By Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker for CoinWeek ….
Once derided as worthless during the Soviet era, Russian banknotes offer a glimpse at the country’s past while at the same time looking forward.
Russian Numismatics is one of the most exciting growth areas in the hobby. But where to start? The price of Imperial coinage can be prohibitive, and the Soviet aesthetic isn’t for everyone.
Fortunately, the current era offers an interesting and, for the most part, inexpensive entrée into this vibrant and interesting field. Contemporary circulating Russian banknotes not only draw from Russia’s proud history, they also celebrate the modernization and resurgence of the world’s largest country by area.
In this piece, we look at contemporary Russian currency; specifically, large denomination banknotes starting at the 100 Ruble note and going up to 5,000 Rubles. Despite the seemingly large values, all but the 5,000 note can be had in uncirculated condition for under $100. Each of the notes has been beautifully re-designed in recent years and features state-of-the-art anti-counterfeiting measures.
A Note on the Russian Language Found on Currency
You don’t need to know Russian to collect Russian banknotes, but learning the Cyrillic alphabet will add immensely to your numismatic knowledge and enjoyment.
It might look intimidating, but it’s surprisingly easy to master. Unlike English, Russian words are always spelled like they sound. So reading Russian–whether you know what it means or not–is a simple case of knowing the alphabet.
A quick Google search will show you the numerous resources available. Avoid wikipedia.
It’s also useful to realize that the endings of adjectives and nouns are modified based on case, number, and gender. Recognizing the different endings (they tend to follow a regular pattern) will help you when you look up unfamiliar words. To see how these rules work with cardinal numbers (something you’ll definitely encounter on coins and currency), check out this website.
We include the Russian versions of several prominent names and inscriptions below as an aid to recognition.
Sochi 2014 100 Ruble Note (Со́чи 2014 Cто Pублей) – 2013
The Bank of Russia first issued the Sochi Commemorative 100 Ruble note in October 2013. Printed on white cotton paper, the note measures 160 x 65 mm and features ornamental, vertically oriented designs in the style of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
Both sides boast attractive and colorful artwork, printed using a complex 10 screen process. The bills also utilize anti-counterfeiting measures such as watermarks and raised ink.
The front features a snowboarder taking to the air against the backdrop of Mount Fisht and the Sochi coastal cluster. An oval-shaped watermark is located beneath the building complex.
At the top of the note is the double-headed heraldic eagle of the Russian Federation, which traces its origins back to Imperial Russia. Next to it is the inscription “билет банка-России” (literally, “ticket of the Bank of Russia”).
An inscription on the left edge (“подделка билетов банка-России преследуется закону”) warns that forgery of this bill is punishable by Russian bank law. That means up to 15 years in a Russian prison.
The back continues the Olympic motif. Fisht Olympic Stadium–site of the opening and closing ceremonies–is featured in front of a tapestry of Winter Olympic events. “Со́чи 2014” (Sochi 2014) appears directly above the number 100.
“Cто Pублей” (One Hundred Rubles) is spelled out along the bottom of the note on both sides.
Collectors’ Market: The bill is legal tender in Russia but collectible in the United States due to its tie-in to the Olympic games. The exchange rate value of the 100 Ruble note is approximately $2.84. We’ve seen notes sell for as much as $18, though $9 is a more common price. Since the 2014 Winter Olympics wrapped up Sunday, we expect enthusiasm for the notes to wane (as usually happens with Olympic collectibles).
Still, it’s a beautiful note, and worth adding to your collection of world currency. It was even nominated for the International Bank Note Society’s 2013 Banknote of the Year Award.
500 Ruble Note (Пятьсот Pублей) – 2010
Peter the Great (Пётр Алексе́евич) adorns the front of the contemporary Russian 500 Ruble note (in Russian: Пятьсот Pублей). Peter’s reign began at the side of his chronically-ill half-brother, Ivan V Alekseyevich (Иван V Алексеевич). After Ivan’s death in 1696, Peter ruled alone. For Russians, Peter is known for a series of military, political, and civil reforms that brought Russia out of the Middle Ages and into prominence as the most powerful nation in Eastern Europe.
Peter’s likeness on the note is based on Mark Antokolski’s 1872 statue of the tsar, which was produced for Peterhof Palace in St. Petersburg. The bill debuted in 1997 but has been modified twice since then. The current version entered circulation in June 2011.
The 2011 revision decreased the variety of colored fibers embedded in the paper from four to two: a two-colored type and a grey type. A wide, partially exposed security thread was replaced by a metallic thread of similar shape and size. Watermarks were added to the unprinted area on the right.
The note’s color pallette changed from purple, orange, and blue to teal, orange and purple. The image on the back of the note was changed as well. The previous version featured the 15th century Russian Orthodox Solovetsky Monastery (Солове́цкий монасты́рь), but from a time when the site was used as part of a Soviet gulag. The current note features the site in its restored capacity as a religious and cultural landmark.
Collectors’ Market: The exchange rate value of the 500 Ruble note is approximately $14.20. In uncirculated condition, the notes sell in the United States for $20 to $25. While this markup is merely a convenience fee, the note is attractive, features state-of-the-art anti-counterfeiting technology and commemorates one of Russia’s greatest historical figures.
1,000 Ruble Note (Tысячa Pублей) – 2010
The 1,000 Ruble note (Tысячa Pублей) also debuted in 1997, and has also been redesigned twice. The current version of the bill dates from October 2010. The note is horizontally oriented and measures 157 x 69 mm. It’s predominantly teal colored, with coordinating purples, violets, and blues.
On the note’s front is the memorial statue of Yaroslav the Wise (Ярослав Мудрый), a 10th century Russian ruler best known for uniting Kiev and Novgorod. Yaroslav is also depicted on the Ukrainian two Hryvni note since he was actually an ethnic Ukrainian. The statue itself is located in the city of Yaroslavl (Ярослáвль), which is also represented on the front of the 1,000 Ruble note by its coat of arms (awesomely, a bear holding a gold halberd)–printed in optically variable magnetic ink–and on the reverse by a depiction of St. John the Baptist Church (built 1671-1687), a Yaroslavl landmark considered the acme of the Yaroslavl School of Russian architecture.
Collectors’ Market: The exchange rate value of the 1,000 Ruble note is approximately $28.40. In uncirculated condition, the notes sell in the United States for a premium of 20% to 30% over face.
A fair markup for everyone involved, unless you’d rather book a flight on Aeroflot and pick up your own from a Russian ATM.
5,000 Ruble Note (Пять Tысяч Pублей) – 2010
Like the 500 and 1,000 Ruble notes, the circulating 5,000 Ruble note is based on a design first printed in 1997 and revised in 2010. The current issue was released into circulation in June 2011. The note is horizontally oriented, measures 157 x 69 mm, and is predominantly orange with coordinating purples, yellows, maroons, reds and greens.
On the note’s front is a likeness of the bronze statue of Nikolay Nikolayevich Muravyov-Amursky (Никола́й Никола́евич Муравьёв-Аму́рский), a Russian Imperial statesman. His most notable achievement was the signing of the Treaty of Aigun in 1858, which established a border between Russia and Manchuria in present-day Northeast China at the Amur River.
The back of the note features the Khabarovsk Bridge (Хабаровский Mост), which wasn’t completed until 1999. The 3,890 meter bridge crosses the Amur (Тамур) River and connects Khabarovsk with Imeni Telmana (имени Тельмана), a special zone created by Joseph Stalin in 1934 to give Russian Jews a region of self governance within the Soviet Union.
The 5,000 Ruble note boasts several technologically-advanced anti-counterfeiting measures:
- Two kinds of fibers, a two-colored type and a grey type, are embedded in the paper.
- A wide security thread is exposed on the front to look like a window.
- A latent multi-tone watermark can be seen in the note’s white space.
- A coat of arms (dated 1858) is printed in optically variable green magnetic ink.
- Digits of various sizes are used for the serial numbers.
- Fine relief line marks run along the note’s right and left edges.
The note also has embedded ultraviolet and infrared imagery, as well as magnetic properties.
In terms of inscriptions, the note bears the familiar билет банка-России and anti-counterfeiting warnings. “Хабаровск” (Khabarovsk) is written on the scroll that unfurls around Amursky’s feet. “Пять Tысяч Pублей” (5,000 Rubles) is spelled out on the bottom of both sides of the bill. On the back, the original issue date of 1997 is retained for the most current revision.
Collectors’ Market: The 5,000 Ruble note is the highest currently issued denomination of Russian currency. With an exchange rate value of $142, owning the note requires a sizeable cash commitment. A premium of 20% for uncirculated specimens is quite reasonable if you can find a reliable source for the material. As is the case with all high denomination bills, beware of foreign counterfeits. Deal only with those you trust.
We hope you’ve enjoyed reading our piece on large denomination Russian banknotes as much as we’ve enjoyed writing it. The ark of Russian history is complicated, intriguing, and filled with unexpected twists and turns*. This generation of Russian currency represents only the latest iteration of a story more than a thousand years in the telling.
*One is tempted to say “Byzantine”, but that’s a whole other story…
© 2014 Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker
About the Authors: Charles Morgan is a member of the American Numismatic Association, the American Numismatic Society, the Numismatic Literary Guild, the Ike Group, and the Richmond Coin Club. He has served as a Red Book Pricing Contributor for the 2014 and 2015 editions. Together with his co-author Hubert Walker (ANA, NLG), he has written numerous articles for publication online and in print, including two 2013 NLG award-winning articles for CoinWeek.com.
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