Russian ‘quarters’ sell for $3.9 million in Zurich

Two 19th-century Russian coins sell for record prices at an auction in Switzerland

A price record has been set for Russian coins at an auction in Zurich: Test “quarters” (25-kopeck pieces that were never put into circulation) dating back to 1808 and 1827 were sold for almost $4 million.

The record bid took place at the Sincona auction house, which is oriented primarily toward Russian clients. The auction began with the sale of an enormous collection of Russian coins, containing around 10,000 silver and copper pieces.

Sincona spokesman Vadim Shiryaev noted that the most valuable coins were of a minor nominal value — 25 kopecks each — and dated back to the 19th century. Before this auction, the record had been set by coins minted in earlier centuries.

The last time a “quarter” of the ruble from 1808 appeared at an auction was 100 years ago, in 1913. The 1827 quarter was even rarer — only a few copies were minted, presented for high-level approval and subsequently rejected. The coin only surfaced at public auctions once, in 1968.

“It’s possible that the current generation of collectors will never have the chance to acquire such copies again. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Hence the willingness to pay more,” said Shiryaev.

No matter how different the Russian coin and art markets may be, they have some things in common: In particular, unique items sell better in London or Zurich than they do in Moscow or St. Petersburg.

“The sale of two Russian ‘quarters’ for that kind of money shows how much higher the coin market is in Europe than it is in Russia,” said Igor Lavruk, director of the Moscow-based numismatic firm Coins and Medals.

“Auction these coins off here and they would have sold for less. The most expensive Russian coin at our auction was sold in October 2007 for 15.6 million rubles, which, at the exchange rate of that time, was $650,000. It was a ruble that dated back to 1730.”

First published in Russian in Kommersant.

All rights reserved by Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

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