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The coin in question is an 1825 pattern struck in anticipation of the succession of Constantine I as Tsar.

He was a popular hero on Napoleonic battlefields and it was hoped that there would be a revival of the glory days of Byzantium in the guise of the Russian empire.

It is a long story, but in the event his brother acceded to the throne of all the Russias as Nicholas I. The handful of prematurely minted coins disappeared into a safe at the Ministry of Finance for fear of Lèse Majesté.

They remained hidden until 1879 when Czar Alexander II distributed them to courtiers. Five examples are known with a lettered edge and two with a plain edge.

Two are in the Hermitage (a plain-edged example surfaced here in 1962), one in the Smithsonian, another in a private collection and one is still unaccounted for.

Accordingly, the Constantine I rouble is the Holy Grail of Russian coins.
Imperial Russian coins have a worldwide following, rather as classical and papal coins do.

The coin is no stranger to auction. It was sold at Sotheby’s in 1993 for £26,000 and again at Hess-Divo (Zurich) in 1999 for SFr240,000 (£96,000), but this price is new territory for European coinage, bettered only by some rare United States coins and a few Classical rareties.

It was a busy week for numismatists in the Big Apple and – perhaps reflecting the weakness of the dollar – one experienced commentator remarked that even second-rate coins were fetching first-rate prices.