It is possible to learn a great deal about a nation and its history by looking at that country’s currency. In the case of the Russian Mint, the story began with the reforms passed by Peter the Great and continued for the rest of the Russian Empire’s history as each of the Tsars sought to leave their mark on Mother Russia. Tsarist rule ended with the rise of Communism in Russia, but the mint continued long after the fall of the Iron Curtain.
Each coin is a piece of Russian history that reflects the time in which it was made, and they are well worth studying.
Peter the Great’s Mint
Coins have been minted in Russia for many centuries, but the Russian mint as we know it is a relatively new institution. Peter the Great, once the leader of Russia, believed that his nation was falling behind the times. To fix that problem, he began a period of “westernization” that included building a new capital at St. Petersburg. He also decreed that the nation’s mint should be placed in the new capital in 1721, with the goal of turning the mint into a modern, mechanized organization.
It took several years to make the mint operational. Peter the Great imported the latest minting presses from Germany, and while this press was very expensive, it was also most advanced in all of Europe.
Production finally started in 1724, but it could only produce a small number of gold coins. The Mint gradually expanded over time, and the St. Petersburg location was producing all of the gold and silver coins used in Russia by 1765.
The Russian Mint continued to expand after the end of Peter’s reign. As a very large nation, Russia needed to produce a massive number of coins to meet demand. This proved to be a problem for Russia since it had to import most of its precious metals.
The Russian government solved that problem in 1746 by adding a laboratory to the mint. The lab worked to develop better techniques for extracting usable precious metal from ore. This allowed Russia to start using the metals it mined from Siberia and the Ural mountains, which eventually led to the transition to an entirely domestic supply by the start of the 19th century.
The Russian Mint remained one of the largest and most advanced mints in the world until the start of the Second World War. The mint continued to expand to meet Russia’s demand for coins, and it adopted new technologies to increase production wherever it could - including early transitions to steam and electric power long before other mints.
The main problem with the mint’s location became apparent during the First World War. St. Petersburg is located near Russia’s western border, so it was vulnerable to attack from German forces. The government responded by moving minting operations to more sheltered cities in Russia, which led to the St. Petersburg Mint closing in 1918.
This era is of some significance to coin collectors. The St. Petersburg Mint produced the first platinum coin in 1828 during the reign of Nicholas I. The first of these coins had a face value of 3 rubles, but the mint soon produced larger variants that were worth 6 and 12 rubles. Platinum was an exceedingly difficult metal to work with at the time, so this coin stands as proof of the mint’s skill.
Even so, relatively few platinum coins were minted before production ceased, and they remain rare and valuable items for collectors. The larger denominations are especially valuable - the 12 ruble coin is one of the rarest of all Russian coinage.
The Soviet Mint
The Russian Mint opened once more after the Soviet Revolution. The new Communist government was eager to introduce currency reforms as part of their efforts to break away from the monarchy’s traditions, so they decided to rename the mint and restart production. The Leningrad Mint, as it was now called, was once again one of the most productive in Europe.
That production was not limited to coins. The Soviet Union was very fond of medals and other awards, which were all made by the mint. The mint even produced disks for dental use. The government recognized that most of the nation’s best metalworkers could be found at the Leningrad Mint, so officials did not hesitate to call on the mint’s services when they needed precision work.
World War II caused the mint to move once again. During this time, the Russian Mint become part of the Goznak, Russia’s state-owned corporation in charge of currency, ID cards, medals, stamps and other important government goods.
The new mint produced many valuable goods after the war, most notably the commemorative coins for the Olympics of 1980. Many coins were produced in both gold and silver - coins which remain extraordinarily popular with collectors of both coins and sports memorabilia.
Modern Russian Coinage
The Soviet Union is gone, but the Russian Mint remains. It is still one of the leaders in minting technology with particular skill in producing coins and similar items from multiple metals. Notably, it has used that skill to start producing a small amount of jewelry - something which is peculiar among the world’s mints.
One of the mint’s most notable creations in recent years is the George the Victorious Coin. This bullion coin is available in both gold and silver, and has been minted in gold since 2006 and in silver since 2009. The face value of the gold coin is 50 rubles, while the silver coin has a face value of 3 rubles. Both bear an image of a double-headed eagle on one side, and an image of Saint George and the dragon on the other. The silver version is also notable in that it is the first silver bullion coin that Russia has produced since the end of the Soviet Union.
Another popular modern Russian coin is the Palladium Ballerina Russian 10 Ruble. Struck by the Moscow Mint in 1990, this elegant palladium coin represents the the Russian ballet in an elegant and sophisticated way.
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