithuanian Medallic art is found only among the memories of aged Lithuanian exiles. Dedicated members of the Lithuanian Numismatic Association, carefully recording and preserving these memories, are to a very large part responsible for the preservation of this rich and interesting field. The Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture in Chicago, Illinois, serves as an archival repository for Lithuanian cultural material, its numismatic department contains numerous rare medals brought to the United States by exiles from Lithuania.


Petras Rimsa in 1957

Lithuania’s most outstanding medalist was sculptor Petras Rimsa (1881-1961), a contemporary of Germany’s Karl Goetz. Many of Rimsa’s designs reflect Lithuania’s patriotic themes and range from religious subject matter to sarcastic political commentary. Because of the unfortunate chain of events that befell the Republic of Lithuania after World War II, Rimsa’s medalic works are relatively unknown. Rarely available on the market, his medals are highly prized and dearly cherished by Lithuanian collectors everywhere.

Petras Rimsa was born November 11, 1881, in the Lithuanian village of Naudziai. His parents were farmers of the Suvalkai Province, and in the is rural setting young Petras aspired to be an artist. He was especially talented and showed a marked tendency for work that required skill, accuracy and patience. As a young boy he spent much of his leisure time whittling and decorating household articles and farm implements. Before long he had acquired the name of “Master” in his village in recognition of his artistic work.

At the age of 17, Petras left his village for Warsaw, Poland, to study art under the tutelage of Polish sculpture Welonski. He then traveled to France to further study at the Ecole des Beaux Arts under Professor Antoin Mercie. After completing his courses there, Rimsa traveled to various European centers of art and culture, continually increasing his knowledge and skill.


THE LITHUANIAN SCHOOL, one of Rimsa's most famous works. This piece represents the secret teaching of the Lithuanian language in the home during the period when the Russian govermnent had placed a ban on teaching and use of the language.

Upon his return to Lithuania in 1906, Rimsa immersed himself in local Lithuanian cultural activities, helped to establish the Lithuanian Art Association and participated in the first Lithuanian Art Exhibit in 1907. Here he exhibited his most famous sculptural work, The Lithuanian School, which received much critical acclaim. This masterpiece represents the Lithuanian school between the years 1864 and 1904 when the Russian government has placed the strictest ban on all Lithuanian literature. The sculpture shows a mother secretly teaching her child the Lithuanian language. The alert and watchful dog beside the child shows the constant fear with which the school operated.


Rimsa’s work THE PLOUGHMAN, created in 1922, graphically depicts the country’s misery under Russian occupation.

In 1907 Rimsa exhibited his other famous work, Artojas (The Ploughman) which expressed Lithuania’s utter misery under Russian occupation. The piece depicts the ploughman with his beast of burden and the plough made by his own hands as these together force the hard and weedy soil to yield a crop. The Ploughman associated Rimsa’s name with Lithuania’s struggle for national independence. In 1911, the Russian Imperial Society of Arts awarded him a large cash prize for this work.

The outbreak of World War I brought severe hardships to Rimsa and his countrymen, and Rimsa was forced to labor in munitions factories and as a merchant. After Lithuanian independence was restored in 1918, he returned to his home in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius and continued his artwork.

His return to Vilnius, however, was short-lived. In 1920 a military invasion of Lithuania by Poland and occupation of Vilnius by Polish troops forced Rimsa to flee the city. His studio was lost and a lasting bitterness toward Poland was implanted in his heart, a feeling that was later reflected in his medallic work. After losing his studio in Vilnius, Rimsa journeyed to Berlin and other European cities. He finally returned to Lithuania and made his home in Kaunas, the temporary capital of the country.

Rimsa is said by many to have had a stuttering problem, and consequently he talked very little. When the subject of the Polish occupation of Lithuania’s capital came up, however, he suddenly became very eloquent and spoke as an expert on the subject.

Rimsa toured the United States in 1936 and 1937, exhibiting his works in Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Pittsburg, New York and other cities. Critics marveled at his artistic abilities. Paul Bird of The Art Digest commented, “An artist of unusual graphic power, he also produces ornate linear sculptures, decorated from head to foot with fantastic designs.” Carlyle Burrows of the New York Herald Tribune wrote, “Medals like these celebrating the Congress of Vilnius, and the establishment of the first ecclesiastical province of Lithuania are forcefully modeled in their essential details, while showing meticulous elaboration of the backgrounds.” Eleanor Jewett of the Chicago Daily Tribune remarked, “There seems, in fact, no end to the genius of this artist. He cannot be classified as a modern or non-modern, but rants with the unticketed immortals.”

In the introduction to the official programs at the exhibition held at the International Institute in Boston, January 30 through February 12, 1937, the Consul General of Lithuania, Jonas Budrys, remarked:

“Petras Rimsa is one of the most prominent sculptors of Lithuania. His creations are valued very highly not only in Lithuania, but also elsewhere. They portray the spirit of national Lithuanian art, they carry one into the realms of the unknown, unexplored futurism...His numerous medallions disclose the finesse of an accomplished artist.

“In appreciation of this recognition, and in appreciation of the talents of the sculptor, we offer this exhibit to art lovers, and we hope that it will tend to bring the American public closer to Lithuanian talents, and to the Lithuanian people as a whole.” 1

Rimsa’s success in the United States was due largely to the efforts of the noted Lithuanian-American numismatist, Dr. Alexander M. Rackus (1893-1965). An avid collector, Rackus belonged to the American Numismatist Association and wrote numerous articles for the Numismatist in the 1920s and 1930s. In his recollections, Rimsa remarked:

Alexander Rackus was the first collector with such a strong passion that I had met and knew. Of course, he had set his heart on my medals. They were items which, if was said, could be shown anywhere in the world. And Dr. Rackus took my medals to coin shows everywhere in the world. They were discussed quite often in American numismatic conventions. And it was worthwhile ... My medals apparently attracted the notice of Americans. Rackus wrote, “Visitors to numismatic shows, passing indifferently by other exhibits, would always stop at those cases in which were displayed Petras Rimsa medals, and enjoying themselves would remain by the half-hour.” Even American sculptors eyed them approvingly. As an example, the sculptor-medalist J. Henris Ripstra wrote me on April 18, 1931, as follows: “I recently viewed your medal collection, exhibited by Dr. Al. Rackus as the Chicago Coin Club. They pleased me very much, and I congratulate you upon your style and technique. If possible, I would like to acquire a collection of those medals.” And thus my medals found their way into the world. 2

After World War II, Rimsa chose to stay in Soviet-occupied Lithuania, where the communists gave him a large studio to replace his cramped one in Kaunas. Rimsa continued to illustrate books, write and design medals. Unhappy with the Soviet system, he frequently refused work in his later years, officially blaming his “old age,” as his personal letters to the West revealed. Rimsa died in Vilnius on October 2, 1961. His recollections were published in 1964, although communist authorities did not allow publication of data concerning many of Rimsa’s Republic period medals. As a result, mintage figures are available for only a few of the pieces struck during this time.

Rimsa’s pre-World War II medals were struck by Huguenin Freres & Company of Le Locle, Switzerland. This firm also manufactured Lithuanian military orders and decorations. Rimsa’s medals were struck in bronze, in sizes of 100, 75, 60, 35 and 25 millimeters in diameter. Personal editions presented to close friends or dignitaries were often of silver or gold wash, and Huguenin Freres & Company are customarily presented Rimsa with a 150-gram gold striking of each of his designs.

Today in Soviet-occupied Lithuania, inside the “Stained Glass Museum” (formerly the church of Saint Michael the Archangel) in Kaunas, Rimsa’s works are exhibited on public display. The following catalog is a complete listing and description of all the known medals of the Lithuanian medalist, Petras Rimsa.

1. Vilnius, Capital of Lithuania

This medal commemorates the 600th anniversary of the founding of the Lithuanian capital city of Vilnius. The anniversary occurred in 1923 when the city was under Polish occupation.


Obverse

Reverse

VILNIUS, CAPITAL OF LITHUANIA

Known Mintages: 35 centimeter medal, private issue, only a few struck; 75-millimeter medal—300 struck; 20 100mm personal specimens cast in bronze.

Obverse: Featured is Grand Duke Gediminas, dressed in chain mail and holding a downward pointing sword in his right hand. On his left shoulder is a decorative mask of a lion’s head, symbolic of Gediminas reputation as the “Lithuanian Lion.” Gediminas began the dynasty of Lithuanian rules that lasted almost 300 years. Ruling from 1316 to 1341, Gediminas completed the unification of the Lithuanian tribes and expanded the territory of the nation. The inscription reads GEDIMINAS DIDYSIS LIETUVOS KUNIGAIKSTIS MCCCXVI-MCCCXLI, which translates “Gediminas the Great, Grand Duke of Lithuania 1316-1341.”

Reverse: Shown is Gediminas castle, the ruins of which are still found in Vilnius today. The inscription reads VILNIUS LIETUVOS SOSTINE, meaning “Vilnius, Capital of Lithuania.” At the bottom is Vytis (the knight), Lithuania’s national emblem, and the anniversary dates, MCCCXXIII-MCMXXIII (1323-1923).

2. Regaining Klaipeda

In 1252 the Livonian Order invaded western Lithuania, reached the Courish Lagoon and erected a stronghold on the site of a native Lithuanian village. Pope Innocent IV noted in 1253 that the stronghold had clearly been built in Lithuanian territory. Renamed “Memelburg”, the city was a source of boundary conflicts between Lithuania and the Teutonic knights and other warring factions for many centuries. After World War I, the Klaipeda region was placed under Allied control and Lithuanians feared the city would be returned to the Germans or taken over by Poland. In January 1923, the Lithuanians staged an insurrection and successfully regained the city.

Known Mintages: 10,000 specimens were struck in 1927, some 60 millimeters in diameter and the remainder 35 millimeters. In addition, two personal editions were issued.


Obverse

Reverse

REGAINING KLAIPEDA

Obverse: Shown is a Lithuanian of the Klaipeda district (right) calling to arms a volunteer of independent Lithuania (left). The center depicts the defender of Lithuania receiving a sword from a patriotic woman, with the city in the background. Surrounding this is the inscription, KAS MUSU KOVA IGYSIM, which translates “that which is ours we shall fight to retain.” In the left oval is the Vytis emblem, opposite is the coat-of-arms of the city. The bottom contain a sword pointed upward, with the words, I-9 KLAIPEDA 1923, referring to January 9, 1923, when the call for help went out. A wreath of oak leaves surrounds the design, and the emblem of the Lithuanian National Guard, the double-barred cross, appears above.

Reverse: Shown is Klaipeda after reunification. Major Lithuania (left) joins hands with Minor Lithuania (right), representing unity of the land and waters of Lithuania. In the center, the defender has returned, and is being bestowed with the laurel wreath of victory and honor. At the bottom is a downward pointed sword with the inscription 1-19 KLAIPEDA 1923, signifying the day of the insurrection. Below are twigs from the Lithuanian national flower, the ruta (rue). In the let oval is a sailboat, symbolic of the recreation of the area; opposite is placed a rake and a plow, symbolic of the industry and agriculture of the area. At the top of the medal is the Order of the Cross of Vytis, Lithuania’s highest military order for honorable service at that time. The legend reads ISKOVOTA-MYLET MOKESIM, which means “That which we have regained, we will know how to cherish.” Rimsa later issued another version of the medal with the inscription AMZIUS BUDEJE LAISVE LAIMEJOM, which translates “having waited for ages, we won freedom.” Specimens with the alternate inscription also bear the date 1-20 on the bottom, signifying the day victory was achieved. The obverse of the later version bears the inscription VADOUKIS PATS, IR BUSI LAISVAS. which means “save yourself and you will be free.”

3. Congress of Vilnius

Following the Revolt of 1905 in the Russian Empire, Lithuanian nationalists, concerned with the question of autonomy for Lithuania, gathered in Vilnius on November 21-22, 1905. Headed by Jonas Basanavicius, the 2000 member assembly resolved that the Czar was the enemy of Lithuania, that Lithuania should be autonomous, that Russian influences in Lithuania must be removed and that the Lithuanian language and culture should reign supreme in the country. Within a few weeks after the assembly dispersed, Lithuanians held elections, ousting Russian officials. However, the Russian government soon enacted repressive measures against those who had been active in carrying out the resolutions. This medal commemorates the 20th anniversary of the Congress of Vilnius.


Obverse

Reverse

CONGRESS OF VILNIUS

Obverse: The design focuses on the outline of the city of Vilnius, with the Hill of Gediminas in the background. The inscription reads, DIDYSIS VILNIAUS SEIMAS, which means “the great Congress of Vilnius.” At the top is a phrase from the Lithuanian national anthem: IS PRAEITIES TAVE SUNUS TE STUORTBE SEMIA, which translates “may your sons draw strength from the past.”

Reverse: At the top is the date 1925. Depicted is independent Lithuania standing before her throne, holding the national emblem Vytis. The chain of slavery is at her feet, and the lion at her side represents strength. Her left arm rests upon the shield with the double-barred cross, the emblem of the Lithuanian National Guard (Lietuvos Sauliu Sajunga), and bears its initials, L.S.S.

4. Vilnius 1323/1920

The first of several anti-Polish medals issued in protest of the Polish occupation of Vilnius.


Obverse

Reverse

VILNIUS 1323/1920

Known Mintage: No subscribers to this medal are known. Rimsa states in his recollection that only a dozen or so were minted, all 100 millimeters in diameter. One specimen is on display in the Rackus collection in the Balzekas Museum in Chicago.

Obverse: The design focuses on the Lithuanian “Iron Wolf” (Gelezinis Vilkas), the legendary animal associated with the founding of the capital city. A close examination of the obverse reveals intricate details of the animal typical of Rimsa’s styling. The lines on the medal all come to a point on the animal’s right front leg where a dot signifies the center of the medal. According to tradition, Grand Duke Gediminas was hunting one day in the forests of Lithuania, and in a dream saw an iron wolf standing on a hillside howling as though it were possessed of a hundred wolves within itself. Upon awakening, Gediminas told of his dream to the pagan high priest Lizdeika, who interpreted the dream as follows:

The hill is on the spot on which a large city will be built. The wolf signifies that the glory of this city will be heard throughout the world.

The interpretation of this dream pleased Gediminas, and he built his castle on that hill, establishing the city of Vilnius.

The background of this medal features the immense castle of Gediminas. To the right of the wolf as part of the complex is the Hill of Gediminas. The scene depicted here is a reflection of Vilnius in all of its glory. Three birds soar majestically to the left of the wolf. A shining sun signifies the rising Lithuanian nation. The top inscription reads VILNIUS 1323. At the base of the castle are the words TAIP GEDIMINAS SAPNAVO in stylized lettering, meaning “this was Gediminas’ dream.” Surrounding the sides is an oak / acorn wreath, a symbol of strength and endurance. At the bottom is the Lithuanian national emblem Vytis, with rays protruding outward, and at the ten o’clock position appears the signature of Rimsa. Fine-textured dots appear in the background.

Reverse: In contrast with the obverse, the scene depicts Vilnius in 1920 after it was seized by Poland. At the base of the castle ruins is inscribed TAIP GEDIMINAS NESAPNAVO, which means “this was not Gediminas’s dream.” The center is dominated by a large pig furiously devouring the Lithuanian flag. The collar of the pig is adorned with Polish military symbols. The pig is wearing a military-style hat, representing the treasuring violation and method used to seize the city. To the left, instead of three birds, hover three bats, signifying the evilness of the pig’s presence. The legend reads VILNIUS 1920. The sun has been replaced by a dark moon, and the design is surrounded by a wreath of thistles and thorns. At the bottom is the coat-of-arms of Vilnius.

5. Unity and War

This Unity and War (Unija ir Kova) medal resurrects the national conflict between the Lithuanians and Poles that has existed for centuries.


UNITY AND WAR

Obverse: Depicted is the Lithuanian 3-grasis (grosz) coin of 1565, minted during the reign of Grand Duke Sigismund August. This coin was an international embarrassment to the Poles, and a strong expression of Lithuanian autonomy. On this coin, in Latin, is the biting sentence from the Psalm of David: QUI HABITAT IN COELIS IRRIDEBIT EOS (Psalm 2:4), which means “He who sits in the heavens laughs at them.” This passage was purposely included on the coin as a response to Polish clamoring about Lithuanian coins having twenty percent more intrinsic value than their Polish counterparts, and because of Polish protests over placing Lithuanian symbols and inscriptions in prominent positions on coins minted in Vilnius, at the expense of Polish symbols. Jonas K. Karys, director of the Lithuanian Mint from 1936-1939 wrote: “So the leadership of the Mint and eminent Lithuanians standing in back of it in Vilnius, on at least one occasion gave the Poles what was coming to them.” 3 The coin depicted on this medal bears the Gumowski number G-623 and was minted in 1556 and 1566.

The image of the coin appears in the center of the medal. At the top of the medal is a favorite Polish proverb WOLNIZ WOLNYMI; ROWNIZ ROWNYMI, which translates “the free with the free, equal with equals.” This phrase was used by the Poles as a pretext to subjugating the Lithuanian nations throughout the centuries. Accordingly, the phrase is separated by a mask, signifying the hypocrisy of the Polish words. At the bottom is shown a dog and a cat, which represent the incompatibility of the union. The word UNIJA appears at the very bottom of the edge. To the left in an oval space is found the Polish eagle; opposite is the Lithuanian emblem, Vytis.

Reverse: Entitled KOVA (war) on the bottom rim, this scene depicts Vytis in combat with the Polish eagle. It is the prophecy of the minters of 1565 fulfilled. The dog and cat, represented only by heads on the side rims, are far apart. The incompatibility reflects the fact that the Poles and Lithuanians are in no way ethnically related, since the Poles are Slavic, while the Lithuanians descend from Baltic tribes. Rimsa’s signature appears at the three o’clock position, and the date 1925 appears at the two o’clock position.

6. Union Desired


Obverse

Reverse

UNION DESIRED

Known Mintage: Only 12 specimens are estimated to have been struck, all 100 millimeters in diameter.

Obverse: Entitled UNIJOS NORI (Union Desired), this extremely grotesque theme represents a naked and prostitute Poland offering herself forcibly to a fleeing Lithuanian male in national costume. Rimsa’s signature and the date 1925 are located at the two o’clock position. This same scene was also circulated on postcards produced by Rimsa.

Reverse: Depicted is the Union rejected, with Poland exterminating all that is Lithuanian in Vilnuis. In 1925, the Polish occupational regime began an assault on Lithuanian school children for their outspoken nationalism. As a protest, Rimsa graphically portrayed the same deranged Polish figure devouring innocent Lithuanian school children in front of the famous Cathedral of Vilnius. The children are shown fleeing from the Polish terror. The legend reads NUO MARO BADO UGINIES IR NUO LENKU UNIJOS ISGELBEK MUS VIESPATIE, which translates “from pestilence, famine, fire and union with Poland, Deliver us O Lord!”


Lithuania occupied by Poland 1920-1939.

7. Let us liberate Vilnius


Obverse

Reverse

LET US LIBERATE VILNIUS

Obverse: Vytis is shown in violent combat, spearing the Polish dragon, with the (?) of Gediminas in the background. The top inscription is separated from the Columns of Gediminas emblem, and reads UZ RYTOJU – UZ TEVU KAPUS! which translates “for the future – for the graves of our ancestors!”

Reverse: Portrayed is the monument Three Crosses, which stood on the high Bare Mountain on the steep right bank of the Vilnia River. This monument was erected in the early 17th century and remained a permanent feature of the cityscape until 1869, when it was destroyed. After World War I, artist Anton Wiwulski designed a new monument that was painted in white. This monument was blown up by the communists in 1950.

The legend VADUOKIME VILNIU, which translates “let us liberate Vilnius,” appears at the top, with Vilnius in the background. Below is maiden Lithuania, who is chained to the monument amidst a bed of ruta, a symbol of virginity. She is awaiting Vytis to save her from Poland. At the five o’clock position appears Rimsa’s signature and the date 1926.

8. First Ecclesiastical Province of Lithuania

During the era of the Republic of Lithuania, not all the Lithuanian-inhabited areas included because of the large areas occupied by Poland. Roman Catholic Lithuanians sought to prevent the Holy See in Rome from recognizing Polish military conquests, but were unsuccessful. The archdiocese of Vilnius was transferred to Poland, and the Poles forced Lithuanian Bishop Jurgis Matulaitis to resign. In order to appease the Lithuanian church, Pope Pius XI raised Matulaitis to the office of titular archbishop and named him apostolic visitation to Lithuania, with the Metropolitan See located in the temporary capital of Kaunas. The ecclesiastical province of Lithuania received an official blessing from Pope Pius XI on April 26, 1926. Rimsa’s medal was issued in commemoration of the first ecclesiastical province of Lithuania.

Lithuania first became a Christian nation in 1251 when Lithuania’s Mindaugas entered into relations with the Holy See, and Pope Innocent IV established the diocese of Lithuania. In 1252 Mindaugas was crowned King of Lithuania, in the name of Pope Innocent IV, who declared him to be a “special son of the Holy Roman Church.”


Obverse

Reverse

FIRST ECCLESIASTICAL PROVINCE OF LITHUANIA

Obverse: In the center of the medal are the images of Pope Innocent IV (left) and Pope Pius XI (right) who founded respectively, the first Bishopric and the first Metropolitan See in Lithuania. In the background is the Bascilica of St. Peter in Rome, and at the top of the personal insignia of Pope Pius XI.

Reverse: Featured is the image of Bishop Kristijonas (Christian) (left), the first Lithuanian bishop, who received his appointment from Pope Innocent IV on July 17, 1251. Prior to his appointment Kristijonas was a priest of the Teutonic Order under the German archbishop of Riga. Kristijonas established his See in the pagan Samogition region of Lithuania, but only remained until 1259 when he left for Germany and ended his days in 1270 as a suffragan bishop of Mainz.

On the right is the image of Archbishop Juozapas Skvireckas (1873-1959), the first Archbishop of Lithuania. Skvireckas was a well-known scholar and the theologian who translated the Bible into the Lithuanian language. He governed the Kaunas archdiocese for almost the entire period of Lithuanian independence. He fled Soviet-occupied Lithuania in 1944 and went to a convent in the Austrian Alps, where he lived until his death. The arms of Bishop Juozapas disappear at the top of the medal. The inscription reads, IS PRIESU RANKU ISSILIUSAVE DRASIAU TARNAUSIME JAM, which translates “having liberated ourselves from the enemy’s hands, we shall serve with more courage.” The names of the two men appear around the perimeter of the medal.

9. In Honor of Vladas Putvys-Putvinskis

This medal was issued in honor of the founder of the Lithuanian National Guard (Lietuvos Sauliu Sajunga), Vladas Gerardas Putvinskis-Putvys (1873-1959). Putvys was descended from an old Lithuanian noble family, and his estates became important centers for secret Lithuanian activities in the late 19th century. He founded the National Guard in 1919 and was elected its first president and commander-in-chief.


Obverse

Reverse

IN HONOR OF VLADAS PUTVYS-PUTVINSKIS

Obverse: Shown is the image of the late organizer. In the background is depicted the ceremony of the presentation of the colors. The legend reads VLADAS PUTVYS-PUTVINSKIS 1873-1929, LIETUVOS SAULIU SAJUNGOS I KUREJAS, which translates “Vladas Putvys-Putvinskis 1873-1929, founder of the Lithuanian National Guard.” A smaller inscription in the center circular area translates, “thou has raised the forgotten shield of Kestutis and presented it to the Lithuanian National Guard, which was designed by Rimsa. The inscription reads IR SIRDI IR PROTA TEVYNES RYTOJUI which translates “both heart and mind for the nation’s future.”

Reverse: At the top is the Vytis emblem, opposite which are the Columns of Gediminas. In the center is the insignia of the National Guard, which was designated by Rimsa. The inscription reads IR SIRDI IR PROTA TEVYNES RYTOJUI, which translates “both heart and mind for the nation’s future.”

10. Vytautas the Great

Lithuania’s greatest patriarch, Vytautas the Great, reigned as Grand Duke of Lithuania from 1392 to 1430. Vytautas expanded Lithuanian territory and made it one of the leading European powers of his day. He led the Lithuanian army and allies to a spectacular victory over the Teutonic Knights at the epoch-making battle of Tannenberg in 1410. This event stopped the advance of the Knights, assuring independence for Lithuania and other eastern European nations. The Polish army participated in the battle; their army was located nearby at Grunwald.

The Vytautas the Great medal is Rimsa’s most well known. Struck in many sizes (the original was 35 millimeters), this medal has the largest mintage of all Rimsa’s medals: 17,000 total. The obverse design became the emblem for the patriarch’s death. During Rimsa’s 1936-1937 tour of the United States, he presented a specimen of the Vytautas medal to the American Numismatic Association.

Obverse: Shown is the image of Vytautas the Great. The legend reads VITAUTAS DIDYSIS 1430-1930, which translates “Vytautas the Great 1430-1930.” In the background is depicted the Battle of Tannenberg, similar to that which is found on Polish artist Jan Matejko’s famous rendition of the battle painted in 1878.


Obverse

Reverse

VYTAUTAS THE GREAT

Reverse: Featured on the reverse is a map of Lithuania in the time of Vytautas. During the 15th century Lithuania stretched from the Baltic to the Black Sea, covering 350,000 square miles. Names of the cities are in Lithuanian. At the bottom appears the “Vytautas Symbol,” a popular emblem in 1930 based upon ancient denars struck during Vytautas’s reign. The legend reads VYTAUTAS DIDZIO LAIKU LIETUVA, which means “Lithuania in the time of Vytautas the Great.”

11. National Guard Star Medal


Obverse

Reverse

NATIONAL GUARD MEDAL

The National Guard Star Medal was issued in 1939 as a decoration for the Lithuanian National Guard. Each medal was presented with a blue/green ribbon with two white stripes. Accompanying each medal was a presentation certificate that included a likeness of the medal. Presented to Dr. Alexander M. Rackus, the certificate pictured here translates:

Republic of Lithuania. National Guard Star Medal. By the act of the Minister of Defense and in the name of the President of the Republic of Lithuania. Dr. Alexander Rackus is awarded the National Guard Star Medal. Established in 1939 on the twentieth anniversary of the founding of the National Guard. Signed, Brig. General S. Rastikis, Commander-in-Chief of the Army; Signed, Colonel Saladzious, Chief of the National Guard Association. Kaunas, 1939, June 24, No. 8367.

Obverse: The emblem of the National Guard, designing by Rimsa, is featured. At the top is depicted a miniature National Guard Star, the main order of the National Guard. A wreath of oak leaves surrounds the sides, with Rimsa’s “Wise Owl” emblem perched atop an open book.

Reverse: The dates 1919-1939 appear at the top with a farm scene below. The text reads, DIRBK IR BUDER LIETUVOS GARBEI, which means “watch and work for Lithuania’s glory.”

12. War and Peace

This is the first of Rimsa’s post-World War II medals, designed with the approval of the communist occupational regime in Lithuania. Struck in bronze, this medal measures 34.5 millimeters in diameter.


Obverse

Reverse

WAR AND PEACE

Obverse: Entitled BELLUM (war), this medal shows an intense conflict. The loops of Rimsa’s design contain scenes from major European cities. Bayonets point upward, and a broken swastika appears at the one o’clock position under which is a dead German eagle. In the center a ghost emerges, symbolizing man, the initiator of wars. The lower cartouche bears the inscription MARS OMNIA DEVORAT, which translates “war destroys everything.”

Reverse: Entitled PAX (peace), the dove of peace appears, observing the nation at work in harmony, with a girl trumpeting the victory flag above. Rays of the sun shine brightly in the background. The bottom inscription reads LABOR OMNIA CREAT, which means “labor creates everything.”

13. In Honor of Juozas Gruodis

This medal was struck in bronze in 1945, is a 23.5 millimeters in diameter, and honors the then-living Lithuanian composer, Juozas Groudis. Born in Rakenai on December 20, 1884, Gruodis studies musical composition in Moscow from 1914 to 1916, and in Leipzig from 1920 to 1924. Upon his return from Germany, he became director and professor of composition at the Kaunas School of Music until his death in 1948.


Obverse

Reverse

IN HONOR OF JUOZAS GRUODIS

Obverse: Featured is the image of Gruodis, with musical and operatic symbols in the background. Included above Gruodis’ left shoulder is Rimsa’s “Wise Owl” emblem. The legend reads OPERA INGENIUM DEMONSTRANT, which translates “his work show ingenuity.” Rimsa’s signature appears in the upper left with the date 1945 opposite. JUOZAS GRUODIS appears under the bust.

Reverse: Shown are several titled score sheets of Gruodis’ works.

14. First book in the Lithuanian Language

Struck in bronze, this 35-millimeter medal commemorates the 400th anniversary of the first Lithuanian language book. The design reflects the communist ideology of post-World War II Lithuania, yet shows Rimsa’s determination for artistic freedom.


Obverse

Reverse

FIRST BOOK IN THE LITHUANIAN LANGUAGE

Obverse: The design depicts the first Lithuanian language book: a Protestant catechism by Lutheran priest and author Martynas Mazyvdas. Apparently the communists permitted Rimsa to reproduce the catechism on his medal for historic documentation and overlooked the religious implications. In the center is the title page of the book, CATECHISMUSA PRASTY SZADEI. This book was originally printed by the Hans Weinreich Press in Koenigsbert, East Prussia (Lithuania Minor), in 1547. The appearance of the book was closely associated with the reform movement. Mazvydas was a well-educated man, and a student at the University of Koenisberg. He encouraged Lithuanians to read and write in their own language. A small bust of Mazvydas appears at the top of the medal. A Lutheran pastor in Ragaine (German: Ragnit, Russian: Neman), Mazvydas was raised to the rank of archdeacon in 1554. He died in 1563.

In the background are Lithuanians sitting near a fenced area. The date 1546 appears at the bottom. The Gothic inscription is taken from the first page of the introduction of the catechism, which has become known as the first Lithuanian poem. The famous lines read BRALEI SESERIS IMKIET MANI IR SKAITKIET IR TATAI SKAITIDAMI PERMANIKIET. In modern Lithuanian this reads Broliai, seservys, imkit mane ir skaitykit, which translates “brothers, sisters, take me and read.”

Reverse: With the University of Vilnius in the background (old observatory building), a professor is shown teaching on a podium with a book below. He is raising his right hand, surrounded by gigantic books, all with corresponding symbols. Represented (left to right) are law, astronomy, architecture, medicine, and technology. Noticeably absent is religion. Displaying the communist hammer and sickle emblem, the podium’s legend reads KURIAME KULTURA TAUTINE FORMA SOCIALISTINE TURINU, which translates “we are creating our country according to the socialistic system.” At the bottom appears the date 1947. Rimsa’s signature appears on the right. The inscription is most unusual, considering the communist occupation, for it reads from the third verse of the Lithuanian national anthem: TEGU SAULE LIETUVOS TAMSUMUS PRASALINA IR SVIESA IR TIESA MUS ZINGSNIUS TELYDI, which means “may the sun of Lithuania banish all darkness, may light and truth guide our steps.”

15. Adomas Mickevicius-Rimvydas


Obverse

Reverse

ADOMAS MICKEVICIUS-RIMVYDAS

This 40-millimeter bronze medal honors the poet Adam Bernard Mickevicius. The medal was begun in 1948 on the 150th anniversary of the poet’s birthday, but was not completed until 1959. Mickevicius was descended from the Lithuanian gentry family Rimvydas. Born in Zaosie on December 25, 1798, Mickevicius received his education at the University of Vilnius. A poet of the traditional classical style, one of his most famous works is a drama entitled Dziady, or “Fore-father’s Eve,” which dealt with the customs of the peasants and their suffering under serfdom. This class struggle theme was encouraged by the communists when there occupied Lithuania in 1940.

Mickevicius expressed his deep longing for Lithuania through his writings. 4 He grew up in an ancient Lithuanian city, studied in Vilnius, taught in the heart of the country, considered himself a descendant of the Rimvydas family, counted himself a Lithuanian, and called Lithuania the land of his fathers. Unfortunately, outside of Lithuania Mickevicius was erroneously known as a Polish patriot and writer. He died September 26, 1855, in Constantinople.

Obverse: Featured is a bust of Michevicius with the Cathedral of Vilnius, and the Hill/Tower in the background. This obverse was sculptured by Rimsa in 1948, before communists removed the statues of St. Stanislaus, St. Helen with the Cross, and Lithuanian Patron Saint Casimir from atop the structure. The legend reads ADOMAS MICKEVICIUS—RIMVYDAS, with the dates 1798-1855 at the bottom. The Vilnius area was familiar to Mickevicius, who, although he is recognized internationally as Polish, spent little of his life in Poland itself. In front of the cathedral stands a Lithuanian girl, clothed in national costume.

Reverse: Contained are the lines of the poem by Pan Tadeusz, which begins, “Oh, Lithuania, my Fatherland! Thou art like unto health; He only knows thy worth who loses thee.” The city of Kaunas appears in the background, with the Nemunas River flowing by an embankment; the poet sits looking at the city.

16. We are for Peace


Obverse

Reverse

WE ARE FOR PEACE

Obverse: Struck in bronze, this 28-millimeger medal depicts a male and female in native garb with the Lithuanian flag raised, and symbols of industry, architecture, music and art in the background. The title states MES UZ TAIKA, which translates “we are for peace.” In a small oval at the bottom is the phrase I SVIRSA ATEITI, meaning “into a bright future.” In the top circle appears the communist hammer and sickle emblem. The legend reads LIETUVOS TARYBU SOCIALISTINE RESPUBLIKA, which translates “Lithuanian Soviet Socialistic Republic.”

Reverse: Shown is a glorified map of post-World War II Lithuania, containing the names of the country’s major cities: Klaipeda, Siauliai, Panevezys, Kaunas and Vilnius. Because of the suspicious-looking nature of the map, whose boundaries bulge outward too far in places, the reverse of this medal was never pictured in leaflets or books about Rimsa printed in occupied Lithuania. The date 1949 appears at the bottom. The obverse legend is repeated on this side.

17. Kristijonas Donelaitis

Struck in bronze, this 36-millimeter medal honors the 175th anniversary of the death of the classical poet. Kristijonas Donelaitis, the first Lithuanian poet to be translated and recognized in histories of European literature. Born January 1, 1714, in Lazdyneliai, Donelaitis studied at the University of Koenigsbert. He was appointed pastor in Tolminkiemis, and in his spare time composed verses in Lithuanian. His most famous work, The Seasons, followed the literacy tendency of the day by portraying the natural setting of the village and its inhabitants rather than cities and/or aristocrats. Donelaitis died on February 18, 1780, in Tolminkiemis, which is now 15 kilometers southwest of the present Lithuanian border. After World War II, the Russians changed the name of the town to Chystye Prudy, and destroyed Donelaitis’ church. Under its ruins were found Donelaitis’ remains. Based upon skull structure, the appearance of the poet has been reconstructed, as Rimsa’s rendering depicts.


Obverse

Reverse

KRISTIJONAS DONELAITIS

Obverse: Shown is Donelaitis holding a quill pen, with a library shelf behind him. The inscription reads KRISTIJONAS DONELAITIS 1714-1780. The date 1955 appears at the bottom.

Reverse: Depicted is a manuscript of Doneliatis’ most famous work, The Seasons. Consisting of four parts, the medal shows the joys of spring, summer toils, autumn wealth and winter cares. Rimsa features the various seasonal peasant activities aside the manuscript. The poem reveals the class structure that existed during the 18th century.

18. Self Portrait

A most unusual work and Rimsa’s last medal, this piece was created in the last decade of the sculpture’s life. The obverse was begun in 1950, as Rimsa approaches his 70th birthday. The reverse was completed in 1959. Plaster models, 61 millimeters in diameter, are known to exist, plus one large bronze personal edition.

Obverse: The aged sculptor is shown facing forward. The legend reads KUREJA PAZINSITE NE IS VEIDO O IS JO KURYBOS, which translates “the creator will be recognized not by his face, but by his works.” Two versions of the obverse are known. One depicts the artist wearing his favorite wide-brimmed hat, obtained in London in 1924. The other version features a bald-headed portrait of the sculptor.


Obverse

Reverse

SELF PORTRAIT

Reverse: Shown is an exhibition of Rimsa’s works, centering around The Lithuanian School and The Ploughman. The walls are filled with medals and plaster models. The legend reads PRADEJAU KURTI LIETUVIU TAUTAI BUNDIANT, which means “I started to work at the time of the awakening of the Lithuanian nation.” At the bottom in an oval cartouche are the words REGIU SVIESIA ATEITI, which translate “I am seeing a bright future.”


Acknowledgements
Appreciation is extended to the Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture in Chicago, for supplying original photographs from Rimsa’s 1936-1037 tour of the United States, original exhibition programs from the Chicago and Boston exhibitions and photos of its collection of Rimsa medals.

Special thanks extended to V. Matelis for graciously supplying the author with English translations of several research sources; and to Kestutis Chesonis for the obverse photograph of the Vladas Putvys-Putvinskis medal.

About the Author
Co-founder of the Lithuanian Numismatic Association and editor of its publication, The Knight. Frank Passic is considered a leading authority on Lithuanian numismatics and has written several articles featuring this specialty. In addition to membership in the Albion, Michigan Coin Club, and the Michigan State Numismatic Society, Mr. Passic is also a member of ANA and has served as the curator of the Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture in Chicago since 1979.

Notes
1. Works of Petras Rimsa, January 30-February 12, 1937. Official program for Petras Rimsa’s American show, p. 3. Return to story

2. J. Rimantas, Petras Rimsa Pasakoja (Vilnius: Valstybine Grozines Literaturos Leidykla, 1964), pp. 260, 261. Return to story

3. Jonas K. Karys, Senoves Lietuviu Pinigai (Ancient Lithuanian Money) (Immaculata Press, Bridgeport, Connecticut, 1959), p. 276 Return to story

4. Encyclopedia Lituanica, 1973 ed. Vol. III (K-M). p. 520 Return to story

Bibliography
Art Exhibit, Works of Petras Rimsa. Official Program, April 27-May 6 1936. Sherman Hotel, Chicago, Illinois

Encyclopedia Lituanica. 1973 edition (Vol. III), s.v. “Mickiewicz, Adam Bernard,” by Vincas Maciunas.

Ibid. 1975 edition (Vol. IV), “Rimsa, Petras.”

Karys, Jonas Kareckas. Senoves Lietuviu Pinigai (Ancient Lithuanian Money). Putnam, Connecticut: Aukselia/Immaculata Press, 1959.

Rimantas, J. Petras Rimsa Pasakoja (The Story of Peter Rimsa). Vilnius: Valstybine Groziens Literaturos Leidykla, 1964

Works of Petras Rimsa. Official program for Petras Rimsa’s American shows, January 30 – February 12, 1937. International Institute, Boston, Massachusetts.

Zitkus, K., ed. Petras Rimsa. Kaunas: Kauno Valstybinis M. K. Ciurlionio V. Dailes Muziejus, 1966


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All text copyright, 2016 © all rights reserved Frank Passic

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