In light of the great articles posted here about various numismatic topics, I thought I would do my part to contribute in my area of collecting: Banknotes of the Russian Empire, Russian Provisional Government, and the Soviet Union. In the span of only 5 years, Russians witnessed the deposition of the royal family that ruled the Russian Empire for 300 years, a brief post-imperial Provisional Government, a brutal civil war, the formation of a Russian Socialist Republic, and the joining of multiple socialist republics into a massive Soviet Union that would collapse 70 years later. As a collector, I’ve always been fascinated by the way that this chaotic history was captured in the country’s banknotes. The regimes and people of these times are long gone, but the banknotes they created and circulated are left behind to us as historical relics. My first piece in a series of posts (for those who find it interesting, or for those future collectors who find this page in pursuit of knowledge) focuses on the 1898 1 Gold Rouble banknote, a banknote that silently carries a number of secrets that the average collector is unaware of. What if I told you that the Pick catalog is incomplete? What if I told you that grading services assign it misleading details in holder after holder? What if I told you that I’ve seen numismatic letters of authenticity that were completely wrong? Today I hope to share with you all the knowledge that has been locked away in Russian-language resources for the past century. Let’s take a walk through the history of a banknote issued by 3 different governments over its lifetime between 1898 and 1922. Between 1895 and 1897, the Russian Empire converted its economy from a dual metal system (where banknotes were exchangeable for silver or gold) to a gold standard (where banknotes were exchangeable for gold alone). This initiative led to the creation of the 1898 1 Gold Rouble banknote, a new note that was part of the Empire’s new “1898-1899” series (along with other denominations like 3, 5, 10, 25, 50, 100, and 500 Roubles) where every Rouble was exchangeable for 17.424 “doles” of pure gold. This is where this note begins to hold secrets… Like the fact that the year it was printed or issued is not always 1898. Or the fact that it may not have been printed by the Russian Empire at all, and instead printed by the Provisional Government or even the first Russian Socialist Republic, RSFSR. How can this be? Imagine the US $1 banknote for a minute. Pretend its design never changed at all over the course of a century, and strip away the printed issue year from it forever. How would you know when it was printed? You would probably look at the signature of the Treasury Secretary and see what year the secretary was in office, right? This is where we reveal the first secret of the 1898 1 Rouble banknote: all the notes were printed between 1898 and 1918, but they all carry the date “1898” because this is the year the design was first printed. In fact, the note was only sent to banks across the Russian Empire to be put into circulation in the year 1900. The real way to date an 1898 1 Rouble is to look at the signature of the secretary on the note, which could be one of the 4 secretaries who served between 1898 and 1917: Pleske (1898-1903) Timashev (1903-1909) Konshin (1910-1914) Shipov (1914-1917) So as an example, if you come across an 1898 1 Rouble note with a Pleske signature, it was printed between 1898 and 1903 and was issued by the Russian Empire. If you come across one signed by Konshin, it was printed between 1910 and 1914 and was also issued by the Russian Empire. But if you come across one with a Shipov signature, we hit the next secret: A 6-digit serial number versus a 1, 2, or 3 digit serial number mean very different things historically for the Shipov notes. Let’s take a walk through history in Mr. Shipov’s shoes: Shipov served as a secretary between 1914 and 1917 under Czar Nicholas II, issuing banknotes under the government of the Russian Empire. But in 1914, Russia enters World War I. As the war dragged on, the Russian government needed more cash, regular Russians started hoarding gold and silver during these turbulent times, and inflation started running rampant. The Russian Empire began printing more and more banknotes - ones that were not secured by gold. In December of 1915, with Shipov at the helm at the State Bank, the Russian Empire announced a revised design to the “1898 Rouble”: effective immediately, the appearance of the “1898” Rouble would remain identical, but a simplified 1, 2, or 3 digit “serial number” seen here would now be used instead of the old 6-digit serial number seen at the very top of this post: As the Bank’s presses pumped out millions of new Roubles, an actual serial number of one note lost its importance. Instead, up to 1 million of 1 Rouble notes were printed at a time under each “series” number. Ever come across two “1898 Rouble” notes that have the same 1, 2, or 3-digit number? They were printed together in one series, along with up to a million other identical copies. This is sometimes referred to as a “1898/1915” note. But in March of 1917, Czar Nicholas II abdicated the throne and the Provisional Government took over. Shipov stayed on board at the State Bank during the Provisional Government’s reign. In 1917, the Provisional Government continued printing the same notes that the Empire started issuing a couple years ago in 1915 with the shortened serial number while the Provisional Government could work on its own designs. But the Provisional Government was short-lived, surviving only 8 months. During the October Revolution of 1917, the Bolsheviks (“Soviets”, “Communists”) took over and the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR) was born. In November of 1917, they took over the State Bank after a brief struggle with Shipov and seized control of the Bank’s funds and printing capabilities. While the Soviets worked on the designs of their own new notes, they also continued issuing the shortened-serial “1898” 1 Rouble notes that were printed by the Empire and the Provisional Government before them since the end of 1915. So how do you know which government issued which 3-digit serial number? Series numbers 1-127 are Imperial issues, printed in the years 1915 and 1916. Series 128-310 are Provisional Government issues, printed briefly in early 1917 to late 1917. And 311-524 are Soviet issues, printed from the end of 1917 to 1919 (after 1919, the Soviets stopped printing this denomination). Regardless of the issuing government, all of these 1 Rouble notes remained legal tender until October 1st, 1922. From a collecting standpoint, now we see that there are actually 6 issues to collect within this series (1898-1903, 1903-1909, 1910-1914, 1915/1916 Imperial, 1917 Provisional, 1917-1919 Soviet), each issue capturing a different historical timeframe. Some collectors take it to the next level by also collecting the dozens of different “cashiers” (second signature below the secretary), but we’ll keep it simple here. And if you’ve made it down this far reading hopefully you, too, can appreciate the secrets and complexity hidden in an old, simple-looking “1898” banknote.