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Copper coins “in silver”

What do coins tell about

Cash, especially coins, is a valuable witness to history. Foremost, the presence of coins in cultural layers gives a clear reference by date. As a result, numismatics is one of the main assistants of archaeological research. In general, coins are recognized by historians as markers of economic development, economic ties. By the circulation of coins, one can judge the development of trade, state projects and reforms.

When copper coins appeared in Russia

Copper coins appeared in Russia in the middle of the XVII century as an alternative to the main coins made of silver: kopecks, money (1/2 kopeck) and polushki (1/4 kopeck). The fact is that Russia did not min its own silver and gold, the valuable metal came from abroad (mainly for exported raw materials), and the state needed additional funds to wage war with Poland. But the introduction of new money was unsuccessful, the volume of minting of unsecured copper money caused their inflation. The situation was aggravated by the fact that the salaries of servicemen were paid in copper money, and taxes (taxes) were levied by the state only in silver. Also, the widespread use of copper in everyday life caused a surge in counterfeiting. All this caused extreme rejection of the copper coin by the population and ended with the copper riot of 1662. The following year, the issue of copper coins was stopped, and copper was withdrawn from circulation.

Again mass minting of coins in copper was launched in 1700 by Peter I, these were the first coins of machine coinage on equipment purchased in England. The launch of copper coins was well-prepared, the legality of copper coins as a means of payment was explained to the population. Gradually, copper pennies, money and half-pieces, and then copper spots became familiar to the broad masses of the people, for the peasants these were the most common banknotes that provided exchange in small trade. In the Russian Empire, the minting of copper coins was carried out on an industrial scale, in some years the volume of issue of copper coins amounted to tens of millions of pieces.

Copper coins “silver” – what do they look like?

Copper coins
The upper row — before the reform, the lower row — after.
Photo: Vasily Kutyin.

From 1839 to 1848, unusual copper coins were minted in the Russian Empire. They had standard denominations of 1/4 kopeck, 1/2 kopeck, 1, 2 and 3 kopecks. On the obverse side there is a monogram of Emperor Nicholas I, and on the reverse – the denomination, the date of minting and the sign of the mint, as well as an intriguing inscription: “SILVER”, despite the fact that these coins do not contain silver.

Reform of Cancrin 1839-1843 and introduction of the silver standard

The reason for the appearance of this inscription is that at the turn of the 1830s–1840s, under the leadership of the Minister of Finance E. F. Kankrin, a monetary reform was successfully implemented, which was designed to solve the problem of depreciation of appropriations and the parallel existence of the appropriation and silver rubles.

Appropriations – the first paper money in Russia was introduced in 1769. Their peculiarity is that they were provided with a copper coin. Copper was mined in Russia, widely used in production and was relatively inexpensive. As a result, the ever-increasing issue of appropriations and their collateral in the form of copper coins constantly reduced the purchasing power of paper money. If in 1769 the rate of appropriations to the silver ruble was 1 to 1, but by the end of the XVIII century, 1 ruble by appropriations was already worth 40 kopecks in a silver coin, and during the war with Napoleon – the rate dropped to 20 kopecks (5 times). But all economic calculations were officially made in the expectation of appropriations. Obviously, the current situation was inconvenient and significantly harmed the economy and money circulation. The situation was exacerbated by the widespread use of fakes, including those printed on the orders of Napoleon Bonaparte to supply the occupation forces in Russia in 1812.

The depreciation of the appropriation ruble (not limited in emission) led to a forced gradual decrease in the standard normative mass of copper coins issued by the treasury. This was done so that the value of copper as a monetary metal for some time at least roughly corresponded to the falling rate of paper appropriations. So if before 1810, according to the state standard, 16 rubles were minted from a pood of copper (1 pood = 16.38 kg.), then in 1810-1830 – 24 rubles. In 1830-1839, coins worth 36 rubles were made from a pood of copper. Accordingly, the copper kopek in 1802-1810 had a standard mass of 10.24 g, in 1810-1830 – 6.38 g, and in 1830-1839 – only 4.55 g (that is, its weight decreased by more than 2 times). A paradoxical situation arose – 5 and 10 kopeck coins were minted simultaneously from silver and copper, but copper coins, even with a decrease in the normative weight of the kopeck, remained large and inconvenient to handle. For example, the copper 10 kopecks of the coinage of 1830-1839 weighed almost 45.5 grams and had a diameter of 42 mm, which made it difficult to logistics large sums of payments and collection of taxes in copper coins from the population.

The Cancrin reform put an end to the double circulation of the appropriation and silver rubles. Appropriations were replaced by new paper money – credit notes. The main result of the reform was that: the silver ruble became a single standard for the monetary circulation of the Russian Empire. Now all calculations were carried out in relation to silver, and the rate of old appropriations in relation to silver was fixed at around 3.5 to 1. Appropriations remained in circulation for some time, but played a minor role.

In the sphere of circulation of copper coins, the Reform of Cancrin provided for a return to the 16-ruble stop: that is, coins worth 16 rubles were again produced from a pood of copper, but this inevitably increased the mass and size of new coins. Minting of denominations of 5 and 10 kopecks from copper ceased, they were now minted only from silver. The oldest denomination was the 3 kopeck coin. It was necessary to effectively solve the problem of promoting the silver standard of new copper coins, to convince the broad strata that now new copper coins can be exchanged for silver at face value, and not at the rate, and also to protect the people from fraud. To do this, the denomination of the new copper money was now supplemented by the inscription “SILVER”. This inscription actually fixed the silver standard of coin circulation, that is, that the copper coins of the new coinage should be considered not on appropriation, like the old ones, but on silver. To reduce costs, the copper money of previous coinages (both 36-ruble and 24-ruble stops) was not withdrawn from circulation and was not re-minted (as often happened in the XVIII century), they remained in use, but they were subject to the parity exchange rate established for appropriations. As a result, three and a half kopecks of copper of pre-reform coinage became equivalent to one kopeck of silver. This gave an additional benefit to the state, since the foot itself decreased by 2 times (not 32, but 16 rubles were now minted from a pood of copper), and the exchange rate of the old coin for a new one was set at 3.5 to 1. For example, seven copper kopecks of the issue before 1839 began to be equal to two new ones, as a result, two-kopeck coins of the new coinage received the popular nickname “semishnik” or “semitok” (from the word “seven”). The nickname “grosh”, which before the reform meant a two-kopeck coin, after the reform passed to the coin of 1/2 kopeck. It is important to note that the silver accounting standard introduced by the Cancrin reform was fixed not only on copper, but also on platinum coins issued in denominations of 3, 6 and 12 rubles, in their design there was an inscription “on silver”, which was more accurate.

Copper coins with a “silver” denomination were issued until 1848 inclusive, platinum coins were issued until 1845 inclusive, and this was the only period in the history of Russia when coins of regular minting were made of platinum (from 1828 to 1845). Since 1849, after the completion of the reform and the withdrawal of appropriations from circulation, the mention of the silver standard of accounting in denominations of copper coins ceased.


  • Copper kopecks “in silver” and the reform of E. F. Kankrin 25.02.2019
  • Cancrin’s Monetary Reform
  • 17.03.2022. “Paper for silver!”. How was and how did the reform of Cancrin 1839-1843 end?
  • Cancrin’s Monetary Reform 1839-1843 The Power of the Silver Ruble
  • V.V. Uzdenikov “Coins of Russia XVIII – early XX century. Essays on Numismatics”, 2004
  • V. Ivanov. A short course of history. Cancrin’s monetary reform.