Article

The Rus' Coin Scandal

An article in the Journal "Museums of Ukraine" appeared February 9th this year bringing into question the legality of a Moscow auction featuring rare Kyivan Rus' sribnyk coins and hryvnia bars.  Coins were minted in Rus from the first half of the 11th century on into the 1st quarter of the next century.  During the reign of Grand Prince Volodymyr the Great (Old East Slavic: Володимѣръ Свѧтославичь, Old Norse: Valdamarr Sveinaldsson) gold and silver coins were minted, modeled on contemporary Byzantine currency of that time. 

East European Antique House (http://domantik.ru) based in Moscow is a fairly new auction house having been in business for only a few months. Their first auction was held February 9th, 2013 which included 7 lots of Rus coins and bars.

  1. "Volodymyr sribnyk” type I (X cent.). The first coin minted in Rus' according to experts. This coin was hammered from the same pair of dies as some coins found in 1876. Starting price $15,800
  2. Volodymyr sribnyk” type IV (X - XI.). The reverse depicts the trident. According to experts, this coin was hammered from the same pair of dies as some coins from the "Nijinsky treasure" found in 1852. Only 25 coins with tridents are known. Starting price $5,300
  3. Detail of gold torque (XI - mid XV.) - Ingot, which was tender during the so-called "bezmonetnoho period."Dimensions - 16 x 7 x 5 mm, weight - 7.07g. Starting price $3,700
  4. Gold Hryvnia "Novhorod type" (end of XI - mid XV century.). Dimensions - 205 x 13 x 12 mm.Actively circulated as money.In the beginning - mainly in the north-eastern, from the 13th century.Starting price $4,750Hexagonal silver hryvnia "Kyiv" type (XI - XIII cc.).These Ukrainian Hryvnia regularly show up on auctions and are sold at a price of $ 800 – 1500. Starting price $3,000
  5. Ancient silver hryvnia, which belongs to the so-called"Chernihiv" type.Starting price $3,500
  6. Silver bullion "Lodiy", which dates back to the mid fourteenth century.Starting price $ 4,750

"Volodymyr sribnyk” type I (X cent.) - front"Volodymyr sribnyk” type I (X cent.) - back

Volodymyr sribnyk” type IV (X - XI.) - frontVolodymyr sribnyk” type IV (X - XI.) - back

As a result of the article, the Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Culture and Spirituality, Vyacheslav Kirilenko, officially called on the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, Head of Security, the Minister of Interior, Minister of Income and Charges and the Ministry of Culture of Ukraine to immediately investigate the provenance of the unique coins and whether they were illegally exported from Ukraine, in particular stolen from museum collections.   If the strong suspicions were proven, the Ukrainian government was to do everything possible to return the priceless treasure and bring the perpetrators to justice.

The founder of the auction house expressed surprise about the accusations considering similar coins can be found and purchased quite easily.  Although coins minted during Volodymyr’s reign are very rare, they are now appearing with more frequency.  In the past 2 years, 19 such coins have appeared in auctions, collectors forums, including Kyiv antique shops.

Silver hryvnia, "Chernihiv" typeHow can this be possible? In recent years there has been an explosion in the illegal use of metal detectors in Ukraine.  The hysteria spun by the Journal "Museums of Ukraine” did not raise much of an alarm.  There has been a growing trend in illicit trafficking of archaeological sites and the Ukrainian government is doing nothing about it.  In European countries, laws control and limit the use of metal detectors.  In Ukraine a recent bill, attempting to streamline the use of metal detectors, did not get very far in Parliament.  The Institute of Archeology has 4 detectors under tight government control compared to 90,000 in use by so called black archeologists.  Artifacts from the Rus period are frequently found such as crosses, jewelry, coins, weapons and the architectural record of where they were found and the stories they tell are irreparably lost.  There lies the true scandal.  

Silver bullion "Lodiy"In 1988 the Hermitage published a catalogue recording 300 Rus coins in their collections.  No doubt by now the number has risen considerably.  Ukraine is being slowly stripped of its cultural and historical record – a true tragedy.  By the way, what did happen with the auction you may wonder. Lot 9 sold for $5,000 and lot 14 for $4,800.  The auction house owner said that in the name of friendship between Russia and Ukraine, the remaining unsold coins may be returned to Ukraine.  We shall see.