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Exceedingly Rare Imperial Russian 1895 “Russ” Pattern Coins

By Chris Chatigny, Numismatist & Cataloger

Author: Chris Chatigny / Tuesday, June 03, 2014 / Categories: World Coin of the Week

The Stack’s Bowers and Ponterio world numismatic team is very enthusiastic for the upcoming ANA World’s Fair of Money to be held in Chicago this August. As part of our official auction for this event we will offer some of the ultimate Russian numismatic rarities. The three coins featured here represent a complete pattern set from an unimplemented experimental monetary revamp.

Finance Minister Sergei Witte of Imperial Russia (advancing to the post in 1892 under Emperor Alexander III) wished to advance Russia and improve the international trading value of the Russian Ruble. He outlined a few points he wished to enact: a sound loan system, a stimulation of exports, reduction of imports and finally, establishment of a gold reserve and placing Russia on the gold standard. It would be some years (under the reign of the final Russian Emperor Nicholas II) before he was able to act on this desired reform, but his first attempt is represented here with this Russ pattern coinage series. His monetary reform and shift to the gold standard would be accompanied by a reduction of gold content by one third for gold coins. For example, a gold 10 Ruble minted in 1886-1897 weighed approximately 12.90 grams. In the new monetary system a gold 10 ruble would now weigh approximately 8.60 grams. In order to alleviate the inevitable displeasure associated with this reduction, an idea was put forth to simply change the name of the denomination of the new gold coinage. The proposed new denomination would retain the “Imperial” designation, but Ruble would be exchanged with “Russ”. This idea of a new denomination naming scheme was not implemented, and later in 1897 a mass issue of gold coins was struck at the same standard as the Russ pattern coinage but with “ruble” substituted for “russ”. Therefore the weight reduction was still in place, but the iconic “Ruble” name remained.

These patterns from the unimplemented experimental monetary revamp have remained elusive for decades and with a mintage of only five pieces. Including this group (Ex: George Gund III Collection), we are aware of only two other complete sets. One set of all three patterns resides within the Smithsonian museum. Another complete set (Ex: Swiss Bank Corporation sale 17, 1/1987, lots 1728, 1729 & 1731; Ex: Renaissance Auctions 8/2000, lots 896-898) was auctioned some years ago and it now resides in a private collection. This accounts for three out of the five sets minted. These coins are paramount Russian numismatic rarities of the nineteenth century.

The obverse design for this series features the left facing bust of Emperor Nicholas II, as engraved by A.F. Vasutinsky at the St. Petersburg Mint. The legend reads: “By the Grace of God Nicholas II, Emperor and Autocrat of all the Russias”. The plural “Russias” is significant as it dates back to Peter I (the Great) and beyond as a term enumerating the various regions of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus that were brought into the empire. The reverse design for these coins shows the Imperial Coat of Arms -- the Imperial double headed eagle, each head crowned with a third crown and banner above. The left claw holds a scepter, representing monarchial power, and the globus cruciger in the right claw demonstrates the religious authority of the emperor. The Order of Saint Andrew, the highest honorary order in Imperial Russia, appears around the arms of Moscow showing Saint George mounted and defeating the dragon. A total of eight provinces constitute the Russian Empire, and their Coat of Arms are displayed on the eagle’s wings: Astrakhan, Siberia, Georgia, Finland, Kiev-Vladimir-Novgorod, Taurica, Poland and Kazan. It seems one of the principal engravers for the St. Petersburg Mint, Avenir Griliches, created the reverse die for this piece. The reverse legend is split into three portions, each separated by a small five-petalled rosette. The upper legend states the first half of the denomination, either “Imperial”, “2/3 Imperial” or “1/3 Imperial”. The second portion of the denomination is illuminated along the lower left legend; “15 Rusov”, “10 Rusov” or “5 Rusov” with Rusov equivalent to Russ. The final portion of the legend along the lower right expresses the year, 1895 followed by “Year”. These coins all possess a plain edge, instead of an inscribed or a reeded pattern usually found on Russian Imperial gold coins.

The smallest denomination, the 5 Russ, has a bold strike, crisp and superb. It also possesses bright, gorgeous surfaces, beautifully mirrored with a touch of cameo. NGC has encapsulated it with a grade of PROOF-65. The 10 Russ also displays an excellent strike, bright and crisp surfaces, and a healthy amount of cameo. The 10 Russ is housed in an NGC PROOF-65 CAMEO holder. The largest denomination of this set, the 15 Russ, displays a very nice strike and artfully mirrored surfaces, and it resides in an NGC PROOF-63 holder. All three of these coins are the only examples to be graded by NGC or PCGS.

This series of three pattern coins represent some of the rarest pieces from the long list of Russian numismatic rarities.  Listed in Uzdenikov and Severin as “excessively rare”, however these references do not list a mintage figure. Bitkin lists it as R4, “Extremely Rare”, with an estimate of two to three copies. Krause and Friedberg each list it with a mintage of a mere five pieces. A collection of all three comes to auction just once every few decades, and it may be another decade or two before these (or any others like it) are available again. Worthy of the most distinguished collection and of paramount historical importance.

Look for this and other World and ancient numismatic rarities in our upcoming August 2014 ANA World’s Fair of Money Auction. Preview this coin along with the rest of our auction this July at the Stack’s Bowers and Ponterio office located in Irvine, California.  For details please refer to the Events Calendar.  To schedule an appointment, please call 800.458.4646. While our Stack’s Bowers and Ponterio August 2014 ANA World’s Fair of Money Auction is closed for further consignments, we are currently taking consignments of world and ancient coins for our 2014 August Hong Kong Showcase Auction and Official Auction of the Whitman Coin & Collectibles November Baltimore Expo. Time is running short, so if you are interested in consigning your coins and paper currency (whether a whole collection or a single rarity) be sure to contact one of our consignment directors.