Editor’s note: The following is the first of a three-part Coin World series about Latvia’s folk maiden as she appears on coins, prepared by Jeff Starck for the July 2014 monthly edition of Coin World.
Other posts in the series include:
When Latvia began using the euro on Jan. 1, 2014, a popular symbol celebrating the triumph of freedom in that Eastern Bloc nation returned to circulation.
On that date, Latvia’s folk maiden, an iconic symbol of freedom and, some say, love returned to the nation’s daily coinage some 70 years after war forced into hiding the prior circulating silver coins with the famous design.
The design appeared originally in 1929 on what may still be the most popular of Latvian coins, a silver 5-lats coin. Since then, it has been used for a gold 5-lats collector coin and a silver 5-lats collector coin in modern times and, now, on circulating 1-euro and 2-euro coins from Latvia.
The stories behind the design and the woman who inspired the motif are timeless.
Historic design inspired by young woman representing freedom, love
The folk maiden design, also known as “Milda” by some, is rooted in the first series of coins Latvia issued after gaining independence following World War I.
The “noble maiden” with the traditional headdress and ears of corn is a “shared relic” of Latvia’s history, according to academician Janis Stradinš, who was a member of the Coin Design Committee of the Bank of Latvia in 2012 when the silver 5-lats coin was issued with the design.
The lats and santim currency system (where 100 santims equaled 1 lat) was adopted in 1922, but the now-iconic folk maiden did not debut until 1929, when the Ministry of Finance declared that a design symbolizing the Republic of Latvia and freedom would be used for the 5-lats coin. The Royal Mint in London was commissioned to strike the coin.
Though Karlis Zemdega won a design contest announced by the Academy of Arts, his sketch was not used because it did not represent a “distinctive Latvian character,” according to Stradinš.