The monetary system of Russia prior to the foundation of the Expedition of Storing State Papers
Intensive circulation of coins in the Eastern Europe started already in the 8th century. The first coins the Slavic tribes inhabiting the territory of the ancient Rus came across were the eastern silver dirhams. They were minted within the territory of the Islamic Caliphate and appeared in the Eastern Europe in huge quantities in the 8th – 11th centuries. Their influx likely ceased because of depletion of mines in the East.
At the end of the 10th century, minting of the most ancient Russian coins – zlatniks (gold) and srebreniks (silver coins) was started.
It continued for about 30 years during the reign of Duke Vladimir Sviatoslavovich, Sviatopolk Vladimirovich (the Cursed) and Yaroslav Vladimirovich (the Wise). Only a few of such coins have remained till our time (12 zlatniks and about 1000 srebreniks), especially to compare to the great number of dirhams. Therefore, it is impossible to speak about the economical meaning of the first Russian coins. However, they are a bright monument of the epoch of formation of the ancient Russian state.
In the 10th – 11th centuries, eastern coins in Rus were replaced with the western ones – the European silver denariuses.
In the 12th century, the so-called “coinless” period superseded the intensive coin circulation. The termination of influx of silver to Rus was likely the main reason for it.
In the 12th – the end of the 14th century, there was no mass circulation in Rus. Hryvnias – silver ingots of an oblong shape and with the weight of approximately 200 grams as a rule – were used as large payment means. There were a few types of such hryvnias different in shape and weight. Besides hryvnias, commodity money was used – cattle, possible decorations, beads, slate spindle whorls, porcelain shells.
At the end of the 13th century, there appears the word “rouble”. The silver Novgorod hryvnia were called so.
Chopped-off halves of hryvnias were called poltinas.
In the 15th century, they stopped molding hryvnias finally; after that the rouble remained solely a calculating concept for a long time – coins with this face value would appear only in the 17th century.
After a long pause, they started minting first coins in the Russian lands at the end of the 14th century. Those were silver coins called dengi. They were issued in the Moscow, Nizhniy Novgorod-Suzdal Dukedoms; then in Ryazan, Tver, Novgorod, Pskov and other centers.
The money was minted in an unusual way. Craftsmen drew thin silver wire, then cut it into pieces of strictly determined dimensions, flattened them and minted coins on the received oblong coin blanks manually with the help of puncheons. The coins were completely different from the round and even coins of the Western Europe. Such a technology became permanent in Rus, and until the 18th century, i.e. Peter’s epoch, coins were made this way.
In the 15th century many dukedoms and principalities produced their coins already. The main face value was the silver denga; however, half-dengas and quarters (1/4 denga) were also minted. There also were copper coins – pulos. After Ivan III and his son Vasily III united the Russian lands under Moscow at the end of the 15th – the beginning of the 16th centuries, there appeared the first all-Russian coins in the 1530s. Unitary “novgorodkas”, “moscovkas” (halves of “novgorodkas”) and “polushkas” (halves of “moscovkas”) were minted.
An equestrian with a spear in his hand was depicted on “novgorodkas”, and they were soon called kopeikas in everyday language. Those kopeikas became the basis of the currency system of pre-Peter Rus.
Kopeikas were minted of imported silver – silver mining in Russia started much later. At the beginning of the 16th century, as a result of great geographical discoveries, cheap silver from the New World flooded Europe. Minting of big silver coins – thalers – started. When thalers arrived to Russia they were often brought to the mint at once where 64 kopecks were made of one thaler (called “efimka” in Russia).
During the Time of Troubles, at the beginning of the 17th century, the weight of the kopeck somewhat decreased (from 0.68 to 0.6 g). They minted their own kopecks at the second militia in Yaroslavl in 1612. The Swedes invading Novgorod also produced coins imitating kopecks there.
In the middle of the 17th century during the reign of Tsar Alexey Mikhailovich, there was a currency reform (that turned out unsuccessful). First of all, there was not enough money in the treasury, and secondly, it was necessary to correlate the Russian coinage system based on the wire kopeck with the coinage system based on thaler and its fractions prevailing within the recently attached territories of Ukraine.
Coins with the face value of 1 rouble were minted right on the thalers (efimkas) in 1654. Special minting tools – “hammer tools” – got out of order soon, and very few coins of this kind have remained till our days. Besides the roubles, “polupoltinas” were made of quarters of thalers, and a few new face values of copper coins. Next year, they started remint thalers with the “kopeck puncheon” and evaluate at 64 kopecks when putting into circulation – these coins were called “efimkas with a feature”. At the same time they produced copper coins formally equal to the silver ones.
The reform was not thought through. It caused protests against the introduction of the defective copper coin and ended with the Copper Riot of 1662. As a result, old patterns soon returned, and the small silver kopeck minted manually on a flattened piece of wire remained the largest denomination.
It was only in half a century that the son of Tsar Alexey Mikhailovich, Peter Alexeevich managed to enlarge the set of coin face values and correlate the Russian coinage system with the international ones.
The first quarter of the 18th century was the time of all-round reforms in the Russian state, Peter the Great’s epoch. Large-scale restructuring of the state demanded restructuring of the coinage system that had previously been based upon the silver “wire” kopeck and had not been correlated with the European coinage systems based on thaler and its fractions.
Already in 1698, the weight norm of the “wire” kopecks was decreased to 0.28 g so that a hundred kopecks corresponded to one thaler – the international silver coin of the time.
Since 1700, they started cautious minting of copper, and then silver and gold coins.
Those were machine-minted coins of the correct shape already. Their face values were different – from “polupolushka” (1/8 of the kopeck) to the silver rouble initially of the same weight as the thaler. Gold coins were minted according to the norm of the European ducats and called chervonets. Their value was about 2 roubles.
On the one hand, it allowed to create a more convenient and flexible coinage system, and on the other to obtain an opportunity to replenish the stock of the treasury by minting undergrade copper coins.
However, the “wire” kopecks were produced until 1718 alongside with the new coins.
Many Peter’s coins are very rare, especially silver and gold ones.
The new coins could no longer be made manually, like the old ones. The currency reform required production retrofitting – new mints were opened, spindle presses for minting were installed in them. The Saint Petersburg Mint was opened in 1724; it still operates today.
Peter’s currency reform had many advantages; however, there were disadvantages too. For example, there appeared an opportunity to obtain funds for the treasury thanks to the decrease of the metal fineness and intensive minting of undergrade copper coins. As a result, it affected the economy in an extremely negative way, disorganized currency circulation, provoked price growth and caused a burst of counterfeiting.
Such an opportunity was used already in 1718 when light-weight coins – “polushkas” – were struck. In 1723, they minted piataks according to the same weight norm, and in 1728 – kopecks. In 1730 the practice was stopped; a commemorative medal “For improving the coin business” was even produced for the occasion. However, it took a few decades to withdraw the undergrade coins from circulation.
In 1725 – 1727, square copper coins according to the Swedish model – “plates” were minted at the Yekaterinburg metal works. However, the minting was soon stopped, and few original “plates” have remained till our days.
It is interesting that in 1726 – 1727 there was another attempt to obtain additional funds to the treasury with the help of a minting press: at the initiative of Duke Menshikov who actually ruled the country at the time, “silver” coins with very low content of silver were produced. There even was a project of minting coins with arsenicum added to make them look like silver. However, “the semi empire sovereign” fell from grace, and the undergrade coins were made equal to counterfeited ones.
Minting of copper coins in huge quantities was continued. Mints striking coins from the local raw materials were opened at that time. The Yekaterinburg Mint was the largest; it struck more than 50 million coins in certain years. Such large numbers are characteristic for the second half of the century, and it was no coincidence.
In 1769, there appeared the first banknotes in Russia. They were called “assignations” and were first issued with the face values of 25, 50, 75 and 100 roubles.
It was possible to exchange these papers for copper coins only; moreover, one rouble in copper weighed more than a kilogram. In spite of the fact that assignations were produced in large numbers, they are very rare, especially the first samples. The more of them were issued, the lower their rate and purchasing ability were.
The 5 and 10-rouble assignations were issued in 1786. They were printed on the paper of blue and red colours and laid the foundation of a long-time tradition of “coloured” money, when a certain colour scheme corresponds to every banknote face value. The appearance of the first assignations reminded of filled-in printed forms. There were handwritten signatures of administrative officials of the Assignation Bank on them.
Coins of the 18th century are completely different from the small “copper” coins of previous times. Those are round coins with images and monograms of the sovereigns, the coats of arms of Russia and its separate provinces. Medaliers of those years left us with superb in-life portraits of the emperors and empresses, often very realistic and bright, often verging on a caricature. There were cases when the portraits served as a reason for withdrawing coins from circulation. For example, after Elizaveta Petrovna dethroned infant emperor Ivan Antonovich (he was only a year old), coins with his portrait were withdrawn from circulation and reminted – the new empress did not want the coins to remind her subjects about the dethroned infant.
In those years, not only coins for the whole Russia were minted, but also coins for the Baltics, Siberia and even for Prussia, or for the part of it occupied with the Russian army during the Seven Years’ war, to be more exact.