The lira ([ˈliːra]; plural lire [ˈliːre]) was the currency of Italy between 1861 and 2002 and of the Albanian Kingdom between 1941 and 1943. Between 1999 and 2002, the Italian lira was officially a national subunit of the euro. However, cash payments could be made in lira only, as euro coins or notes were not yet available. The lira was also the currency of the Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy between 1807 and 1814.
The term originates from the value of a pound weight (Latin: libra) of high purity silver and as such is a direct cognate of the British pound sterling; in some countries, such as Cyprus and Malta, the words lira and pound were used as equivalents, before the euro was adopted in 2008 in the two countries. "L", sometimes in a double-crossed script form ("₤"), was the symbol most often used. Until the Second World War, it was subdivided into 100 centesimi (singular: centesimo), which translates to "hundredths" or "cents".
The lira was established at 4.5 grams of silver or 290.322 milligrams of gold. This was a direct continuation of the Sardinian lira. Other currencies replaced by the Italian lira included the Lombardy-Venetia pound, the Two Sicilies piastra, the Tuscan fiorino, the Papal States scudo and the Parman lira. In 1865, Italy formed part of the Latin Monetary Union in which the lira was set as equal to, among others, the French, Belgian and Swiss francs: in fact, in various Gallo-Italic dialects in north-western Italy, the lira was outright called "franc". This practice has obviously ended with the introduction of the euro in 2002.
World War I broke the Latin Monetary Union and resulted in prices rising severalfold in Italy. Inflation was curbed somewhat by Mussolini, who, on August 18, 1926, declared that the exchange rate between lira and pound would be £1 = 90 lire—the so-called Quota 90, although the free exchange rate had been closer to 140–150 lire per pound, causing a temporary deflation and widespread problems in the real economy. In 1927, the lira was pegged to the U.S. dollar at a rate of 1 dollar = 19 lire. This rate lasted until 1934, with a separate "tourist" rate of US$1 = 24.89 lire being established in 1936. In 1939, the "official" rate was 19.8 lire.
After the Allied invasion of Italy, an exchange rate was set at US$1 = 120 lire (1 British pound = 480 lire) in June 1943, reduced to 100 lire the following month. In German occupied areas, the exchange rate was set at 1 Reichsmark = 10 lire. After the war, the value of the lira fluctuated, before Italy set a peg of US$1 = 575 lire within the Bretton Woods System in November 1947. Following the devaluation of the pound, Italy devalued to US$1 = 625 lire on 21 September 1949. This rate was maintained until the end of the Bretton Woods System in the early 1970s. Several episodes of high inflation followed until the lira was replaced by the euro.
The lira was the official unit of currency in Italy until January 1, 1999, when it was replaced by the euro (euro coins and notes were not introduced until 2002). Old lira denominated currency ceased to be legal tender on February 28, 2002. The conversion rate is 1,936.27 lire to the euro.
All lira banknotes in use immediately before the introduction of the euro, as all post-World War II coins, were exchanged by the Bank of Italy up to 6 December 2011. Originally Italy's central bank pledged to redeem Italian coins and banknotes until 29 February 2012, but this was brought forward to 6 December 2011.
Italy's Constitutional Court has now declared the law that shortening the exchange period of Italian Lira unlawful. Currently, studies are being conducted by the Banca d'Italia and the Ministry of Economy and Finance to define the procedures for the conversion of Italian Lira into Euro. Announcement regarding the detail information will be published shortly
Although Italian price displays and calculations became unwieldy because of the large number of zeros, efforts were unsuccessful for political reasons until the introduction of the euro which had the effect of lopping off excessive zeros.
The Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy issued coins between 1807 and 1813 in denominations of 1 and 3 centesimi and 1 soldo in copper, 10 centesimi in 20% silver alloy, 5, 10 and 15 soldi, 1, 2 and 5 lire in 90% silver and 20 and 40 lire in 90% gold. All except the 10 centesimi bore a portrait of Napoleon, with the denominations below 1 lira also showing a radiate crown and the higher denominations, a shield representing the various constituent territories of the Kingdom.
In 1861, coins were minted in Florence, Milan, Naples, and Turin in denominations of 1, 2, 5, 10 and 50 centesimi, 1, 2, 5, 10 and 20 lire, with the lowest four in copper, the highest two in gold and the remainder in silver. In 1863, silver coins below 5 lire were debased from 90% to 83.5% and silver 20 centesimi coins were introduced. Minting switched to Rome in the 1870s.
Apart from the introduction in 1894 of cupro-nickel (later nickel) 20 centesimi coins and of nickel 25 centesimi pieces in 1902, the coinage remained essentially unaltered until the First World War.
In 1919, with a purchase power of the lira reduced to one fifth of that of 1914, the production of all earlier coin types except for the nickel 20 centesimi halted, and smaller, copper 5 and 10 centesimi and nickel 50 centesimi coins were introduced, followed by nickel 1 and 2 lire pieces in 1922 and 1923, respectively. In 1926, silver 5 and 10 lire coins were introduced, equal in size and composition to the earlier 1 and 2 lire coins. Silver 20 lire coins were added in 1927.
In 1936, the last substantial issue of silver coins was made, whilst, in 1939, moves to reduce the cost of the coinage led to copper being replaced by aluminium bronze and nickel by stainless steel. All issuance of coinage came to a halt in 1943.
In 1943 the AM-lira was issued, in circulation in Italy after the landing in Sicily on the night between 9 and 10 July 1943. After 1946, the AM-lira ceased to be the currency of employment and was used along with normal notes, until June 3, 1950.
Between 1947 and 1954, zone B of the Free Territory of Trieste used the Triestine lira.
In 1946 coin production was resumed, although only in 1948, with the purchasing power of the lira reduced to 2% of that of 1939, did numbers minted exceed 1 million. To begin with, four denominations were issued in aluminium, 1, 2, 5 and 10 lire: these coins were in circulation together with the AM-lire and some of the old, devalued coins of the Italian Kingdom. In 1951, the government decided to replace all the circulating coins and bills with new smaller-sized aluminium 1, 2, 5 and 10 lire (although the 2 lire was not minted in 1951 or 1952) and in 1954–1955, Acmonital (stainless-steel) 50- and 100-lira coins were introduced, followed by aluminium-bronze 20 lire in 1957 and silver 500 lire in 1958. Increases in the silver bullion price led to the 500-lira coins being produced only in small numbers for collectors after 1967. The 500 lire (and later the 1000 lire) also appeared in a number of commemorative coin issues, such as the centennial of Italian unification in 1961. Between 1967 and 1982, two types of "paper money" were issued with a value of 500 lire. These were not issued by "Banca d'Italia", but directly by the government bearing the title "Repubblica Italiana".
In 1977, aluminium-bronze 200-lira coins were introduced, followed in 1982 by the bimetallic 500 lire. This was the first bi-metallic coin to be produced for circulation, minted using a system patented by IPZS. It was also the first to feature the value in braille.
Production of 1- and 2-lira coins for circulation ceased in 1959; their mintage was restarted from 1982 to 2001 for collectors' coin sets. Production of the 5-lira coin was highly reduced in the late 1970s and ceased for circulation in 1998. Similarly, in 1991 the production of 10- and 20-lira coins was limited. The sizes of the 50- and 100-lira coins were reduced in 1990, but then they were completely redesigned 1993. A bimetallic 1,000-lira coin was introduced in 1997 and stopped in 1998 with the introduction of the Euro.
Coins still being minted for circulation at the time of the changeover to euro (in 2000 and 2001 only lire for collectors coins sets were minted) were:5 lire (0.26 cents, only for collectors)
10 lire (0.52 cents, only for collectors)
20 lire (1.03 cents, only for collectors)
50 lire (2.58 cents)
100 lire (5.16 cents)
200 lire (10.33 cents)
500 lire (25.82 cents)
1,000 lire (51.65 cents)
The Vatican lira (plural lire) was the official unit of the Vatican City State. It was at par with the Italian lira under the terms on the concordat with Italy. Italian lira notes and coins were legal tender in the Vatican City, and vice versa. Specific Vatican coins were minted in Rome, and were legal tender also in Italy and San Marino.
The Vatican City switched to the euro along with Italy and San Marino. As with old Vatican lira coins, the Vatican City has its own set of euro coins.
The Sammarinese lira (plural lire) was the official unit of San Marino. Like the Vatican lira, the Sammarinese lira was at par with the Italian lira.
Italian lira notes and coins were legal tender in San Marino (and vice versa). Specific Sammarinese coins were minted in Rome, and were legal tender in Italy, as well as the Vatican City.
San Marino switched to the euro along with Italy and the Vatican City. As with old Sammarinese lira coins, the country has its own set of euro coins.
Miniassegni (singular: miniassegno) were a special kind of money called notgeld that circulated in Italy in the late 1970s in place of change, as in that period small-denomination coins were scarce and were often replaced by candy, stamps, telephone tokens, and in some cities public transport tickets. The first miniassegni made their appearance in December 1975, and were subsequently issued by many banks; they had nominal values of 50, 100, 150, 200, 250, 300 and 350 lire.
In 2006, the Lega Nord launched a campaign to reintroduce the lira as a parallel currency. In 2014, Beppe Grillo, the Five Star Movement leader spearheaded a referendum bid, to restore the lira in Italy.