Numismatist, Mathematics professor Sajauskas has recently published a book called “The History of Money.” 70 percent of the book is dedicated to money in Lithuania while the rest paves way to a Lithuanian numismatics.
- You've been interested in numismatics for 44 years. What caught your interest?
- I got interested in it by accident. My brother was a philatelist, a true humanitarian, while I was a technocrat – we think differently. At the time, the most popular objects of collecting with the youth were stamps and coins. In order to avoid competition, I chose the coins.
I've made huge discoveries. I felt like Jean François Champollion, who was deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphs with the Rosetta Stone.
Once, my sister's friend came across a treasure – an excavator dug out some silver coins. Everyone around started picking them up, and so did she. It was the first time I saw Paul von Hindenburg, there was also one with (Grand Duke) Vytautas and (early 20th century statesman) Jonas Basanavičius. I got intrigued by that handful of coins.
I later discovered there was a club to exchange coins and get catalogues. It turned out that my money was worthless, while it was impossible to get any rare silver coins in the Soviet Union – the Iron Curtain blocked everything. There was no sense in collecting – one could pick iron cents that tourists brought, but what's the point? I realized: I wouldn't be able to do anything here as a collector, there were people with much bigger collections of money, while I was just a student. Collecting is like racing – who's going to have more, who will get stranger coins.
So I decided to collect not expensive coins themselves, but information on them. I got interested in catalogues of money minted in Lithuania. And that's when discoveries started pouring in.
- Is it true that collector numismatics is one of the most profitable businesses out there?
- Numismatics is one of the most popular areas of collecting. Sure, businessmen were quick to offer their services in satisfying the demand, hoping for hefty profits. Judging by the number of numismatics auctions held around the globe, it must be a profitable business, just like all the others. But I do not know a single billionaire who made a fortune from trading in coins. Perhaps because there are not many true collectors-numismatists, who could bring fortunes to businessmen, in Lithuania. We do not hold numismatic auctions. For me it is just an interesting branch of history.
- What induced you to write a book on the history of money?
- The Science and Encyclopaedic Publishing Centre suggested I wrote a book on money for school students. I'd written and published so much, I didn't want to repeat myself. I had an idea to expand the topic of Lithuanian money history and include something on the origins of money in general. The publisher agreed. 70 percent of the book is dedicated to Lithuanian money, while the rest could provide framework for a Lithuanian numismatics. So Lithuania is at the core of “The History of Money.”
- What's the significance of the book for Lithuania?
- During the three years it took me to write the book, I've made huge discoveries. I felt like Jean François Champollion, who was deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphs with the Rosetta Stone. I see an image on some old Grand Duchy-era coin and do not know anything about it, what the point was in having it there, what it depicts and what would happen, if I managed to reveal it.
He understood the law of economics: until litas – a paper currency – is not backed by some value (gold, other currency), it is worthless.
And manage I did, when I linked the “spearhead with a cross,” a common heraldic symbol, with Christianity, the christening of Lithuania (1387) and Jogaila (Jagiello in Polish), who used to depict himself in his royal seals as St. George slaying a dragon. Everything came to their proper places. It turned out that the “spearhead with a cross” was not a dynastic symbol, but rather a sign of a sovereign of a Catholic land. It took much time, up until the Battle of Grunwald (1410), to convince the western monarchs that Lithuania was now a Christian country. This fact needed demonstration everywhere, so (Grand Duke of Lithuania) Vytautas and (his cousin, King of Poland) Jogaila, perhaps even pagan (Vytautas' father) Algirdas, all used this heraldic symbol on their money. It served as a coat of arms for the catholic land, as Vytis (Lithuania's current coat of arms) was not yet a symbol of the state, only an image of the sovereign (Vytautas).
- When did the first Lithuanian money come about? Not pieces of amber or animal furs that were used by ancient Lithuanians for exchange, but real coins?
- We had a long discussion with Grimalauskaitė and Remecas about whose money was the first. My – and not only my – response was that it was Algirdas', while they said: no, it was Jogaila's, and only after Lithuania converted to Christianity. I decided not to go into this argument while writing a book “Lithuania's coins” with Dulkis and prof. Galkus, as there are no written proof to support it or otherwise. I sort of had my way when I wrote that oldest Lithuanian money was coined by Vladimir Algirdovich in Kiev. At the time, Kiev was already under the rule of Lithuanian monarchs. That put an end to all debate – there are no older coins. Vladimir was making denars in Kiev earlier than anyone else. It was around 1370. Kiev was more advanced in this respect – closer to the West, and neighbouring Hungary and the Golden Horde had been minting money for years.
- What were those Lithuanian coins like?
- One side had an inscription VOLODIMIR in Cyrillic. And on the other side? There were guesses as to whether it had Vladimir's coat of arms or his flag. And only very recently did they find a coin in Ukraine, that showed a clear image of the Kiev Cathedral: two roofs and two crosses. Some coins had a Greek cross.
- Let's fast-forward to early 20th century. What were the circumstances of adopting the national currency, litas?
- Vladas Jurgutis, manager of the Bank of Lithuania, did it right – he delayed the adoption of litas. Unlike Latvians and Estonians. He understood the law of economics: until litas – a paper currency – is not backed by some value (gold, other currency), it is worthless. And he waited until 1922, when ostmark (short-lived currency used in eastern areas occupied by Germany in 1918) inflation began accelerating. They rushed to take them out of circulation, because Germany, having lost the war, was on a path to inevitable bankruptcy. For example, one litre of milk would cost 200 billion ostmarks. So they printed provisional litas notes – for two months. Their stability was backed by reparations from Soviet Russia, agreed upon by the 12 July 1920 treaty, and a loan from Germany.
- What is money in general?
Having uncountable piles of money – that is straying from the norm. Billionaires are unhappy.
- Money is a mediator of exchange, any universal, attractive, and easily countable object. Some need meat, others need bread or wheat. How to make an exchange? In what ratio? A deer haunch for a bag of grain? People realized they needed a thing that could be exchanged for both meat and grain. And that thing would become money. Spears, hoes, jewellery – these things were used as mediators to get anything. Their value would be determined by counting, not weighing. But then you must be in possession of these things. Where to get them? Back in the antiquity, people realized that money is made through work: by hunting, mining metals and moulding them into things they needed, including coins.
At the moment, the most convenient form of money is a figure in one's bank account. It is virtual money that does not fray, you cannot lose it or get robbed. It can only be swallowed by economic crises.
- Can you help answer the eternal question – can money bring happiness?
- Oh no, nonsense. Not money. Not even a lot of it. Happiness is not having problems with money. You only need enough money not to be bothered every day about what to eat, what to wear, to live in dignity. Having uncountable piles of money – that is straying from the norm. Billionaires are unhappy – they do not know what to do with their money, where to invest in order to have even more. Eternal headache.
- How much money must one have in order to meet all one's needs?
- Enough to make you happy. That means – live freely and do the work you enjoy. A normal salary is perfectly sufficient for that.