THE LIRA : A HISTORY CROSSING THREE MILLENNIUMS
The origin of the Lira , even if not in the terms which we consider it today, is very ancient. It's name derives as a matter of fact from the word "libbra", a measure of weight that was used by the Romans and that corresponded to approximately 325 grammes. It was with the reformation of Carlo Magno, between 780 and 790 , that the "libbra changed to a form of payment. The Great Conqueror set up as a sole form of currency the silver money and established that for each "libbra" of silver one received in exchange 240 "denari". The truth of the matter is that the silver money was a rather inconvenient currency: it didn't have multiples and for the more important transactions, such as the buying and selling of land , slaves or horses, one needed hundreds if not thousands of them. In order to avoid complicated calculations, the common folk , and above all the traders , found a much more pratical way and started saying "1 lira" instead of 240 "denari", and in the same way 10 lira and 100 denari instead of "2500 denari". In this way the concept of the lira was declared and widely used in the daily language, even if in reality there didn't exist a currency with that name. The Lira therefore was a phantom currency, but the strange thing is that it stayed that way for nearly a thousand years. Another strange thing is that the future italian currency having conquered nearly all of the western christians of the epoch as far as the English Channel, without moving further south that Rome, where the Roman / Byzantine monetary system persisted or where the influence of the arab currency was affirmed. There was a great turning point with the Italian Unification, when they tried to adopt a common monetary system for the newborn internal market. Between 1859 and 1861 the provinces that one by one became a part of the Sabaudo Kingdom, Vittorio Emanuele II extended, in exchange for the local currency, the "New Lira of Piedmont". From then onwards this currency was called the "Italian Lira" and was based on a bi-metallic basis of gold and silver on a scale of 1:15.5. The first "1 Lira" , those manufacutured in 1861 and 1862 were in silver 900. From the following year onwards this changed to silver 835 with the exception of the 5 lira coin and those of higher value, which remained in the more precious metals. Even the 20 and 50 centime pieces were of silver, whereas the smaller coins were in copper. From the beginning the new currency had to deal with a critical situation, in that on the 1st May 1866 the government issued the famous decree that established the compulsory circulation of the Lira, and that declared the inconvertibility of the paper money in circulation to the precious metal. The compulsory circulation was then abbandoned in 1881, restoring faith in the italian currency on the financial markets. Even if the monetary stability was not absolute, in the years between the Italian unification and 1914 the fluctuations were fairly contained and accompanied by a remarkable increase in the pro-capita income. The First World War unveiled instead a new era, characterised by a swift course of inflation. It's enough to think that if in 1914 one needed 3.48 lira to buy a gramme of gold, in 1921 one needed 15.68 lira. The high cost of living stimulated the social protest that was growing in the country: in the biennial 1919 - 1921 a flood of strikes, riots and violence swept the peninsula and opened the doors to the assertion of fascism. Between the economic politics that the Mussolini government intended on pursuing there was the revaluation of the lira. In fact, towards the end of 1925, the increase of the monetary circulation, that had sustained the industrial growth, started to show the negative sides of inflation and of the devaluation on the foreign markets. To crown a series of stabilizing manoeuvres, on the 18th August 1926 there was an announcement for the valuation of the national currency at a very high level; in fact one needed 90 lira for each sterling, when the current exchange had reached 145-150 lira. The choice for the "ninety quota" was dictated not only for economic reasons , but also for considerations of international prestige and from the research of consent from the middle class, who saw their own savings being revalued. With the beginning of the new century, starting from precisely 1936, the 1 lira coin lost it's prerogative to the silver composition and made it's appearance in nickel circled by "acmonital", an alloy formed of steel , chrome, nickel and vanadium, used still to date for the 50 and 100 lira coins. Inflation meanwhile didn't stop and grew to excess with the Second World War ; in 1943 gold was worth 21.38 lira to the gramme, just two years later it was at 112.53 lira and by 1948 it's prices soared to a staggering 646.64 lira. The fifties and sixties were considered "boom" years and the Italian economy showed a miraculous recovery. For the Italians in those years the lira represented hope for a more prosperous future. It's of little importance if the base currency which the mint circulates , that of the 1 lira, is a small coin of approximately 17 millimetres in diameter, that weighs little more than ½ gramme and is made of a material of little worth such as "italma" an alloy based of alluminim and magnesium. What matters is the symbol of regrowth that is brought about, the desire to make it, in spite of the war that had jst finished and the poverty, in a period of time where the people sang " If I could have a thousand lira a month" (words from a famous Italian song). This feeling contributes in letting the lira enter the imaginary ownership of becoming a myth; as it also happens for the Vespa and for the Fiat 500, that are symbols of comfort, but overall of roaring youth and of freedom. It's not by chance that on the face of the coinage , that has entered the italians pocket since 1951, has represented the horn of plenty, a symbol of abundance. A symbol of nostalgic holding, now that we are preparing for the big change to the "Euro". The Diletta s.a.s proposes two precious versions of the Lira , one in gold and one in silver. The last Lira was born for this , to give a renewed dignity to the currency that above all has represented the birth and the growth of our country. In order not to forget the past, whilst at the same time we give a welcome to our future.