The Tragedy of Ivan VI

Previews of the Stack’s Bowers Official Auction of the ANA World’s Fair of Money continue with more incredible Russian rarities! These two lots (1442 and 1443) represent two halves of a story about Empress Elizabeth Petrovna of Russia who believed she deserved the Imperial throne over her distant relation, the infant Emperor Ivan VI.

Born in August 1740 to Duchess Anna Leopoldovna (niece of Empress Anna of Russia), Ivan VI seemed a stroke of luck to the then-current Empress Anna, aged 47 in 1740, who was in failing health and without a clear successor to the throne. Empress Anna wished to secure the line of her father, Tsar Ivan V (co-regent with Emperor Peter I) while simultaneously excluding any descendants of Emperor Peter I from ruling. To achieve this, Empress Anna adopted the newborn Ivan VI Antonovich and named him successor to the Empire of Russia. Empress Anna died in October 1740 leaving the eight-week-old Ivan VI as Emperor with a German noble (Ernst Johann von Biron) as regent. Biron acted as regent for only three weeks, before he was replaced by Ivan VI’s mother. Just over a year later, Elizabeth Petrovna, daughter of Emperor Peter I and Catherine I, rallied the Russian guard regiments, overthrew the government and ascended as Empress Elizabeth in December 1741.

Born in December 18, 1709, Elizabeth Petrovna’s parents married in secret in December of 1707; however, their marriage was made public in February of 1712. Due to the secrecy of her parents’ marriage during the time of her birth, Elizabeth’s opponents questioned her legitimacy and right to the throne. Elizabeth was passed over in favor of Empress Anna, and subsequently Emperor Ivan VI. Realizing that the infant emperor and his regent were losing favor with the armed forces, Elizabeth seized power as the result of a daring coup with help from regiments of the Russian army. Wearing a dress and armored breastplate, Elizabeth stormed the Winter Palace with her forces and arrested the infant Emperor Ivan VI Antonovich.

Former Emperor Ivan VI and his mother were kept in increasingly secretive prisons, with Ivan VI eventually sent to Kholmogory in northern Russia when he was four years old. Isolated from his family he remained there for 12 years, seeing no one but his jailor. Rumors of his imprisonment spread, and he was transferred to a more secure location in 1756, where he was more rigorously guarded and even the fortress commander did not know his identity. Emperor Peter III, successor to Empress Elizabeth, sympathized with Ivan VI. Peter III went so far as to visit Ivan VI and offer him aid, but Peter III’s assassination cut short that plan. When Catherine II ascended the throne, she issued strict orders that Ivan was not to be educated by his guards and that he be referred to as "the nameless one." Finally, if any attempt was made to free him or relocate him (even with documentation from Catherine II), Ivan VI was to be executed immediately. Despite nearly 20 years of solitary confinement, Ivan VI was aware of his true identity as Emperor, and knowledge of his presence in prison spread to other officers in the garrison. An attempt was made to free him, quickly foiled due to the orders issued by Empress Catherine II. The conspirators were executed alongside Ivan VI, and the young exiled Emperor was buried quietly inside the fortress. This grisly act secured Catherine II’s position as Empress.

The coinage we offer in our sale reflects both the short reign of Emperor Ivan VI and the coup of Empress Elizabeth. Lot 1442 presents a Ruble with the infant bust of Ivan VI, a numismatic rarity due to his exceptionally short reign. It has been graded AU-55 by NGC and has attractive slate toning.

Lot 1443 offers a Ruble of Empress Elizabeth struck over a 1741 St. Petersburg mint Ruble of Ivan VI Antonovich. This coin offers further affirmation of Elizabeth’s desire to eradicate Ivan’s memory. Clear evidence of an undertype is visible, including the brooch on Ivan’s drapery and the infant Czars’ name “IOAHHb” at 7 o’clock on the obverse. Although the coin was clearly overstruck to eradicate Ivan’s image, no effort was made to re-edge the planchet. As a result, we are left with a hybrid type of the Moscow mint, with the edge lettering from Saint Petersburg. This coin features attractive light purple and grey with underlying luster. Both pieces are extremely rare and of the utmost historical significance, with their story revealing a dark chapter in Russian history. These significant coins are sure to attract a great deal of attention, so be sure to act early.

Look for these and other world and ancient numismatic rarities in our upcoming Official Auction of the ANA World’s Fair of Money in August. Preview these impressive coins along with the rest of our auction this July at the Stack’s Bowers and Ponterio office located in Irvine, California. To schedule an appointment, please call 800.458.4646. While our Stack’s Bowers and Ponterio August ANA World’s Fair of Money Auction is closed for further consignments, we are currently taking consignments of ancient and world coins for our November 2014 Official Auction of the Whitman Coin & Collectibles Baltimore Expo and January 2015 New York International Auction. Time is running short, so if you are interested in consigning your coins and paper currency (whether a whole collection or a single rarity) be sure to contact one of our consignment directors

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