Preceding the 2019 Year of the World Lithuanians M. K. Čiurlionis National Museum of Art dedicates a new exhibition “The Great Gift to Lithuania” to the 125th Anniversary of a famous America Lithuanian Collector Aleksandras Mykolas Račkus. The exhibition is opened in the Historical Presidential Palace of the Republic of Lithuania in Kaunas. Two collections are shown here. One of them represents the numismatic valuables collected by A. M. Račkus – among the most interesting exhibits are rare coins of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and other nations of the world, valuable medals, exotic items and rare Lithuanian and numismatic books. In the second part of the exhibition visitors have the opportunity to get acquainted with the social life of the American Lithuanians of the 1860s – 1930s and their contribution to the restoration and consolidation of the state of Lithuania.
The future physician, collector, public and cultural figure Aleksandras Mykolas Račkus was born on 7 June, 1893 in Čekiškė. His childhood and adolescence until 1910 passed in Lithuania, later he moved to America. Though a young man worked hard, in 1912 he began studying at St. Laurent College in Canada, Montreal. Later he studied at the Holy Cross College in Worcester, the Loyola University, and the School of Medicine in Chicago. Since 1922 he practiced medicine. During his study years A. M. Račkus was involved in various Lithuanian organizations (the Lithuanian Vyčiai, Lithuanian Roman Catholic Students, etc.), was the founder and cooperator of the Lithuanian press in America, an active contributor to the restoration of the state of Lithuania.
For the most part, A. M. Račkus became famous as a collector. He got interested in antiquities while at St. Laurent College, simultaneously was engaged as an assistant conservateur at the College museum. Besides, his passion for collecting had been encouraged by dr. Jonas Basanavičius whose words during his visit to America in 1913 made a deep impression on A. M. Račkus: In America, Lithuanians will die out, will lose their identity and will be lost in alien surroundings. Do all your best, Mr. Račkus, gather relics of the Lithuanians’ cultural life in America and send them to Vilnius, to the Museum of the Lithuanian Science Union.
A. M. Račkus not only collected the relics of American Lithuanians, but also was greatly concerned about the history of Lithuania, so he became one of the most active members of the Lithuanian Numismatic and Historical Society established in 1917 in Chicago. The accumulation of Lithuanian antiquities and testimonies significant for the history of the USA Lithuanians was the main goal of this society.
The passion for collecting did not blush; on the contrary, it grew ever since. A. M. Račkus' personal collection was increasing in antiquities of different countries and in the numismatic values in particular. A. M. Račkus was admitted to the American Numismatic Association, the Chicago Coin Club, the Numismatic and Archeological Society (Towarzystwo Numizmatyczno-Archeologiczne) in Krakow.
In 1935 the first Congress of the Lithuanians of the World was held in Kaunas. On this occasion and at the invitation of the Society for the Support of Foreign Lithuanians A. M. Račkus brought the collection of the Lithuanian Numismatic and Historical Society and his own collection. Two big exhibitions were organized at the Vytautas Magnus University and the Vytautas Magnus Museum. After the exhibition, the Ministry of Education purchased both collections (including more than 50,000 exhibits) for much less than the fair value (100,000 litas). The main part of this collection was passed over to the Vytautas the Great Culture Museum.