One of the most elusive and desirable coins in the entirety of the Russian series, this majestic pattern ruble was issued for the would-be emperor, Constantine. Born as the middle male child to Emperor Paul I and Sophie Dorothea of Wurttemberg, Constantine never saw himself as actually becoming emperor, fearful of receiving the same fate of his father, who was assassinated in 1801. Following the death of his elder brother, Alexander I, in 1825, and the lack of any legitimate sons produced by Alexander, the crown seemingly fell to Constantine, as he was heir presumptive. Constantine, however, quickly abandoned any such claim, wishing instead for the heavy burden (and possibly target) of the crown to fall to his younger brother, Nicholas.
The story of this fabled ruble thus emanates from the incredibly brief period after which word of Alexander's death arrived in St. Petersburg and before Constantine's official refusal of the throne: 27 November and 12 December, respectively. Minister of Finance Egor Kankrin and engraver Johann Reichel immediately began upon the prospective coinage for the new emperor, preparing dies for a portrait ruble-a break in the general tradition of non-portrait types in the period between Catherine II (the Great) and Nicholas II. Five such examples with edge lettering were then struck-either during this brief window/pseudo-interregum or slightly thereafter, the duo not wanting their handiwork to go unutilized. An additional specimen, this time without the edge lettering, was also produced by Reichel, leaving six total examples across two different edge types. Decades later in 1879, as the perception of Constantine became far less volatile, the five examples with edge lettering were obtained from the safe-keeping of the Ministry of Finance by then-emperor Alexander II, with him retaining one for himself, donating a second to the Hermitage, and giving the final three to Grand Duke George Michaelovich, Grand Duke Sergey Alexandrovich (his son), and Prince Alexander of Hesse.
The second example remains with the Hermitage, while the first passed from Alexander II to the Hermitage as well in 1927, then to the State Historical Museum in Moscow. The third (Grand Duke George's) was eventually acquired by Willis du Pont and was subsequently obtained by the Smithsonian. The fourth (Grand Duke Sergey's) sold in a Hamburger auction in 1898, allegedly appearing in a Schulman auction in 1965 (though the image used in the catalog was in fact that of the Hermitage specimen, leading to some doubts as to what was actually sold), while the fifth (Prince Alexander's) has enjoyed a lengthier history. Acquired in 1914 by the famous American collector Virgil Brand, it was later sold in 1964 to another prominent American-dealer Sol Kaplan-before being acquired by yet another leading American dealer, this time Abe Kosoff. It remained with the Kosoffs until the sale of the collection by Kosoff's daughter in 1994 at our Bowers & Merena November Baltimore auction.
Returning to the elusive plain edge variety struck by Reichel, that piece also joined its lettered edge brethren in the colossal collection of Virgil Brand, being acquired in 1913, but not before passing through the prominent collections of T. F. Schubert (ca. 1850) and Count I. I. Tolstoi (in 1863). Later, it was part of the monumental collection of King Farouk and subsequently acquired by Abner Kreisberg, with its last known appearance being in the St. Louis ANA auction in 1979. This example, however, is not the only plain edge specimen extant, and it is generally accepted that Reichel had apparently issued two others of this particular variety along with the first. In 1962, noted Russian numismatic scholar, Dr. I. G. Spassky, inspected the present piece, which had been heretofore unknown to him. Attesting to its genuine nature, he observed that the dies used in its striking were perfect with no evidence of the rust or deterioration that would be evident from a later issue; he subsequently included it with his survey of other examples, with an eighth specimen-and third with a plain edge-becoming known to him and the rest of the numismatic community as part of the famous Alexiev-Isayev-Garshin collections, later obtained by Willy Fuchs in 1981.
Our present example has seen various presentations in the latter half of the 20th century following its more humble beginning, passing from (allegedly) the Kobeko Collection to that of L. K. Joseph, then from Joseph to F. F. von Richer-a relative of whom presented the piece of Spassky for the aforementioned certification of authenticity. Most recently, it sold in the New York Sale (January 2004) for the hammer of $525,000 ($603,750 after the buyer's fee) and was listed in the firm's post sale press release as being the "world's most expensive non-US coin" at the time. What remains more mysterious is the piece's pre-World War I history, as the collection(s) of which it was a part is unknown. The catalogers for the New York Sale speculate that it may have once been part of the collection of Count Kankrin, previously mentioned for his role as Minister of Finance at the time of Constantine's would be accession, and that of P. V. Zubov. What is certain, however, is that this example stands as one of the very few still obtainable, given the existence of three now held in public institutions and others that have seemingly fallen off the radar. As such, the ultimate prize for the most advanced cabinets dedicated to Russian numismatics, crown-sized silver issues, or great rarities in general.
Estimate: $400000.00- $600000.00