If you’re wondering how rare and why there is such excitement about this coin, it is the newly found one of two such coins in existence today. This second coin was discovered at Pskov Archeological Centre in Russia, with the first on display at the Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg.
The coin is a rare find for two reasons. First, unlike most others, rather than act as a means of exchange, it was the result of an unusual tax on beards. This tax was a war on beards following Tsar Peter the Great’s visit to Europe, commonly termed ‘The Grand Embassy’. Secondly, the tax was only in effect until 1772, when most of these tokens were melted and remolded into other coins that were still in use, meaning that many of these were lost.
The origin of the beard tax
In 1697, Tsar Peter made a visit to Europe under a guise and discovered that Russia was lagging behind in development and modernization. Upon his return to Russia, he began instituting changes that included the establishment of a modernized army and navy and modernization of Russian architecture among others. Interestingly, because most Europeans were clean-shaven, Peter the Great perceived the keeping of the beard barbaric and issued a decree on the cutting of beards.
However, there was some resistance to shaving, and Tsar Peter opted for the institution of the beard tax. To be allowed to keep a beard, rich men had to pay a hundred rubles annually, while peasants were required to pay much less. As evidence of tax compliance, the rich men were issued with silver coins while peasants were issued with copper coins called ‘beard kopeks’.
The scarcity, age, and uniqueness of the coin have led archeologists to describe the kopek as ‘priceless’!