Lithuania’s premier 20th century medalist was Petras Rimša or
Rimsha, born 1881 at Naudziai, and died at Vilnius in 1961.
A fiery Lithuanian patriot, that this artist was born and died
during periods of Russian domination over his native land was ironic.
His medallic art flourished during the first period of modern
Lithuanian independence, 1918 to 1940.
On Feb. 16, 1918, the Lithuanian Taryba or Council declared
independence from Germany, Russia and “other unions,” specifically
that which had existed with Poland. Resurgent Poland under Marshal
Jozef Pilsudski sought restoration of that union, setting the stage
for 20 years of strife.
Though the Oct. 7, 1920, treaty of Suvalkai between the two
nations recognized the ancient capital of Vilnius (Polish Wilno,
Russian Wilna) as Lithuanian, invasion by Polish Gen. Lucjan
Zeligowski’s forces established a Republic of Central Lithuania that
was soon absorbed by Poland. Medalist Rimša was to create a number of
medals vigorously protesting this annexation.
In 1926, Pope Pius XI established Lithuania as an ecclesiastical
province separated from Poland and named Lithuanian Bishop Juozapas
Skvireckas as metropolitan and archbishop of Kaunas, Lithuania’s capital.
Skvireckas was a noted scholar and theologian who translated the
Bible into Lithuanian.
This arrangement called for great papal diplomacy as both
countries were overwhelmingly Catholic and in continued conflict over
the Vilnius question.
Rimša designed a medal hailing creation of the new church
province, struck by the Swiss firm of Huguenin Fréres in Le Locle in
25-, 36-, 60-, 75- and 100-millimeter sizes.
The obverse presents conjoined busts of Popes Innocent IV, founder
of the first diocese of Lithuania in 1251, and Pius XI (reigned 1922
to 1939), with Latin legend “Serve the Lord with Joy.”
The reverse portrayed the first Lithuanian bishop, Kristijonas,
and the newly appointed Archbishop Skvireckas with Lithuanian legend
“Having freed ourselves from the Enemy’s Hands, We shall Serve with
This medal is elusive as Rimša was famous for the startlingly high
prices he demanded for all his medals, possibly explaining the rarity
of most of them today.
Poland was finally able to force Lithuanian recognition of the
contested frontier of 1920 and the loss of the capital, only to face
another violent partition under the Hitler-Stalin Pact of 1939. For
several months Lithuania enjoyed renewed possession of long-lost
Vilnius before the Soviet Red Army subjugated all of the Baltic states.
David T. Alexander, a longtime numismatic researcher, is a
researcher/cataloger for Stack’s Bowers Galleries.