Among the most intriguing areas of numismatics are those that pose the question “what if?” While rarities of famous leaders are coveted and exceptionally desirable, those that shouldn’t have been issued in the first place are even more interesting. One such example of a world-class rarity with tremendous historical importance crosses the auction block as part of the incredible Pinnacle Collection in our April Hong Kong sale. Issued for the would-be emperor, Constantine Pavlovich, the fabled pattern ruble is the only coin produced for this reign that never really happened.
Constantine was the middle son of Emperor Paul I, and was seemingly destined for a life as the “spare” to his elder brother, the “heir.” Following Paul’s assassination, Alexander (the elder brother), Constantine, and Nicholas (the younger brother), were all weary of the crown’s burden. When Alexander died rather unexpectedly—and, more importantly, without a legitimate heir—the duty fell to Constantine. Mint officials, mindful that coins reinforce the divine right of a ruler to the masses, immediately began producing a prototype so that official coinage could continue without interruption. Constantine, however, had other plans; he decided, after just a few weeks, that he wanted no part of his tsarist duty, abdicating the throne in favor of Nicholas. In a flash, a would-be reign was brought to an end before it officially started. But what of the prototypes created by the mint officials? During this period of uncertainty, some eight examples were produced—five with edge lettering and three without. Rather than entering the melting pot, they were fortuitously preserved, with the five lettered edge specimens held for safe keeping within the Ministry of Finance and the three plain edge examples seemingly held by the officials present during their striking.
As the decades passed, the lettered edge rubles were obtained and dispersed by then-tsar Alexander II. Of the five, three are now held in museums (the Hermitage, the state Historical Museum in Moscow, and the Smithsonian). The remaining two have sold publicly and are presumably still in private collections. One last appeared in our Bowers and Merena 1994 Baltimore auction, while the other has not officially been seen since 1898. Turning to the plain edge examples, all three have had a presence in the marketplace, but only the specimen in question—this impressive piece from the Pinnacle Collection—has been seen since 1981. It last crossed the auction block in January 2004, and since then the rare coin market has enjoyed tremendous growth and prosperity, especially during the past year. When the gavel last fell for this monumental pattern issue, a record was established, making it the most valuable non-U.S. coin to sell at that time. Nearly two decades later, the hammer price of $525,000 has been surpassed by other iconic ancient and world coins, a number of which are other Russian rarities. Given the current robust rare coin market and this pattern ruble’s status within the Russian series (perhaps being the most famous of them all!), a seven figure hammer is easily foreseen, especially when observing the $2 million-plus realizations brought by a Nicholas I pattern ¼ ruble or polupoltunnik (in 2013) and a Catherine II ‘the Great’ gold 20 rubles (in 2008), along with the nearly $4 million hammer of an Ivan IV pattern ruble (in 2012). For the connoisseur of Russian numismatics, rare coins in general, or even exceptional works of art, the present pattern ruble is a prime candidate to perform incredibly well at our Hong Kong auction in April.
To view our upcoming auction schedule and future offerings, please visit StacksBowers.com 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 currently accepting submissions for our June Collector’s Choice Online (CCO) auction as well as our Official Auction of the ANA World’s Fair of Money in August. 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.