Secret Marks on the Banknotes of Rostov-on-Don

Peter Symes

After the Russian Revolution in February 1917 currency continued to circulate in Russia as it did under the imperial authorities, although new notes known as the Kerensky issues were added to circulation. However, shortly after the Bolshevik revolution in October 1917, the availability of the Imperial and Kerensky currencies became uncertain and by late 1917 throughout Russia there was a shortage of currency. The Cossacks of the Don Cossack Province, with their capital at Novocherkassk, refused to recognize the Bolshevik central administration and they supplemented their currency by circulating Freedom Loans and Notes of the State Treasury. Realizing the looming need for a large amount of currency, in late 1917 the State Bank’s main office at Rostov-on-Don commenced preparations to issue banknotes. The first notes produced from this initiative were 10-ruble notes issued on 16 February 1918 (see Figure 1).

            Only seven days later, on 23 February 1918, Bolshevik forces captured Rostov-on-Don. Realizing the need to have a circulating currency in the region, the Bolsheviks continued issuing the 10-ruble notes from 2 April 1918 and introduced 25-ruble notes on 5 April 1918. The German army occupied Rostov-on-Don on 8 May 1918, which slowed the issue of notes, but the issues were later resumed. Subsequently, the following notes were introduced by authority of the Don Cossack government: 100 rubles (14 June 1918), 5 rubles (11 July 1918), 250 rubles (4 September 1918, see Figure 3), 3 rubles (17 September 1918), 500 rubles (12 February 1919, see Figure 5) and 1 ruble (12 March 1919).

            The Don Cossacks were a mainstay of the White Russian campaign in southern Russia during the civil war against the Bolsheviks, but the other great force was the Volunteer Army. This army scored a notable victory in the North Caucasus towards the end of 1918 and the Don Cossacks were drawn into an alliance with the Volunteer Army. Amongst the allies of the White Russians, the banknotes of the Don Cossacks became the accepted currency.

            Under the alliance of White Russians, new notes dated 1919 were produced by the Don Cossacks, denominated in 50, 100, 1000, and 5000 rubles. The 100-, 1000-, and 5000-ruble notes form a series titled ‘March on Moscow’. The notes were released in the following sequence: 100 rubles (2 June 1919), 50 rubles (reported to be 13 September 1919), 5000 rubles (8 December 1919) and 1000 rubles (probably early 1920). However, the ambitions of the Volunteer Army and its allies faltered in their attempt to reach Moscow, ultimately being repelled and driven back beyond the Don Cossack Province to the Crimea. The Bolshevik’s Red Army recaptured Rostov-on-Don on 10 January 1920 and after occupying the province they continued to issue notes of the Don Cossacks.

            The banknotes issued by the Don Cossack government were initially printed in Rostov-on-Don, but a second printing house was established in Novorossiisk and later notes were printed at Novocherkassk and Kiev. E.N. Shur is reported to have designed most of the Don currency notes, but other artists of South Russia also contributed: Khmelevski, A.A. Yunger, N.F. Rybin and D. Novikov. The notes were mainly engraved by Matvei Petrovich Davydov and it is thought M.P. Davydov was responsible for introducing secret marks to the notes of the Don Cossacks, in order to identify the banknotes issued by the Bolshevik occupiers of the province.

            The 10-ruble note was the first note to be subject to M.P. Davydov’s handiwork. Initially issued by the Cossacks in February 1918, the Bolshevik forces occupied Rostov-on-Don in the same month. In an effort to identify the 10-ruble notes authorized by the Bolsheviks, M.P. Davydov added a short line on the back of the note to bridge a space near the design of acanthus leaves in the centre, just above the cartouche holding ’10 РУБЛЕЙ 10’. Figure 2 shows the addition of this line. The 25-ruble notes were initially issued under the authority of the Bolsheviks, so there was no need to mark these notes to identify which were, and which were not, issued by the Bolsheviks. The later notes were issued after the Bolsheviks were pushed out of the province and no secret marks were initially required. Interestingly, after the Bolsheviks retreated from the area, the 10-ruble notes with the secret marks continued to be printed; as apparently no-one was interested in identifying which notes were issued under the authority of the Cossack government and which were issued under the Bolsheviks.

            Although no apparent action was taken, with regard to the 10-ruble notes with and without the secret marks, when the Bolsheviks occupied the Don Cossack Province for the second time in January 1920 and continued to issue the banknotes, secret marks were added to the two high denomination notes to identify the notes issued under the authority of the Bolsheviks. It is assumed the lower denomination notes were not treated in the same manner, either because the lower denomination notes had ceased to be of any importance due to high inflation by 1920 or because M.P. Davydov was not in a position to add secret marks to these notes.

            For the 250-ruble note, the secret marks appear in the green border surrounding the main part of the note. The design of the outer edge of the border repeats the number 250, enclosed in a circle. M.P. Davydov added small ovals above and below the number 250 (see Figure 4) to indicate the notes were issued by the Bolsheviks. For the 500-ruble note, a small rectangle was added below the text in the cartouche holding the text, at the left on the front of the note (see Figure 6). As the Bolsheviks remained in control from this time forward, there were no additional secret marks added to any other notes, which have come to light.

            Secret marks have been added to many notes in many parts of the world for many reasons. That secret marks were added to the notes issued in the Don Cossack Province is not surprising, but it is always of interest to highlight the secret life of a banknote.


This article is based on information recorded in Catalog of Banknotes of the Civil War in Russia, Volume III, Southeastern region, Crimea, North Caucasus (1917–1920) written and published by Mikhail Istomin in 2009.

This article was completed in February 2014.
© Peter Symes