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The historical context

In 1898, Tsar Nicolas II was at the head of a rapidly changing Russian Empire. Confronted with the complex problems of an agricultural country in full demographic expansion and engaged in a process of rapid industrialization, it instructs its Minister of Finance Sergei Yulievitch Witte (1849-1915), to negotiate with France of State loans which will allow to finance this industrial development. Serge Witte then led a major monetary reform in which he adopted the principle of the "gold standard". On January 3, 1897, the gold ruble was introduced and became a value backed by a fixed weight in gold. The State Bank launches the design of 6 new State credit notes (1, 3, 5, 10, 100 and 500 rubles) on which is printed the following statement: "The State Bank changes into coins or credit notes, without limitation of sums. The exchange of official credit notes is guaranteed by all the assets of the State ”.

The decree of circulation for the note of 500 Rubles is signed on February 1, 1899. The denomination becomes the largest value ever issued in imperial Russia and represents a considerable amount at a time when it is very common to live with only one ruble a week! Most Russians will therefore never have this note in hand. A first issue was launched in 1898. Three other issues followed in 1902, 1905, 1910 and a last in 1912, where the bill was replaced by a 500 Rubles Type 1912 (Ref. Pick: # 14). But with the start of the Soviet era, the economic situation deteriorated sharply, inflation was rampant and the value of money fell at an incredible rate. Given the situation, the new communist power has no alternative but to continue using the banknotes issued in 1898 ... and the 500 Rubles will therefore still circulate until 1922.


The 500 Rubles "Peter"

Unlike banknotes from previous issues, the 500 Rubles "Peter" or "Peter with hat" offers a design and very innovative security techniques for the time, but above all it is a note with impressive dimensions: 275L x 126H mm!

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Banknote description

This note was printed on white paper by the then printing office "Expedition for the Preparation of Government Documents (EZGB)" from Saint Petersburg, now the Russian company Goznak. The dominant print colors are gray, red and green. The front is divided into two parts: on the left, all the elements of the note are printed on a pale green background and on the right, a surface of blank paper corresponding to a quarter of the length of the bill. This right side has a large watermark with the effigy of Peter the Great and the banknote number. On the left side, the same portrait of Peter the Great (1682-1725) after a bronze sculpture executed in 1898 by Mark Antokolsky and exhibited in Taganrog since 1903. The portrait of Peter I wearing a tricorn is represented in an oval frame with bas-reliefs and laurel branches, crowned with the imperial crown and a ribbon of the Imperial Order of Saint Andrew. At the bottom of the frame, there is the inscription "Петр Великий (Peter the Great)". Under the portrait is a guilloche rosette with the date "1898". In the middle of the top note, the wording "Государственный кредитный билет (State credit note)", whose wave-shaped inscription is surrounded by a floral motif. On the right, in a braided crown, the small coat of arms of the Russian Empire (Малый государственный герб Российской Империи) used until 1917 (see visual at the beginning of the article).

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In the center of the note, the designation of the nominal value "500 пятьсот рублей (Five hundred Rubles) 500" and on three lines, the following wording: "The State Bank exchanges credit notes for a gold coin without limit amount (1 p. = 1/15 imperial, contains 17,424 parts of pure gold). At the bottom of the note, the signature of the Director on the left and that of the Cashier on the right separated by a guilloche rosette with the number "500" and below, in a semicircle the word "Ruble" and two numbers "500" in green pale on each side. Finally, at the bottom left, the series with two letters of the alphabet and the ticket number made up of six digits.

The back of the note is also divided into two parts: on the left, a blank part with the watermark and on the right a graphic composition on a light pink background. At the border, the value "Five Hundred Rubles" is repeated continuously around the composition. In the middle, a composition of wavy interlaced lines with the words "500" and "RUB" repeated continuously and in miniature inside the frame. In the corners, four guilloche rosettes inclined at 45 ° with the value "500". In the middle, a large rose in dark red with the following three words: "1. The exchange of State credit notes for a gold coin is ensured by the entire possession of the State. 2. Government credit notes circulate throughout the empire in the same way as gold coins. 3. Regarding the falsification of credit notes, the culprits will be deprived of all their state rights and exiled to forced labor ”. On the sides, two identical rosettes have the value "500" on which the word "RUBLE" is superimposed.


Types of signatures

Between 1898 and 1912, 3 Directors and 21 Cashiers followed one another to affix their signature on the 500 Rubles note. The 3 Directors are:

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  1. Eduard Dmitrievich Pleske signs the first banknotes from 1898. In 1903, he resigned from his post as Director of the State Bank for the post of Minister of Finance of the Russian Empire. There are seven cashiers associated with his signing: Ivanov, Karpov, Koptelov, Metz, Mikheev, Sofronov and Chihirzhin.
  2. Sergey Ivanovich Timashev replaces Pleske as Director of the State Bank and signs the banknotes between 1903 and 1909. There are ten cashiers associated with his signature: Ivanov, Koptelov, Metz, Mikheev, Morozov, Ovchinnikov, Shagin, Chihirzhin, Sofronov and Sveshnikov.
  3. Aleksey Vladimirovich Konshin replaces Timashev as Director of the State Bank and signs the notes between 1909 and 1912. The cashiers associated with his signing are four in number: Mikheev, Metz, Sofronov and Chihirzhin.

The distribution of the 4,600,000 issued notes

The note was issued with a circulation of 200,000 copies per series of two letters of the alphabet from No. 000001 to No. 200000 and distributed as follows:

  • 7 “AA-AG series” with the signature of Pleske (Ref. Pick: # 6a): 1,400,000 copies.
  • 12 “AH-AS” series (see note) with the signature of Timashev (Ref. Pick: # 6b): 2,400,000 copies.
  • 3 “AT-AX series” and the series “AF” with the signature of Konshin (Ref. Pick: # 6c): 800,000 copies.

Known score and rarities

To date, we have referenced 1 proof, 7 specimens and 152 issued notes with the following distribution:

1) The 500 Rubles Type 1898 with the signature of Pleske: 7 notes known, or 5% of the total!

  • AB 107561 (sign. Pleske / Karpov),
  • AB 134935 (sign. Pleske / Mikheev),
  • AD 022744 (sign. Pleske / Sofronov),
  • AE 054899 (sign. Pleske / Chihirzhin),
  • AE 117134 (sign. Pleske / Koptelov),
  • AG 093032 (sign. Pleske / Ivanov),
  • AG 123967 (sign. Pleske / Ivanov).

The AA series appears to have been used only for specimens (see "Specimens and tests"). The "AC" series is still unknown to us. Concerning the “AF” Series, this was only found in the Pick reference: # 6c with the combination of “Konshin / Sofronov” signatures! The combination of “Pleske / Metz” signatures has not been found!

Numizon's opinion: the 500 Rubles with the signature of Pleske is by far the rarest note. It is listed for € 515 (35,000 Rubles) in VF grade and € 1,465 (100,000 Rubles) in AU grade!


2) The 500 Rubles Type 1898 with the signature of Timashev: 28 notes known, or 19% of the total!

  • AH 086410 (sign. Timashev/Chihirzhin),
  • AK 186947 (sign. Timashev / Chihirzhin),
  • AL 021009 (sign. Timashev / Koptelov),
  • AL 131061 (sign. Timashev / Metz),
  • AL 135810 (sign. Timashev / Metz),
  • AM 047766 (sign. Timashev / Sofronov),
  • AM 177592 (sign. Timashev / Sofronov),
  • AM 185884 (sign. Timashev / Sofronov),
  • AN 115706 (sign. Timashev / Chihirzhin),
  • AN 129955 (sign. Timashev / Chihirzhin),
  • AN 190542 (sign. Timashev / Koptelov),
  • AO 055427 (sign. Timashev / Metz),
  • AO 057004 (sign. Timashev / Metz),
  • AO 099255 (sign. Timashev / Metz),
  • AO 117649 (sign. Timashev / Ivanov),
  • AO 128363 (sign. Timashev / Ivanov),
  • AO 147650 (sign. Timashev / Ivanov),
  • AO 153137 (sign. Timashev / Ivanov),
  • AP 006463 (sign. Timashev / Ivanov),
  • AP 014275 (sign. Timashev/Chihirzhin),
  • AP 019573 (sign. Timashev / Ivanov),
  • AP 028222 (sign. Timashev / Ivanov),
  • AP 074356 (sign. Timashev / Mikheev),
  • AP 166654 (sign. Timashev / Sofronov),
  • AP 194246 (sign. Timashev / Sofronov),
  • AR 007543 (sign. Timashev / Chihirzhin),
  • AR 014275 (sign. Timashev / Chihirzhin),
  • AR 029204 (sign. Timashev / Chihirzhin).

Note: it seems likely that the 12 series of the 2nd Type begin with the "AH" series. We have not yet found any banknotes containing the series "AI", "AJ" "AQ" and "AS".

The four combinations of signatures "Timashev / Morozov", "Timashev / Ovchinnikov", "Timashev / Shagin" and "Timashev / Sveshnikov" have not yet been found!

Numizon's opinion: the 500 Rubles with Timashev's signature is also quite rare. It is listed for € 220 (15,000 Rubles) in VF grade and € 1,025 (70,000 Rubles) in AU grade!


3) The 500 Rubles Type 1898 with the signature of Konshin: 117 notes known, or 76% of the total!

SeriesSignaturesCopiessmallest numberLargest number
AFKonshin / Sofronov29AF 002835AF 094207
AFKonshin / Mikheev13AF 119656AF 195809
ATKonshin / Sofronov13AT 000486AT 105022
ATKonshin / Mikheev20AT 140942AT 196287
AUKonshin / Metz5AU 030410AU 082134
AUKonshin / Chihirzhin31AU 104427AU 192603
AXKonshin / Metz6AX 001845AX 010109

All combinations of signatures are known. The “AU” (Sign. Konshin / Metz) and “AX” (Sign. Konshin / Metz) series are rarer to find!

The Numizon opinion: the 500 Rubles with the signature of Konshin is the most common of the 3 Types. The odds of this note still remain in tension at € 175 (15,000 Rubles) in VF grade and € 1,025 (70,000 Rubles) in AU grade!


Specimens and proofs

1) Ref. Pick: # 6s. The specimens that we have in score are:

  • an unnumbered and unsigned specimen sold for $ 3,835 in 2011 by Stack's Bowers (lot # 3112),
  • an unnumbered and unsigned specimen, perforated "SPECIMEN" horizontally,
  • a specimen numbered "AA 123456 - AA 789000", signed Pleske and perforated "ОБРАЗЕЦ (SPECIMEN)" horizontally,
  • a specimen numbered "AA 123456 - AA 789000", signed Pleske, perforated "ОБРАЗЕЦ (SPECIMEN)" horizontally and canceled by three geometric perforations,
  • a specimen numbered "AA 123456 - AA 789000", signed Pleske / Metz, perforated "ОБРАЗЕЦ (SPECIMEN)" horizontally and canceled by three geometric perforations,
  • a uniform specimen on the front, numbered "AA 123456 - AA 789000", signed Pleske, perforated "ОБРАЗЕЦ (SPECIMEN)" and canceled by three geometric perforations. Sold € 381 by cgb.fr (lot # b06_0363).

2) Ref. Pick: # 6p. The proof note we know:

  • two single-sided proofs on the front and back, sold in September 2018 at $ 2880 by Heritage Auctions, Auction # 4006 (lot # 28053).

Graded notes in the PMG Population Report

Pick Ref.TotalPMG20PMG25PMG30PMG35PMG40PMG63
Pick : #6a11
Pick : #6b211
Pick : #6b1211523

Conclusion

This very large and beautiful note issued between 1898 and 1912 is today one of the most interesting to collect. Its high face value did not make it a banknote to hoard and the extension of its use until 1922 by the communist power are undoubtedly two of the factors having accelerated its rarity! You will notice that the odds of the three types of banknotes are not so far apart, but the price difference will be seen immediately with a bill in very good grade and with the signature of Pleske and to a lesser extent that of Timashev. We also noticed that this note is not so often sold ... A single bill seems to have been sold by Spink in 2014. Two copies and a specimen sold by Stack's Bowers in 2011 and 2017. Two sales at Heritage Auctions, one in 2018 with two single-sided proofs and a sale of 25 notes in 2014, probably corresponding to a find. Finally, we only found five sales at cgb.fr and only one at Numiscorner ...



Sources:

"History of Russia and its empire" by Michel Heller, Tempus Perrin editions, 1997.