By Al Doyle for CoinWeek …..
Imagine a vast nation with a long and fascinating history of numismatic issues. Does that sound like an introduction for an overview of U.S. coinage? Guess again.
The coins of Russia have a large collector following both internally and internationally. Eye appeal always plays a major role in popularity, and the Cyrillic lettering–combined with the two-headed imperial eagle–is something of an attention-getter. While the look of the nation’s coinage changed during the Soviet era, there were a number of 20th-century themes that displayed artistic merit.
Here’s the best part of all: Unlike U.S. numismatics, the budget-minded shopper can venture as far back as the 1700s while collecting Russian material. The copper denga, or 1/2 kopek, displayed the imperial eagle from 1730 to 1754. Numismatists think of St. George slaying the dragon as a British theme, but it also appeared on numerous Russian coins.
It can be found on the 1/2 kopeks of 1757 to 1797, and the price is certainly right at $50 or less in Very Fine condition. The denomination survived into the Soviet era, and prices under $10 apiece for Extra Fine examples are the rule for post-1850 dengas. While not as inexpensive as the 1/2 kopek, the 1-kopek pieces of the late 1700s to the 1900s are well within the reach of coin hunters on a moderate budget.
Two- and three-unit coinage is considered an oddity in most places, but it was a long-running part of the wide selection of Russian copper. Eye-appealing “deuces” were struck throughout the 1800s, and it’s an ideal series for the person who wants to collect something different while operating with limited funds. Two-kopek pieces of the 20th century were made in a variety of base-metal alloys.
Much of the scouting report for 2-kopek issues applies to 3-kopek pieces as well. The higher-denomination coppers tend to cost more, but the average price is hardly burdensome. If anything, the low-budget hobbyist could afford to collect both unusual denominations simultaneously.
The word “cool” is often heard when especially attractive or unusual coins are shown. Sadly, it often takes a large amount of cash to obtain the cool factor, but one Russian series of the 1700s grabs the eye while going easy on the wallet.
Despite their sheer bulk, copper 5-kopek pieces were struck in wholesale numbers from 1758 to 1796. With a diameter larger than a silver dollars and other popular crowns, the 5 kopek is a sight not easily forgotten. Something in the $15 to $40 range is sufficient to purchase a decent-looking piece. Moving to the other extreme, tiny 5-kopek silvers containing .0289 ounce of the metal were issued from 1810 to 1858. It’s ironic how one coin of this denomination is a Great Dane while the other is a teacup Chihuahua.
A number of Russian silver issues also qualify as intriguing and moderately priced collectibles. Struck on .750 fine planchets, the 10 kopeks of 1764 to 1796 carry the portrait of Catherine the Great. These historic coins are inexpensive enough for building a set. As for the 1800s, the 10 kopek was produced in silver and copper versions.
One of the oddities of Russian coinage is the long lifespan of the 15-kopek piece. This small silver disk was a part of daily commerce from 1860 until 1931. The original .750 fine alloy didn’t last long, as it was changed to .500 fine in 1867. The 15 kopek became a copper-nickel coin in mid-1931.
Moving up a bit on the price scale, silver 20 and 25-kopek silver from the 1700s can be found for under $100 in circulated grades. It was the 20 kopek that survived into the 1900s.
Looking for something off the beaten path? Russian coinage can provide a low-cost trip down a scenic road.
Good article. The only, and I would argue serious, problem with the 1700 and 1800s Russian coins, especially the copper ones, is that they tend to be problem coins. They usually have corrosion, dinged edges and rims, and other issues. This is why I don’t bother with them. But the larger thick copper ones would be good pocket or conversation pieces.