Ever since ancient times, the minting of coins has been regarded as an expression of political sovereignty. The declaration of independence of the State of Israel on May 14,1948, however, was not immediately accompanied by the minting of a new currency. The Palestine pound that had been used under the British Mandate continued to circulate as the legal tender of the new state until September 15, 1948. It was only on July of that year that the Israeli government asked the Israel Numismatic Society to propose designs for the first series of Israeli coins. On July 27th, a committee composed of Leo Kadman (numismatist), Hanan Pabel (architect), and Otta Wallish (graphic artist) presented its proposals to Eliezer Kaplan, the Minister of Finance.

Letter by the Israel Numismatic Society
to the Minister of Finance, July 27, 1948

The First Coin of the State of Israel

It was not until October-November 1948 that the first Israeli coin entered into circulation. Made of aluminum, its value was 25 mils. The coin's main motif, a grape cluster, was based on a motif appearing on a coin of the Bar Kokhba Revolt. Relatively few coins of this first series (only about 42,650) were issued. They were struck at the workshop of Alfred Salzman, located on Bethlehem Road in Jerusalem. The series was short lived for several reasons: Not only was Jerusalem under siege at this time and electricity was periodically cut down, but also, not enough blanks had been supplied, and it was difficult to distribute the coin outside the city. Consequently, the coins of the next year, 1949, were struck in Holon.

Coin of the Bar Kokhba Revolt with
grape cluster motif, silver, 132 CE
Coin of the State of Israel,
25 mils, aluminum, 1949

Otta Wallish (1906-1977) had been involved in several other important national projects, such as the design of the official document of the Declaration of the State of Israel. The illustration of the shekel of the Jewish Revolt against Rome also appears in a poster he designed for the World Zionist Organization in 1939.

The First Stamps of the State of Israel

In March 1948, the provisional government of the future State of Israel learned that the British mandatory officials intended to destroy their stock of mandatory stamps before leaving the country. Thus on the eve of Israel's independence, it became necessary to produce a series of stamps for immediate use by the new state. Two artists were asked to propose designs, but they refused to accept the challenge. On April 1, graphic artist Otta Wallish agreed to design the required stamps within twenty-four hours. After working through the night, he prepared three stamps illustrating silver shekels of the Jewish War against Rome (66-70 CE). His designs established a dramatic link between the Jewish people's past and the modern state about to be reborn.

Doar Ivri
As long as the British still held the mandate in Palestine, the printing of stamps by the provisional government had to be carried out clandestinely, using primitive printing presses. The first stamps, in nine denominations, were thus printed on an improvised printing press in Sharona (today, the Kiriya in Tel Aviv), on low-grade paper of different shades. At that time the name of the new state had not yet been decided, but it was clear that some name needed to appear on the stamps. Wallish proposed the name "Judah," but ultimately, the phrase Doar Ivri (Hebrew Post), suggested by David Remez (who would later become Minister of Transportation and Communications), was adopted.

Otta Wallish checking the
first prints of the new stamps

May 2
Motifs for the first series of stamps are selected
May 4
Printing of the stamps begins
May 13
One day before Israel's independence is declared, the public is informed that the State had already printed its own stamps