World Coins

Russian history lesson found in 1741 bronze medal in Sincona auction

A bronze medal from Russia dated Dec. 15, 1741, celebrates a liberation of prisoners after the reign of Elizabeth I began late in 1741.

Images courtesy of Sincona.

One of the great things about medals is their presentation of a vast array of topics related to world history, and the artistry with which these themes are honored.

A bronze medal from Russia, offered among numerous high powered (i.e. expensive) rare coins during Sincona’s Oct. 19 to 21 auctions in Switzerland, is an affordable history lesson related to the reign of Elizabeth I, one of Russia’s most famous and beloved rulers.

The medal is dated 1741, coinciding with her Dec. 6 (Nov. 25 in the old calendar style) ascension to the throne, which was achieved by force.

Elizabeth seized the throne with the military’s support, wresting control from the baby-emperor John VI and his mother, regent Anna Leopoldovna.

She declared her own nephew, the future Peter III, to be her heir.

Bringing reforms to Russia

Elizabeth instituted numerous reforms (which had actually been introduced earlier but that later rulers had removed), and among her early acts was the liberation of prisoners, the scene depicted on the reverse of this medal.

Mercy appears, holding a palm branch while removing the shackles from three prisoners sitting on the ground in front of prison building.

The legend above this scene translates to “By the Mercy of the Monarch,” leaving no doubt about who should receive credit for this act. The legend below translates to “Shackles removed from prisoners” with the date Dec. 15, 1741.

The obverse carried the crowned bust of Elizabeth in a mantle to the right.

The medal weighs 97.67 grams, or more than the weight of three American Eagle 1-ounce silver coins, and measures 64.3 millimeters in diameter, some 2.5 inches.

The medal is cataloged as Diakov 85.2 in Medals of the Russian Empire, Part Two, 1725–1796, by Mikhail Diakov.

The medal offered in the October auction has a brown patina and Sincona grades it as Good Extremely Fine, setting a pre-sale estimate of about $660 U.S.

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