The Imperial Russian 5 Kopek certainly has a weight that deserves such an imposing country. But why hit such large copper coins?
from Tyler Rossi to the Coin week … ..
As a result of his extensive wars with Sweden Russian emperor at the end of the 17th century Peter the Great conducted one of the first major overhauls of the Russian economy and industry. One of the most important changes Peter forced on his empire was a dramatic increase in metal mining in the Ural Mountains. Incorporated into the Russian Empire at the end of the 16th century, the Urals, with their enormous natural resources, proved to be an economic boon. In the Urals alone, the number of metal processing plants (for both iron and copper) almost doubled between 1690 and 1762. The two largest metal production centers in Nevyansk and Ekaterinburg, were built in 1699 and 1723 respectively.
In a demonstration of its economic importance, the Ekaterinburg coin produced 100% of Russia’s imperial copper coins within a decade of their first coins being minted in 1725. Eventually, the mint would adjust to a production schedule equivalent to about 80% of the imperial copper coins and then continue minting coins until the facility closed in 1876.
As a result, Russia had the copper necessary to mint such large coins within its borders. Russia’s neighbor Sweden also controlled large copper deposits and struck heavily from 1624 onwards plåtmyntor or plate money. This should have acted as a warning to Russia as the Swedish government started ever larger strikes riksdaler (the largest weighed almost 20 kilos), which required the printing of paper money and triggered a possible devaluation of the existing silver currency.
Practically the same thing happened in Russia a few years later. These “heavy square plates” known as “plateau” were marked with a nominal value that corresponded to the market value of the copper weight. However, this was deemed unsustainable for international trade and domestic trade. As a result, Peter the Great introduced a new ruble and kopek system in a series of major currency reforms that would last over a hundred years.
This new ruble-kopek system was the first decimal currency in the 18th century where the 28g silver ruble was equal to 100 copper kopecks. The silver ruble preceded the American and French decimal systems by almost 90 years, and in order to facilitate trade, it was “identical in weight and silver content to the thaler”.
The standard 5 kopeck coin from the reign of Katharina the great measured 42 mm and weighed a whopping 51.2 g. The obverse showed the imperial cipher beneath a crown dividing the date, surrounded by a wreath. On the back was the crowned double-headed eagle Romanov family with the mintmark in the lower field and a banner below with the inscription ПЯТЬ ∙ КОПѢЕКЪ or “five ∙ kopecks”. Depending on the year, mint, and grade, these coins can cost as little as $ 25 and $ 250-500.
Before the 5 rubles Coins grew during the reign of Catherine II, this type was almost half as heavy as its later counterpart with an average of 20g. The simple design showed a crossed legend on the front and a small imperial eagle inserted on the back. The example below was auctioned in March 2021 for 32 euros.
It is difficult to estimate the purchasing power of copper kopeck coins over the centuries as the quality of the goods has fluctuated, the different types of wages (in kind, domestic or cash) and the evolving weight of the Imperial Russian chetvert (an obsolete unit of measure for grain). However, to prove the value of these large copper coins, it was estimated in the 1790s that one kopeck could buy 50 apples.
As with the new “imperial assignat” paper notes printed by Catherine the Great, the relatively large 5-kopeck coins of the 1770s were used to cover the “sheer volume of new military and civilian issues”[s]”Caused by imperial reforms and the Russo-Turkish War from 1768-1774.
By the end of the 17th century, the Silberkopek had experienced a number of “weight reductions” and was at that time a “small” coin; the large copper coin enabled the government to recall most of the small silver fraction. The older coins were then melted down and re-minted into larger, full ruble coins. These new high-grade silver rubles and large 5-kopeck copper coins have “restored” confidence in the monetary system significantly, if only for a short period of time.
While the Yekaterinburg mint was by far the most productive, a number of other mints across the empire minted these large 5-kopeck coins. Mint marks appear on the reverse of the coin, separated by the tail of the imperial eagle. The first letter says in which city the mint was located and the second letter, an “M”, stood for “монета” or “mint”. The main institutions were Yekaterinburg (EM), Annensk (AM), Kolyvan (KM), Moscow (MM), Sestroreetsk in Finland (CM), St. Petersburg (СПМ), and Feodesia by doing Crimea (TM).
Under Catherine the Great, Yekaterinburg minted an annual average of almost 38 million 5-kopeck coins from 1763 to 1796. The other mints, all of which operated for shorter periods of time, minted far fewer coins – some averaging less than three million per year. Combined with the distance between the widely dispersed mints, the need to mint large quantities of coins resulted in a “deterioration in the quality” of these coins. As a result, many examples are faint or off-center.
While a standard Ekaterinburg 5 Kopek is relatively inexpensive, there are many different types that require a much higher premium. One of the most famous varieties is the Siberian Catherine II.Velikaya‘ Type. The front of this type is similar to the standard type with a crowned cipher Katharina II. The back, however, can be recognized with two ermines with a crowned oval with the name and the year inside. Described as “one of the [rarest] Russian copper coins from [the] 18th Century ”with premiums of up to 2,500 euros for such specimens.
The mint of Peter the Great was never minted for general circulation Gartenberg Property in Sadagura produced a very interesting sample type with 5 kopecks for the imperial areas of Moldova and Wallachia. The front shows a high standing stone (comparable to a tombstone), which is crossed by two pearl necklaces at the top. Overall, the design of the front is reminiscent of an ancient Roman military trophy. The royal cipher is placed on top of a shield, while the stone is flanked by the flags of both principalities above the year (1771). Due to a shortage of bronze in the years immediately following the Russo-Turkish War, this specimen was struck by captured Turkish guns.
The copper 5-kopeck piece, which was minted for the first time in 1723 and steadily increased in weight, became a central feature of the Imperial Russian monetary system. This “system of five-kopeck pieces”, fueled by immense war spending, soon became one of the “inflationary influences”.[s]“Which proved to be a drag on the Russian economy in the 18th and 19th centuries.
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About the author
Tyler Rossi is currently a PhD student at Heller School of Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University and studies sustainable international development and conflict resolution. Before completing American University in Washington, DC, he worked for Save the children Creation and implementation of international development projects. Tyler recently returned to the United States from a stay abroad in the United States Republic of North Macedoniawhere he as Peacekeepers three years voluntary. Tyler is an avid numismatist and has had a deep interest in premodern and ancient coins from around the world for over a decade. He is a member of the American Numismatic Association (ANA).