Italian Lire

In 1861 the Lira became the currency of Italy after the Italian Unification, which brought together the different city states into a single state now known as Italy.  The Vienna Congress in 1815 started the Italian Unification process which would be completed in 1871 when Rome became the capital city. The Lira would go on to become the official Italian currency until the euro was adopted in 2002.

While Italy has a long history of minting gold coins, the first 20 lire gold coin of  Modern Era Italy was issued under Vittorio Emanuele II in 1861. Under Emanuele II the first Lira was fixed at 4.5 grams of silver and 390.322 milligrams of gold. The Lira became the unified currency of Italy and replaced the Parman lira, the Papal States scudo, the Tuscan fiorino, the Two Sicilies piastra, and the Lombardy-Venetia pound.

Italy would go on to join the Latin Monetary Union in 1865, which adopted the standards of the French franc gold coin established under Napoleon I in 1803.

Italian 20 Lire Gold coin (1861-1927)

The Italian 20 lire gold coin was minted from 1861-1927 and was the signature gold coin during this period, especially under the rule of Vittorio Emanuele II (1861-1878) and Umberto I (1879-1900). While the 20 lire gold was also issued under the rule Vittorio Emanuele III (1900-1947) the minatges were significantly smaller. The last edition of the 20 lire gold coin was produced in 1927. The 20 lire gold coin is also referred to as Marenghi or marengo (singular).

The Italian 20 lire gold coin has a fineness of 900/1000 gold and has a classic European design. Interestingly, the 20 lire gold coin has the same weight of the French 20 franc gold coin, except 20 lire gold coins were minted in smaller quantities and are more rare.

The 20 lire is an excellent gold coin for both investors and collectors to consider and represents a part of Italian history.

20 Lire Vittorio Emanuele II Gold Coin (1861-1878)

The first edition of the 20 Lire gold coin under the Italian Modern Era was issued during the rule of Vittorio Emanuele II from 1861-1878. These coins were mostly produced at the mints in Turin, Rome and Milan. The editions from 1862-1865 are the highest mintage years.

The motif side of the coin depicts a left facing profile of King Vittorio Emanuele II. Surrounding the outer edge of the coin is the King’s name engraved as “VITTORIO EMANUELE II” Below the portrait is the inscription “FERRARIS”, which is the last name of coin engraver Giuseppe Ferraris.

At the bottom of the coin is the date of issue. An ornamental circle surrounds the outer edge, which is common with coins from this era. The edge bar is reeded and  slightly raised to protect the coins surface.

The value side depicts the crown of arms for Italy, which displays a shield with a cross in the center. Above the shield is a large crown. Surrounding the crown of arms  is a laurel wreath. The inscriptions around the outer edge read “REGNO D’ITALIA”. Below the motif is the nominal value, which is engraved as “L” “20”. To the left of the nominal value is the mint mark.

Product Specifications

Weight: 0.1867 gold ounces

Diameter: 21 mm

Purity: 900/1000

Nominal Value: 20 lire

Vittorio Emanuele II also issued 20 lire gold coins during his reign as King of Sardinia. The coins were issued from 1850-1861, and feature a slightly different design than the 1861-1878 version. Also the 1850-1861 edition was minted in much smaller quantities than the version issued as the King of Unified Italy.

Vittorio Emanuele II (1861-1878)

Victor (Vittorio) Emanuele II was the King of Sardinia from 1849-1861. When Italy became unified he would become its first King and ruled until his death in 1878. The Italian people gave him the epithet “father of the fatherland”.

In 1849 he became King of Sardinia when his father abdicated the throne. In the wars of Italian Unification, Tuscany, Modena, Parma, and Romagna sided with Sardinia-Piedmont. Emanuele II would then have a series of victories in Marche, Umbria and at the battle of Castelfidardo against the Papal forces.

Vittorio Emanuele II went on to claim the throne with the support of the New Parliament on March 17th 1861. At this point Turin was the capital city, as Rome, Veneto, and Trentino were not yet controlled. He would eventually overtake Rome, when the French withdrew after the Prussian victory in the Franco-Prussian war. He went into Rome in 1870 and made it the capital city in 1871, which completed the Italian Unification.

20 Lire Umberto I Gold Coins (1879-1897)

The 20 lire Umberto gold coin was issued from 1879 to 1897 under the reign of King Umberto I. The 1882 edition had the highest mintage at just over 6 million coins. The prior editions under Vittorio Emanuele II were minted in Turin, Milan, Rome and Genoa. However, all of the Umberto I 20 lire coins were produced at the mint in Rome.

The motif side of the coin features a left profile view of King Umberto I of Italy. The inscriptions around the outer edge read “UMBERTO I” and “RE D’ITALIA”. The date of issue is below the portrait of the King. Just like the prior issue, there is an ornamental circle that surrounds the outer edge. The coin engraver was Filippo Speranza.

The value side of the coin shows the coat of arms of Italy. Surrounding the coat of arms is a laurel wreath. To the right and left of the coat of arms is the nominal value, which is engraved as “L” (to the left) and “20” (to the right). The mint mark “R” is engraved on the lower left edge of the coin. All of the Umberto I 20 lire gold coins were stuck at the Rome Mint.

Product Specifications

Weight: 0.1867 gold ounces

Diameter: 21 mm

Purity: 900/1000

Nominal Value: 20 Lire

Umberto I (1878-1900)

Nicknamed “the good”, King Umberto I was the ruler of Italy from 1878 until his assassination in 1900. Umberto made an effort to expand the Italian kingdom into parts of Africa. He was successful in Somalia and Eritrea, but suffered a defeat at the battle of Adowa, with the Ethiopian empire in 1896.

Also during his rule he agreed to the “Triple Alliance”, which was a secret agreement between Italy, Germany and Austria-Hungary. The agreement began in 1882 and ended in 1915 during World War I. Italy was looking for assistance against the French in its pursuit of territories in Africa.

Much of the rule of Umberto was characterized by social upheaval in Italy. He was assassinated in 1900 in Monza. Gaetano Bresci shot the King 4 times and claimed he was avenging the deaths of the people who were killed during riots in Milan in 1898.


  • The Italian 20 lire gold coin is a classic European bullion coin with a rich history. The first edition was minted during the historic Italian Unification.

  • The coin is ideal for both collectors and investors.

  • Has a fineness of 900/1000 which makes the coin VAT free.

  • Some editions may have collector value because of their limited mintage.

Italy and Italian Coins

The Roman Empire named the Italian region “Italia”. Under the Roman Empire Italia

thrived. However, after the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century Italy broke up into many different and separate regions. These regions would not come together again until the Italian Unification was complete in the late 1800’s.

After the fall of Rome the separate kingdoms that emerged included the Papal States, which was governed by the Catholic Pope. Also, there were smaller cities that developed into important trading hubs that included Florence, Venice and Genoa. Pisa and Amalfi also became commercial centers. Some of these smaller city states also went through periods where they were controlled by foreign countries.

Italian Coins

The Florin was one of the most circulated coins in European history. It was introduced in the 13th century in Florence. The original Florin had 3.5 gram of gold and at the time was the first real coin to play a major role in commerce. It would eventually become the leading coin used in trade and large transactions in western Europe. As many as 150 European states and local entities would go on to make their own version of the florin.

Most of the separate kingdoms prior to the Italian Unification had their own currency. The Papal States had the Scudo that was used up until 1866. The Parman lire was used off and on up until 1859. Other currencies included the Two Sicilies piastra, the Tuscan fiorino, and the Lombardy-Venetia florin. The lire became the official currency in 1861 when these separate states began to come together.

Product Details

Manufacturer: Different Italian Mints
Country of origin: Italy
Nominal Value: 20 lire
Weight: .1867 ounces
Purity: 900/100
Alloy: Gold/Copper
Scratch resistance: Good

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