Russia has been a power in European and thus in world politics since the time of Peter the Great, but Russia's changed role since 1917 is such that it is of interest to all of us to learn about her imperial past. Those who focus their numismatic interest on this country will find their knowledge enormously increased as they study its copper coinage.
Copper was the main coinage for the mass of the Russian people during this time. Russia was a big producer of this metal—together with Sweden, the greatest source in Europe—and when Russian coins were undervalued, large quantities of the copper coins would leave the country.
But there were also times when the coins were overvalued, and then counterfeiters would flourish. These situations, together with the relatively short reigns of the rulers, made frequent
recoinages necessary, sometimes done by just overstriking old coins. This has produced an extremely varied and sometimes quite complicated coinage that will challenge the curious and conscientious collector to the utmost. Russia's history will unfold before his eyes; he will follow
the country's expansion into new territories like the Crimea, Georgia, Moldavia & Wal-lachia, Poland, Finland, the Ionian Isles, and the mysterious Khanates, which today are Soviet Central Asia—Khuqand, Bukhara, and Khwarizm.
Over the years the many Russian mints produced enormous quantities of copper coins, from the diminutive polpolushka to the beautiful, large 5 kopek pieces of Catherine II and the even bigger Siberian ten kopek pieces, weighing 2 . oz (70 grams). Copper plate money was even
tried, from 1725 to 1727; another experiment was the huge copper ruble of 1770/1771, weighing over 2 Ibs.
Russian collectors appeared early on the scene, and numismatics developed into an exact science. By the 19th century there were a large number of collectors: T. Reichel, S. Chaudoir, F. I. Krug, T. F. Schubert, C. C. Giel, I. I. Tolstoi, and the legendary Grand Duke Georgii
Mikhailovitch Romanov, cousin of Czar Alexander III. They produced a large and exhaustive library of numismatic works, which today are quite rare. Russian numismatics abounds in rare coins; some were rare in the days of the early collector, when even common coins could not be
found in perfect condition. This lead to the Russian phenomenon of the "novodel," a later restrike. These were made by the mint in order to satisfy a museum or a collector who wanted either a rare coin or a better specimen of a more common one. Thus, in the decade before World
War I, the Russian scene contained an advanced numismatic community as well as many museums with magnificent collections.
Then, in 1917, the whole country exploded into an inferno that was to destroy or split up most of the private collections and many museum collections. A few collectors managed to flee to Western Europe, China, or even to the United States. Although few collections reached
safety intact, it is reasonable to assume that most of the copper coins were left behind, as the silver, gold, and platinum coins were the more valuable under conditions in which one could not bring along everything.
Between the two world wars many collections were built up in Germany, .France, the United States, the Baltic countries, and in Eastern Europe, and several interesting 6 auctions took place. Among these were two, in 1931 and 1932, in which the Soviet authorities sold duplicates from the Hermitage Museum in Leningrad. Both contained many rarities and some beautiful novodels.
Then came World War II, raging over Europe for 5 years. Its toll of the remaining material can only be estimated, but it seems that again a large number of collections were destroyed—by bombings, war damage, and forced evacuations. When the world awoke in 1945, Europe was
full of refugees from Eastern Europe who had had to leave with only their most necessary
belongings. But even if people had things on their minds other than coin collecting, it was only a few years before collectors of Russian coins began to try to piece together the available material.
Today the interest in Russian numismatics is strong and growing, as evidenced by the fine auctions in the past several years. Although the focal point has been the silver, gold, and platinum coinages, there is a rising interest in the field of copper coins; the few rarities that
have appeared on the market have been the object of spirited bidding.
Even in Soviet Russia there is great interest in things pertaining to the old times, and numismatics is no exception. The museums are working steadily to spread knowledge about the coins of old Russia. For example, Dr. I. G. Spassky, head of the numismatic department of the
Hermitage Museum in Leningrad, has written a very fine book on the Russian monetary system, which has been translated into English and published by the well-know numismatic firm of Jacques Schulman, Amsterdam, Holland. The book is used today in the schools in Russia as a
text book on numismatics. Also, in 1959 Mrs. 0. S. Talskaja of the Sverdlowsk Museum in the Urals published a booklet on the collections of copper coins in the museum.
Numismatic associations exist for the some 6,000 collectors that Russia is said to have today.
The State Bank is actively promoting Soviet coins in the Western World, and Soviet diplomats have even given talks to Western numismatic clubs. However, the Soviet authorities frown when commercial overtones creep into the hobby, as evidenced by the recent trial of a collector who had sold coins at what he considered as "market" price.