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Russian Civil War Notes Covered
By Neil Shafer, Bank Note Reporter
December 26, 2012

This article was originally printed in Bank Note Reporter.
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Volume VI, Part 1 of Mikhail Istomin’s series, Catalog of Banknotes of the Civil War in Russia, has recently been released. This catalog covers the Volga and Ural Provinces, Siberia, and Far East issues 1917-1922.

As with all previous sections prepared by this author, the text is in Russian and English in an obvious bid to try and capture some of the English-speaking market which has only slowly begun to understand and appreciate the richness and historical importance of such issues over the years. At least now there are more collectors and dealers in evidence at the major shows who show a stronger interest in studying and forming collections of this material.

In the author’s own English words, found on the page just preceding the Table of Contents (Russian text), he says, “This catalog considers the paper money of government and municipal issues in a vast area from the Volga to Vladivostok.

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Private paper money is not considered. Before each issuer there is historical and other background on the government/city/town.

Overstamps and overprints on securities and banknotes are considered in Chapter V. The notes are priced in US dollars, usually for three grades. The majority of the issues are illustrated. The differences between the varieties are explained in words and when possible, shown visually. Many notes are illustrated for the first time. Recorded serial and control numbers are widely represented. The catalog is intended for a wide range of collectors, both beginners and advanced.”

This statement of purpose is clear and concise. How it applies in practical terms is something I wanted to see for myself, so I took a group of all sorts of Russian notes and photographs to look up and see what I could find in the catalog. Though the author has produced other volumes in his grand study of notes made during the Russian Civil War, and I have reviewed them all favorably in this column, this is the first time I have started from scratch looking up various issues that may be represented in my holdings.

The first problem I bump into is to figure out which notes I have that are covered in this volume. Apparently the only way I can do this is to go through the book, see the illustrations, and then try to match them to the notes. This searching technique does not produce the best results because it’s hard to remember what the issues look like in the book and then try to find the actual notes that match.

Once I do locate some pieces contained in the catalog, I see that there are copious historical and numismatic annotations, some in great detail taking a number of pages at times. These characteristics are the hallmarks of Istomin’s extremely thorough research. There are also quite a number of note listings without any illustrations; those are of course much more difficult and they appear to have generally high values, and in some cases no value is assigned.

The whole process of searching notes to match illustrations is quite a time-consuming process, necessitating a constant reexamination of notes and photos. I wonder if some sort of illustrated index could be produced using small but identifiable images of the major types of notes contained in the catalog under review. Something like that would certainly help individuals who are unfamiliar with many of the note issues to narrow down their search for the appropriate pieces to look up. In fact, the book does have a hint of such help with a few color illustrations of some that are cataloged in this volume as soon as you open the front cover.

All of Istomin’s works are basically similar as they include exhaustive studies of a great many issues, and they are all bilingual (Russian and English). I believe these catalogs have done a lot to unravel the myriad complexities involved with the study and collecting of the Russian series. If having some sort of index as described above could help provide an easier way to unlock the secrets of these notes, it would be well worth the effort.

I also realize that such an idea may not be the perfect solution to the problem of locating the needed listings in the catalog. Maybe a reader has another idea that would work better and be less repetitive in effort. It would be greatly appreciated by me and perhaps a lot of folks if an easier solution could be found.

Here is another possible path toward a solution. For the book, Chinese Banknotes by Ward Smith (1970), he produced a listing of Chinese characters that worked fairly well since all you had to do was check the first one or two of his Chinese characters with your note to see if something with those characters was in the book. Would a listing of Russian words do the trick? I don’t know, but it might well be worth a try. In the meantime, let’s take a look at a few items I have found that are indeed beautifully covered by this fine catalog.

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