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Shahiv It Up, Baby, Now

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Fenntucky Mike


The Ukrainian Postage Stamp Currency of 1918, with denominations of 10, 20, 30, 40 & 50 Shahiv, are odd little ducks but not in the context of the times. World War I would rage most of the year until the Armistice Agreement on November, 11, the Spanish Flu pandemic was beginning, the Russian Revolution was in full swing and the newly established People's Republic of Ukraine (June, 1917) was toppled via coup d'etat complements of the Imperial German Army which was occupying Kyiv at the time and then promptly installed Pavlo Skoropadsky as Hetman in April 1918 for an exchange of supplies expropriated from the people of Ukraine in order to fight the Bolshevik Red Army which was on the doorstep of Kyiv. There was a sever lack of supplies, a sever need for currency and a new Dictator/Government. The Ukrainian People needed banknotes issued by the new Government now. The quickest solution (in lieu of coin as there was a metals shortage at the time) was to issue Postage Stamp Currency until new larger denomination notes could be produced in Berlin. Karbovanets were the official monetary unit of Ukraine at the time with 1 Karbovanets = 2 Hryvni = 200 Shahiv, the Postage Stamp Currency was essentially, pocket change. 

Forms, 1 = Shah, 2 - 4 = Shahy, 5+ = Shahiv

Printed on card stock, in April of 1918, the Shah notes were the first circulating currency of the new regime. Although now a Dictatorial State under the control of Hetman Skoropadsky the previous title of Ukrainian People's Republic (UPR) was still used on all currency issued during his reign along with the National Symbol, The Tryzub. There are several known varieties along with a specimen consisting of the five fronts of the different denominations and a single reverse printed on a cardboard sheet measuring 260 x 185 mm with Ukrainian and Russian descriptive text, which strangely enough uses the description Ukrainian State as opposed to UPR and only depicts a single reverse design when two were used. All denominations contained the same text on the front and back, the only significant change (excluding the artwork/design) was the numerical display of the denomination. 



The text on the back which, according to Microsoft Translator, says "Walks on par with the ringing coin." could also be translated as "Is on par with the ringing coin." or "On par with the ringing coin.". The phrase "ringing coin" is interesting to me as I wonder if it has some other significance beyond the obvious that when coin is dropped on a hard surface is makes a ringing sound? Or does it refer to something else like a specific type of metal or coin characteristic, maybe it was just a generic phrase or something else? (shrug) Ukraine did not mint or have any coins minted of its own until after its Independence in 1991, so what is this phrase referring to? Possibly, it is referring to being "on par" with Russian coinage, specifically a 1/2 kopek which was also referred to as a Shah at the time and freely circulating.

There are five denominations of Shahiv (10, 20, 30, 40 & 50), with the Standard Catalog of World Paper Money listing three varieties. Below is a list of all varieties, including those not listed in the SCWP and those assumed to exist but are not yet known. There are potentially 20 notes, including varieties and counterfeits, to be collected for this issue.


Perforated Varieties.


The designs of the Shahiv were done by two of the greatest Ukrainian graphic artists of the time, maybe the greatest ever, Heorhii Narbut who designed the 30, 40 & 50 Shahiv notes and Antin Sereda who designed the 10 and 20 Shahiv notes. Heorhii Narbut was one of the founders of the first Ukrainian Art Academy and built the printing technologies unit from scratch. Narbut designed the government's logo (Tryzub) and seals, letterhead for it's charters and official stationery. He also created a line of postage stamps and designed 13 of the 24 banknotes issued between 1917 - 1920 for the fledgling Nation. Antin Sereda studied under Narbut at the Art Academy and later illustrated the cover to the catalog of a posthumous exhibition of Narbut's works in 1926. I'll have a Journal entry exclusively on Narbut in the near future.

There are two different reverse designs for the series, although the designs are (so far) specific to certain denominations. A double box used on the 10, 20 & 30 Shahiv notes and a single box used on the 40 & 50 Shahiv notes. The specimen print displays only the double box reverse as would be expected as the first three denominations used this design and are presumed printed first. Although none are known to exist I would not be surprised if examples of both reverses on all denominations exist, especially at the transition between the 30 & 40 Shahiv notes. I would expect that a 40 Shahiv double box or 30 Shahiv single box reverse would be the most likely to have been produced.

10, 20 & 30 Shahiv double box reverse.


40 & 50 Shahiv single box reverse.


Stamps of the same obv design were issued in July of 1918 on very thin paper and gummed back with no printing. The first edition was imperforated when issued but individual businesses and post offices would perforate the sheets on occasion. Later editions may have been released with perforations.




With inflation running rampant the Shahiv banknotes were quickly forgotten as new higher denomination banknotes of up to 1,000 karbovantsiv were issued. In November of 1918 Skoropadsky was removed from power in an uprising led by socialist Symon Petliura after the withdrawal of German forces from Kyiv. Eventually on December 14, 1918 Skoropadsky abdicated and fled to Berlin and the Ukrainian People's Republic was restored with power vested in a Directoria, a provisional government of five directors as opposed to the Central Rada that formed the legislative branch in the previous incarnation of the UPR. An independent Ukrainian Government would exist in some form until 1921 but the Shahiv were long forgotten by then, a grain of sand in the hourglass that was Ukraine's brief Independence at the beginning of the 20th Century. 

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