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