Archive for the ‘Alexander Kerensky’ Category

SIBERIAN SOUVENIR   Leave a comment

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Does a banknote have a value beyond its parts: a symmetrical piece of paper, over-written with symbols, poly-lingual, portraited with angels or stiff civil notables, inlaid with silver slivers, water-marked, embossed in braille, and branded with code? Well, only if we (and those with whom we wish to trade) believe it does. Money means something, good or bad, life or death, until it doesn’t and, on that day, the wise will take note that time spent amassing tokens does not a happy life ensure; while the unlucky will have far more pressing concerns to ponder. But while money does retain it’s value, as the song goes… it’s no surprise they’re giving none away.

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The banknote above used to sit in a faux-gilt frame as an interesting travel souvenir and an illustrative lesson in how we ascribe value to things in life. It was purchased in Siberia for the price of a pancake and caviar breakfast and appealed to me for the story it tells. It is a ten year 4½% bond issued by Alexander Kerensky’s Provisional Government. The notes were commissioned in autumn 1917 from the American Banknote Corporation in five series of which this is the fifth and last. Ten million of such bonds were transported to Vladivostok on the steamships Santa Cruz and Sheridan in 1918. Between the commissioning of the bonds and their delivery, the Bolshevik revolution had occurred and civil war raged throughout the country. In the absence of regular supply routes and the banknote drought which ensued, the first three series of notes were approved by the anti-Bolshevik Omsk Government for use as regular currency at face value. Local regional banks applied their own stamps to indicate this and examples can be found with stamps from Vladivostok, Irkutsk, Chita, Blagoveshchensk, and Krasnodar. A different fate awaited the fourth and fifth series of bonds. As the Bolshevik Red Army began to make headway against Kolchak’s White Army in the east, they decommissioned the re-stamped Provisional Government Bonds (which were colloquially called sibirki or kolchakovki) and issued the clean fourth and fifth series with their own bright, elaborate ‘Siberian Revolutionary Committee’ stamps complete with warnings that counterfeiters would be prosecuted by full force of the law. Money is a promise and a threat.

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So the anti-capitalist forces of the communist revolution appropriated the trudovik Kerensky’s Provisional Government’s American-made bonds as their own currency, promising to fulfill the same promise in their own manner. Socialist, Democrat or Communist, Revolutionary of the February or October persuasion, all government legitimates itself through printing press and stamp, gun and cudgel, favour and disgrace, court and assays, carrot and stick. Needless to say, in the case of this note at least, none of the above parties did fulfill their promises. To me the inherent story is worth two hundred roubles with interest.

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