During the final years of World War I and spanning the timeline of the Russian Revolution, 1917 – ’23, the region of Ukraine enjoyed a brief moment of autonomy. A time when governments were formed, felled, and reformed. A time of art on currency and the creation of a 100 Hryven banknote for the people.
Shortly after the February Revolution in Petrograd (now Saint Petersburg) on February 23, 1917 [O.S.], the territory of Ukraine formed the Central Rada (Council) as the representative governing body. After the abdication of Nicholas II, the Russian Provisional Government came into power and recognized Ukraine’s right to autonomy and the Central Rada as a legitimate representative body. After the Bolshevik coup in Petrograd, The October Revolution, relations between Ukraine and Russia deteriorated rapidly and on November 20, 1917 the Ukrainian People’s Republic (UPR) was established.
Soon after the UPR was formed the Central Rada adopted a law to take over control of the Kyiv office of the State Bank of Russia and transform it into the Ukrainian State Bank. With a Central Bank and newly appointed government it was time to create a National Currency, Karbovanets, which were equal to one Russian Ruble. Soon after its establishment, on January 5, 1918, banknotes with a face value of 100 Karbovanets were put into circulation. Despite the fact that the Government had no gold standard, one Karbovanets was declared equal to 17.424 Dolya or parts of fine gold, which is equal to .766656 grams (1 Dolya = .044 grams). Soon after the first banknote’s release the Ukrainian State Bank was commissioned to generate a new currency without gold backing.
The establishment of the Karbovanets as the national monetary unit was short lived as on March 1, 1918 a new law was adopted making the Hryvnia the new national currency. Two Hryvnia was equal to one Karbovanets and the 1/100 was called a Shah or Shahiv. The new currency law provided for the issuance of 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 500 & 1,000 Hryvnia notes, however no 5, 20 or 50 Hryvnia notes were ever printed and only six denominations went into actual circulation. A 5 Hryven note was issued later in 1919/20, but is not part of the first issue Hryvnia notes. While new Hryvnia banknotes were being designed and printed, provisional banknotes denominated in Karbovanets were still being produced to bridge the gap and to keep commerce flowing.
The Ukrainian Government called upon prominent Ukrainian artists to design new banknotes, artists such as Vasyl Krychevsky, Anthon Sereda, I. Mozolevsky and Georgy Narbut. Narbut designed 13 of the 24 banknotes issued between 1917 and ’20, including the initial 100 Karbovanets note, many stamps, the National Coat of Arms, seals, letterhead, etc., but the 100 Hryvnia banknote of 1918 is considered by many to be his greatest contribution to the new State.
The 100 Hryvnia banknote of 1918 (Pick #22) was part of the inaugural issue of Hryvnia banknotes, the notes were printed in Berlin at the Reichsdruckerei on white paper with Kreuzringelmuster (Cross & Ringlet) watermark. Presumably, the job of printing the new Hryvnia notes was outsourced to Berlin due to printing houses in Ukraine being utilized for the printing of Karbovanets while the Hryvnia notes were being produced, or fear of capture while war was raging, or perhaps as a political gesture to Germany who had backed the fledgling State and in late February of 1918 forced the Bolsheviks out of Ukraine after they had seized the city of Kyiv earlier in the month. Whatever the reasoning may have been, in the end, the Reichsdruckerei did not disappoint and notes were quickly printed, shipped to Ukraine, and put into circulation by no later than October 17, 1918. Which by that time the governing body of Ukraine had been displaced and a new regime installed.
By April of 1918 the German forces had successfully aided the Ukrainian Army in removing the Bolsheviks and, under orders from the German government, promptly staged a coup, after which the Central Rada was removed and Gen. Pavlo Skoropadsky installed as Hetman of Ukraine. On May 9th the Hetman ordered that the official National monetary unit be converted back to Karbovanets. The exchange rate remained the same as when Karbovanets were removed in favor of the Hryvnia, 2:1 Hryvnia to Karbovanets. Denominations of both monetary unites remained in circulation and were accepted through the remainder of an Independent Ukraine’s existence. The 100 Hryven banknote of 1918 would have been one of the workhorses of the economy, being one of the higher denominated notes and large quantities having been printed, some estimates put the total number printed/authorized at 350,000 or more, it would have been one of the most used and available notes in Ukraine at the time. The large quantity printed would also account for the great number of surviving notes and many in uncirculated condition. Three varieties were printed at the time, Pick #22a (as viewed in image 2) has the same design as the other varieties but with the prefix (A) and serial number oriented vertically on the back of the note, this is the most common variety and easily obtained. Pick #22b is slightly larger in size than #22a and the prefix (Б) and serial number on this variety are oriented horizontally on the back of the note, this variety is extremely rare. The final variety, Pick #22?, (Pick does not list this variety) has the same dimension as #22a (180 x 118 mm) but has the prefix (A) and serial number oriented horizontally on the back of the note, this note is rare.
Once it was clear that the Central Powers, Skoropadsky’s sponsors, were going to lose WWI the Hetman formed a new cabinet of Russian Monarchists. In response, on November 14, 1918, the Ukrainian socialists formed a new revolutionary government, the Directorate of the Ukrainian People’s Republic, which ousted the Hetman and took back control of the government of Ukraine. On January 4, 1919 the Directorate proclaimed the Hryvnia the sole legal currency (along with Karbovanets) throughout Ukraine, and all other currencies (Russian, German, Austro-Hungarian or Romanian) forfeit. The Directorate did manage to issue five notes before its dissolution in November of 1920 but none were as elaborate or rich in national symbolism as Nabut’s design for the 100 Hryven note of 1918.
The designs of Narbut, particularly that of the 100 Hryven banknote of 1918, have endured long after his death in 1920 at the age of 34. The 100 Hryven note’s design is a lasting symbol, representing the working class and the best of Ukrainian heritage which can still be seen today on Modern Ukraine’s currency. On the face of the note Narbut has placed a female figure in traditional dress holding a sheaf of wheat and clasping a scythe to the left an elaborately wrought central wreath, to the right of the wreath is a male figure with a wide-blade plow or hammer dressed in clothing representative of the proletariat. Both figures stand casually on a low mound of soil, with movement expressed in the folds of their garments. The design on the back of the note is devoid of figures, showcasing a cornucopia of Ukraine’s bounty capped by Narbut’s tryzub. Two Ionic-styled columns positioned against a mesh background create a stark impression softened by the interplay of two tones of blue.
Narbut utilized the bust of the female figure used on the 100 Hryven note in other note designs such as the 30 Shahiv postage stamp currency (P8) and the 500 Hryven (P9) note in the same series. Narbut’s design was also used to fund the Government in exile by being reimagined by other artists and sold as limited-edition prints, such as the drawing done by Pyotr Kholodny (P10) and issued by the Government of Lviv in 1923. In 2018, to mark the centenary of the Ukrainian Revolution of 1917-’21 and the first Ukrainian paper money, the National Bank of Ukraine issued a commemorative banknote (P11) featuring the design used on the first 100 Hryven banknote of 1918. However, perhaps the biggest testament to the enduring legacy of the design of the first 100 Hryven banknote is that elements of it are still used today on Ukraine’s circulating 50 Hryven banknotes (P12). There is little doubt that Narbut’s design used on the 100 Hryven note is one of the most iconic in Ukraine’s history.
(SEE THE FIRST REPLY TO THIS JOURNAL ENTRY TO VIEW IMAGES OF THE NOTES REFERENCED IN THE LAST PARAGRAPH)