By Louis Golino, special to CoinWeek …..
Until the Russian Invasion of Ukraine that began on February 24, Ukrainian coins were most widely collected in Ukraine itself and other European countries. But with the war having transfixed much of the world’s population, interest in the country and its coinage appears to be experiencing an increase. This is especially the case for the coins of modern Ukraine, those issued since Ukraine achieved its independence from the former USSR in 1991.
Some of this interest stems from people’s curiosity about this large country with a storied history they may not have known much about before, while some of it stems from a desire to help the war-torn nation in the way collectors know best – by buying coins!
Solidarity with Ukraine
Several world mints recently issued Ukraine solidarity medals, which are being issued to raise funds for humanitarian relief in Ukraine. And collectors are also doing their best to patronize Ukrainian coin sellers on eBay, which in some cases has led to new friendships and interesting conversations. And some sellers are directing part of the proceeds from sales of their Ukrainian coins to organizations that are helping people there such as Save the Children.
The French Mint released a copper-nickel medal in March that has a 34-millimeter diameter and weighs 17.7 grams and a mintage of 10,000. The medal features on its obverse a Ukrainian flag with “Libertè, Egalitè e Fraternitè” (the motto of the French Revolution) on the blue portion of the flag and “Ukraine” inscribed on the yellow part, the Eiffel Tower in the middle and “Solidarite” in large letters along the left side, while its reverse is the common design for other French mini-medals with an image of the mint itself surrounded by stars and the year of issue below. Sold for 10 euros, or about $11, 80% of proceeds will be sent to the Red Cross working in Ukraine.
The Mint of Poland – a country that has accepted millions of Ukrainian refugees from neighboring Ukraine — just issued a 10-gram, .999 fine silver medal with a 38.61-millimeter diameter and unlimited mintage that is very popular. It features an obverse image of a dove against the blue and gold of the Ukraine flag used since 1848 with inscriptions that read “Solidarity with Ukraine”, and a map of Ukraine and surrounding parts of Europe including Poland on the reverse plus inscriptions for “Ukraine” above, “Europe” below and the fineness below the map.
The Royal Canadian Mint is donating proceeds from the sale of its popular pysanka collector coins — issued for the past seven years that depict Ukrainian Easter eggs decorated with folk designs — to the Red Cross for its efforts there.
And the Bradford Exchange, a private mint and retailer, is producing “Stand with Ukraine” Proof medallions whose proceeds will be sent to Save the Children – Ukraine Crisis Relief Fund.
In addition, the United States Congress has introduced a bill (H.R.7088) authorizing Congressional Gold Medals for Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky and the Defenders of Ukraine for their courage in defending themselves against Russian troops. Later they should be issued by the United States Mint for the public in bronze, which will undoubtedly be a popular product.
Archangel Michael Bullion Series
Most collectors outside Europe are likely to be primarily familiar with one particular modern Ukrainian coin series, namely the Archangel Michael silver and gold bullion coins issued since 2011. The coin was designed by Volodymyr Taran, Oleksandr Kharuk and Serhii Kharuk. The engraving was done by Roman Chaikovskyi and Sviatoslav Ivanenko.
Michael is the patron saint of Ukraine and of its capital Kyiv. In The Bible and The Quran, he was known as “the captain” and leader of the heavenly hosts who protects against the Devil. He is typically portrayed as a warrior, and on the coin’s reverse, he is shown holding a sword in his right hand wearing ancient attire, and sporting wings and a halo. This is surrounded by inscriptions in Ukranian that read “For us and souls of righteous men, Archistratus Michael’s strength.”
A statue of this archangel in gold and bronze is found on the column at the center of Independence Square in Kyiv, and he was added to the city’s Coat of Arms in the 16th century. The Soviets removed him and replaced him with chestnuts on the Coat of Arms, but in 1995 he was restored to it.
The obverse used from 2011 through 2019, features the Coat of Arms of Ukraine within an octagon cartouche with inscriptions in Ukrainian above for “National Bank of Ukraine” (which issues these coins), and a small version of the bank’s emblem, and the denomination below as well as the year of issue below the coat of arms, the coin’s weight of 31.1 grams on the right of it and the silver fineness of .9999 on the left. The diameter is 38.6 millimeters.
The National Bank of Ukraine indicated on its website that it plans to release silver and gold versions of the Archangel coin this year with respective mintages of 20,000 and 1,800, but those plans are likely being disrupted by the current war. They also plan to issue a gilded silver Proof version with a mintage of 5,000.
In 2011, one-ounce and quarter-ounce gold versions with a fineness of .9999 were issued, and the following year half-ounce and tenth-ounce coins were added. Until 2015 the smallest fractional coins were better sellers, but in 2016 the two larger coins did better. The gold one-ounce piece was issued through 2018 and then reprised this year if the coins are actually minted; the half-ounce and quarter-ounce through 2016, and the tenth-ounce through 2020.
The National currency is the Hryvnia (known as HRH), currently worth 0.034 U.S. cents, used since 1996. These silver coins have a denomination of 1 Hryvnia.
According to the National Bank, mintages for the coins of the first design type are: 2011 (10,000 pcs), 2012 (20,000 pcs), 2013 (24,500 pcs), 2014 (24,705 pcs), 2015 (26,990 pcs), 2016 (20,000 pcs), 2017 (30,000 pcs), 2018 (40,000 pcs), and 2019 (25,000 pcs).
Figures are not yet available for 2020-2021 from the bank, but according to the database Cosmos of Collectibles, the 2020 issue has a mintage of 35,000
Since 2013 these coins have also been issued with an “F15” privy mark to indicate it was designated by the Royal Canadian Mint as one of the most popular silver investment coins. Those versions have lower mintages with the lowest Michael coin being 2,600 for the 2018 F15.
Until recently, most Archangel Michael silver coins traded for a relatively small premium over silver, but as silver demand rose and the coins became harder to find with mintages among the lowest of any major world bullion silver coin, the coins have become more expensive.
It appears that the current war has also resulted in increased interest in these coins and higher retail prices, which are currently in the $70 range. A couple of years ago, prices were about half that amount.
In 2020, the design of the coin’s obverse was changed partly to incorporate the new symbol for the Hryvnia, which looks like a backward “S” with two lines in the middle as well as a more ornate border and a cleaner central motif.
30th Anniversary of Independence
To mark the 30th anniversary of Ukrainian independence in 2021, a special reverse design was launched for the one-ounce silver bullion coin. It features “30” with the “O” replaced by a flower, which is based on the logo of the Day of Independence of Ukraine, while the obverse remained the same as did the coin’s specifications. The reverse also featured new inscriptions that translate to “My one and only” and “30 years of independence of Ukraine”.
A partially colored Proof version was also released in which the “3” is in blue and the flower for “O” is blue and yellow, and its mintage is just 3,000 coins compared to 15,000 for the regular 2021 bullion coin. The regular one goes for about $80, while the colored version sells for between $200 and $300.
On this version, the obverse is also different and is dominated by a large QR code to symbolize the digital transformation of the economy along with artistic flourishes plus a small National Bank of Ukraine logo on the left and the denomination of 10 UAH on the right.
While some believe this coin replaced the Archangel issue, in 2021 both coins were issued.
Also, in 2017 a Proof version of the Archangel coin was issued only for that year that sells for about $90 currently and had a mintage of 10,000, making it the lowest of the Archangel silver pieces along with the 2011 BU coin – the series key that currently sells for about $200.
As for graded examples, it is noteworthy that some years have MS70 populations at PCGS and NGC that are under 10 coins, which if you can find them at a reasonable price, might be a good choice as interest increases in Ukrainian coins.
A wide range of commemoratives made of precious and base metals have been issued by Ukraine since 1991. Today Ukraine issues over two dozen different commemorative coin series plus other releases that are stand-alone issues.
Some of the numerous recurring themes on these coins include Ukrainian history, statehood and independence, numismatic heritage, prominent people, the Olympics, various types of eagles and many other animals and plants, higher education, signs of the Zodiac, religion, and the country’s cultural and scientific achievements. Some are colorized or have partial color.
Taras Shevchenko – the renowned 19th-century Ukrainian poet, artist, and political activist who championed independence for Ukraine – is the subject of many coins.
In 2015, a series of three coins was issued for the Maidan Revolution, or Revolution of Dignity, made of nickel and silver with colorized images on their reverses that highlight the effort to join the European Union, and each had a mintage of 100,000 coins.
The events in question involved a series of street protests and violent clashes that culminated in the ouster of the Ukrainian government of the time and the elected president who was seen as deeply corrupt.
Flora and Fauna
Since the late 1990s, Ukraine has issued around 50 different silver and base metal coins in its Flora and Fauna series.
Americans who collect the American Silver Eagle and or the Australian Wedge-Tailed Eagle might find a 2019 coin in this series appealing. It is a one-ounce silver Proof that depicts a Ukrainian white-tailed eagle that resembles those other two eagles apart from the tail. It has a denomination of 10 UAH and a mintage of 2,500 and currently brings around $150.
Since 2005, a Best Ukrainian Coin of the Year award has been given, which is selected by secret ballot by a commission of experts in visual arts, numismatics, and other fields that includes individuals from the National Bank of Ukraine, the Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, and museums.
For 2022, the Bank plans to issue various commemorative coins on Ukraine-related topics such as the armed forces, holy places, prominent individuals, the Year of the Rabbit 2023, a Ukrainian satellite, and the recent Winter Olympics, among other topics. In addition, their Flora and Fauna series will see the addition of a coin for the brown bear found in the Chernobyl area. Some of these have already been issued.
Finally, as for catalogs, there are some in Ukrainian and others that also include English text, and there is always the Krause Standard Catalog of World Coins. Anyone interested in modern Ukrainian coins or the earlier issues from prior periods in the country’s history will find these volumes include a wide range of pieces that could form the basis for many cool collections.
How the war there ultimately impacts the issuance of Ukrainian collector and bullion coins, not to mention circulation issues, remains to be seen, as does how it impacts interest in and the market for Ukrainian numismatics around the world.
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Louis Golino is an award-winning numismatic journalist and writer, specializing primarily in modern U.S. and world coins. His work has appeared in CoinWeek since 2011. He also currently writes regular features for Coin World, The Numismatist, and CoinUpdate.com, and has been published in Numismatic News, COINage, and FUNTopics, among other coin publications. He has also been widely published on international political, military, and economic issues.
His column “The Coin Analyst”, special to CoinWeek, won the 2021 Numismatic Literary Guild (NLG) Award for Best Numismatic Column: United States Coins – Modern. In 2017, he received an NLG award for Best Article in a Non-Numismatic Publication with his piece, “Liberty Centennial Designs”. In 2015, “The Coin Analyst” received an NLG award for Best Website Column.
In October 2018, he received a literary award from the Pennsylvania Association of Numismatists (PAN) for his 2017 article, “Lady Liberty: America’s Enduring Numismatic Motif” that appeared in The Clarion.