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Coins and Medals of Imperial Russia: Peter I

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Peter I, "the Great" (1689-1725)

Portait of Peter IPeter I, “the Great,” is a legendary figure in Russian and world history. Exuberant, bold, often reckless, Peter profoundly influenced the course of Russian development in the early modern era. He founded St. Petersburg in 1703 and made the new city the capital of the Russian empire in 1721, during the successful Northern War against the Swedes. Among his many accomplishments, Peter irreversibly set into motion a process of intensive Westernization and modernization of Russia and established the Russian Empire as an important player in European and international politics.

The reform of Peter I

By the end of the 17th century the old monetary system and the entire money-striking process had become increasingly unworkable under the new political and economic realities. Peter boldly decided to initiate monetary reform. The reform solved multiple problems. Peter included the Ukrainian Hetmanate and the newly conquered Baltic provinces in the Russian monetary system. The monetary reform also simultaneously helped to finance the rearmament of the army, the creation of a navy, the building of canals and harbors, and the many large purchases made abroad to help achieve these goals.

The copper kopeck and the silver ruble (worth 100 kopecks) were taken as a basis of the new monetary system. In 1654 Alexei Mikhailovich, the father of Peter I, already attempted to replace the silver kopeck with a copper kopeck, but this had led to the so-called “copper revolt” in 1662. People did not want to accept the copper kopeck in place of the silver one. As a result, Peter prudently kept the silver kopeck in circulation next to the new copper kopeck for almost 20 years to let his subjects get used to the idea of copper money. The first silver ruble coin appeared in 1704.

In 1700 the first round coins were struck by machinery. Initially all the money production took place in Moscow in multiple mints. In 1724 the St. Petersburg mint started producing the new coins, the so-called “sun” rubles.

Silver ruble from 1705, illustrated with a portrait of Peter the Great.

The monetary system instituted by Peterwas a century ahead of most others in that it was based on the decimal system. The basic monetary unit, first coined in 1704, was the silver ruble of 100 kopecks. Other silver coinage consisted of the poltina (one-half ruble), polupoltina (one-fourth ruble), grivennik (ten kopecks), altyn (three kopecks) and kopeck. There were two copper sub-multiples of the kopeck: den’ga (one-half kopeck) and polushka (one-fourth kopeck); and three gold multiples of the ruble: double ruble, chervonets or “ducat” (about 2 and one-half rubles), and dvoinoi chervonets (double chervonets). Unfortunately, Peter’s profligate expenditures steadily eroded most of the value of this otherwise admirable currency.

coin thumbnail coin thumbnail  

Collection of Coins and Medals
Yale University Art Gallery
Gift of Rev. William H. Owen
2001.87.302

coin thumbnail coin thumbnail Silver ruble of 1707. The reverse side shows the Romanov double-eagle.

Collection of Coins and Medals
Yale University Art Gallery
Gift of Rev. William H. Owen
2001.87.303

coin thumbnail coin thumbnail Silver ruble, issued in 1720, with the obverse side showing the “mature” Peter the Great.
Collection of Coins and Medals
Yale University Art Gallery
Gift of Rev. William H. Owen
2001.87.304

coin thumbnail coin thumbnail Silver ruble from 1725, the last year of Peter the Great’s reign.

Collection of Coins and Medals
Yale University Art Gallery
Gift of Rev. William H. Owen
2001.87.305

coin thumbnail coin thumbnail 1 kopeck piece, copper, 1710. The obverse side depicts a rider with the lance thrust downward, showing continuity with earlier coins of Ivan the Terrible, which also were struck with this motif.
Collection of Coins and Medals, Yale University Art Gallery
Gift of Rev. William H. Owen
2001.87.315

Three silver coins showing various denominations:

coin thumbnail coin thumbnail Altyn, 1704 = 3 kopecks

Collection of Coins and Medals
Yale University Art Gallery
Gift of Rev. William H. Owen
2001.87.316

coin thumbnail coin thumbnail Den’ga = one-half kopeck

Collection of Coins and Medals
Yale University Art Gallery
Gift of Rev. William H. Owen
2001.87.314

coin thumbnail coin thumbnail Polushka=one-fourth kopeck

Collection of Coins and Medals
Yale University Art Gallery
Gift of Rev. William H. Owen
2001.87.313