One of the perks of ruling in some nations, other than what may be obvious, is the right to control coinage designs.
A pattern ruble from 1886, struck for emperor Alexander III, recalls an episode in Russia’s history when the ruler flexed this right, to select a more flattering depiction.
The pattern piece highlights Sincona Ag’s third sale of the Sincona Collection of Russian Coins, a landmark offering of Russian material being auctioned in chunks every October since 2012. The final part of the collection hits the block Oct. 13 to 15, and the 1886 pattern is one of many highlights.
Restoring portraits to coins
In 1886, Alexander III restored portraiture to Russia’s gold and silver circulating coinage after a 90-year absence (the reportedly unattractive features of Emperor Paul I are said to have been the catalyst for the discontinuance of portraits).
Following Paul I, pattern and commemorative coins had been struck bearing images of members of the ruling family, but his successors did not wish to bring portraits back to the standard currency, and so national emblems and inscriptions became the norm.
In October 1885, however, Alexander III was presented with two 1-ruble patterns for approval, one featuring an obverse portrait by Leopold Steinmann and the other with a design by Abraham Avenirovich Grilikhes. Both feature a reverse by Avenir Grigorjevich Grilikhes showing the Russian coat of arms, the crowned, two-headed eagle.
Grilikhes’ depiction of Alexander III on the obverse was received more favorably than Steinmann’s, the emperor desiring a more prominent relief than Steinmann had prepared. In December 1885 a plaster of the preferred design was presented to the ruler, who accepted the design in January 1886.
The auction house said, “According to reliable information the dies [for the rejected design] were destroyed, as the pattern was not to the Emperor’s liking.”
At that point the rejected pattern coins were transferred from the St. Petersburg Mint to the numismatic collections of Grand Duke Georgiy Mikhailovich and Count I.I. Tolstoy.
The example in the Sincona auction is from the Tolstoy Collection (the only other example, from the Mikhailovich Collection, is now in the Smithsonian Institution).