Coins have been minted from a wide variety of metals throughout the world, from precious metals like gold and silver to base metals like nickel and copper. But in the entire 2700 year-old history of coinage, the precious metal platinum has been used only once to produce coins intended for general circulation. This is the story of those platinum coins.
While gold and silver were discovered in antiquity, platinum was not discovered and chemically isolated until the 18th century due to its great rarity. At first it was thought that the only deposits of the metal were in South America, where it was viewed as an expensive novelty and shipped by the Spanish colonies back to Spain for use in luxury goods like silverware.
But a few decades after platinum's discovery, several deposits of ore were discovered in the Russian territory of Siberia. At that point in time, platinum had no real use outside of Spanish forks and spoons. In order to make money (literally) from the newly discovered deposits, the Imperial Russian government decided to put the metal to use in the minting of coins.
The Russian Empire started minting platinum coins out of the ore in 1828, in three denominations - 3 Roubles, along with much smaller quantities of 6 Roubles and 12 Roubles coins. While the 3 Roubles coin was intended to circulate, the 6 and 12 Rouble coins were mainly produced for the government to distribute as gifts to diplomats and wealthy collectors.
Unlike gold and silver coins, which are typically produced as an alloy with copper in order to increase the hardness of the metal, platinum was naturally hard enough that the coins could be produced in pure, unalloyed platinum (with trace amounts of other platinum group metals like palladium and iridium).
That hardness was the downfall of the platinum coin as well - the platinum roubles were so difficult and expensive to mint that the Russian government ultimately decided to cease production after little more than a decade, ending the series in 1845.
Due to concerns about the potential destabilizing impact of the platinum coins on an economy based on gold, silver, and bronze coins, the Emperor issued a decree demonetizing the coins and mandating that the public return them to the Mint to be melted down.
Of the 1.3 million coins originally minted, only a small minority have survived to the present day. The 3 Roubles is the most abundant, as it comprised the majority of the 1.3 million - only a few thousand 6 and 12 Rouble coins were produced.
Platinum is so dense that the 12 Rouble coin contains over an ounce of it while measuring only slightly larger in diameter than half dollar. The 6 Roubles contains 2/3rd of an ounce of platinum, while the 3 Roubles weighs in at 1/3rd of an ounce. Due to the rarity of the coins, in addition to the bullion value of the platinum, all three demand high prices.
|0.33 troy oz. platinum
|0.67 troy oz. platinum
|1.33 troy oz. platinum
First and most importantly - IF YOU ARE NOT A VERY EXPERIENCED NUMISMATIST, DO NOT BUY A RAW, UNSLABBED PLATINUM ROUBLE COIN. (And if you don't know what numismatist means, that means you're not an experienced one).
These are some of the most heavily counterfeited foreign coins on the market due to their high value and massive collector interest. It's simple for a counterfeiter to produce a copy out of silver (or base metal), as it's virtually impossible to visually tell the difference between platinum and silver by sight alone.
If you see a great deal on one of these coins online, and it is not slabbed and authenticated by either PCGS, NGC, or ICG, proceed with extreme caution. Counterfeit examples of the 3, 6 and 12 Roubles coins routinely show up on eBay and other online marketplaces.
If you find a nicely-priced, unslabbed example at a coin shop or pawn store, caution is again your best friend. Ask the store owner to weigh the coin on a gram scale (or bring your own) to verify that it has the correct weight, using the table above as a reference. If it is off by more than 0.1g, do not buy the coin.
Pull up a picture of the design on your phone, and compare it closely to the coin in-hand to see if there are any discrepancies - counterfeiters often miss small details when copying a coin's design. If it hits the correct weight, and there aren't any issues with the design, ask the coin dealer to guarantee the authenticity of the coin - i.e. if you submit the coin to a third-party grading service like PCGS or NGC and it comes back as fake, the dealer should agree to take it back and give you a full refund. This is standard industry practice, and legitimate coin dealers should not have any problem with agreeing to those terms.
For any more questions you may have about the Platinum Rouble series, please leave a comment below and I'll do my best to answer it.