Hidden Surprises: Signatures on Old Checks are Part of Lithuanian History
Kazys Bizauskas, a signer of Lithuania’s founding document, also signed this check, drawn on the Munsey Trust Co. in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 27, 1926. (Check from author’s collection)
By Gerald Tebben
You never know what you’ll find when you walk by Dan Rich’s table at central Ohio coin and currency shows. In and among the coins, tokens and paper money, there’s always something different.
One month, it was Chinese passports from the 1980s. Another time, it was Nazi travel documents. The stuff is priced mostly by whim, and somehow, most of it sells.
Sometimes, though, there’s just no moving it. Recently, Dan stuffed a bunch of leftover ephemera in a paper bag and placed a $3 starting bid on it at a Central Ohio Numismatic Association auction. No greater fool present, I walked out with a bag of stuff.
The bag’s contents included: checks written in the 1920s by a Nebraska dentist; blank Mifflintown, Pa., checks from the 1890s; and dozens of canceled checks signed by Lithuanian diplomats in Washington during the 1920s and 1930s. That’s where the lot got interesting.
There’s not much call for Lithuanian documents, so the grouping probably isn’t worth much more than what I paid for it. But the signers of those checks walked large upon the world’s stage between the world wars and after. Like all of numismatics, the checks are history you can hold in your hand.
Lithuania was a part of Russia for centuries before the First World War when Lithuanian nationalists seized the moment and declared independence on Feb. 16, 1918. Three wars followed before the free nation emerged.
Lithuania remained independent until World War II, when it bounced back and forth between Nazi and Soviet occupation. It was absorbed into the Soviet Union in 1944.
The earliest checks were signed by Kazys Bizauskas as envoy to the United States. Bizauskas was one of 20 signers of the 1918 Act of Independence of Lithuania, the nation’s founding document. Three of the signers died during German occupation. Three died in Soviet imprisonment. Bizauskas was imprisoned by the Nazis, but died at Soviet hands in 1941,
Henrikas Rabinavicius signed several checks in 1926. The next year, Premier Augustinas Waldemaras recalled him, saying the nation’s representative should be “a Lithuanian, not a Jew.” He served as a Lithuanian diplomat in Moscow from 1930 to 1935 and in England from 1935 to 1940, when he immigrated to the United States.
Rabinavicius served in the Office of Strategic Services, forerunner of the Central Intelligence Agency, during World War II, and, curiously, testified in the sensational Alger Hiss trial. Hiss was convicted of lying to the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1950.
The most recent checks were signed by Povilas Zadeikis. He was envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary in Washington when the Nazis overtook Lithuania. Throughout World War II and the early years of the Cold War, Zadeikis served as a representative of a free Lithuania in Washington, helping maintain the U.S. policy of non-recognition of the Soviet occupation of Lithuania.
Zadeikis died in 1957, 33 years before Lithuania regained its independence in 1990.
Gerald Tebben, a longtime numismatist, is editor of the Central States Numismatic Society’s Centinel and a contributing writer to Coin World.
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