The German Princess who became a Russian Empress

Much like another female ruler some two centuries prior (Elizabeth I in England), an empress in Russia would oversee great national growth in both land and power, and have a "golden age" associated with her reign. What is different, however, is that this ruler wasn’t native to the land in which she would eventually rule. Born in what is now Germany to the Prince of Anhalt-Zerbst in 1729, Princess Sophie Friederike Auguste was ennobled, though of modest means overall. She received a proper education with no regard to her gender and spent her youth playing the role of a tomboy rather than that of a German princess. In a boon to the fortunes of her family, she became betrothed to Peter, the heir to the Russian throne and the grandson of Peter I (the Great). She married the young prince in 1745.

Their marriage, however, proved extremely troubled and a mismatch, as Peter was mentally immature and Catherine (Sophie’s name having been changed upon reception into the Russian Orthodox Church) was anything but. Questions still remain as to when or if, their marriage was ever consummated. The extreme gulf their feelings created between them led to each seeking out favorites at court. Following two miscarriages (which were rumored to be fathered by Catherine’s lover, Sergie Saltykov), the royal couple had issue, with Paul born in 1754, followed by Anna three years later (though she would live just 15 months). Despite these offspring, the couple remained mostly at odds, with Catherine linked to various groups opposed to the eventual rule of her husband. His reign would begin upon the death of then-monarch, Empress Elizabeth (Peter’s aunt), in 1762. What would ensue would be quite dramatic, with Peter (now Peter III) being assassinated after just six months on the throne. Though never fully explained, it would seem likely that Catherine, along with her partisans, was behind a plot to see to herself installed as Russia’s sole ruler.

Catherine’s reign would see her rule rather admirably for over 34 years, with Russia enacting many positive reforms and expanding her territorial claims. Considered a Golden Age of Russia, her period of power would be known eponymously as the Catherinian Era, just as the Elizabethan Era would be similarly referenced in England. Similar to the coinage of Elizabeth I of England, that of Catherine is also widely collected, with numerous denominations, dates, and mints possible for this lengthy reign. Our January 2021 auction (officially sanctioned by the NYINC) will feature a number of such pieces—many of which are the more difficult gold denominations of 5 and 10 Rubles—in states of preservation that are not often encountered. They comprise great examples from a rather pivotal and important Russian reign that began quite humbly in Germany over 1,000 miles to the west.

To view our upcoming auction schedule and future offerings, please visit where you may register and participate in this and other forthcoming sales.

We are always seeking coins, medals, and paper money for our future auctions, and are still accepting submissions for our January 2021 sale—for which the consignment deadline is November 4th. Our next CCO (Collectors Choice Online) auction will be in February. If you would like to learn more about consigning, whether a singular item or an entire collection, please contact one of our consignment directors today and we will assist you in achieving the best possible return on your material. (Coin images by PCGS)

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