Medals and Coins of Alexander I

Image: Medallion of Alexander I, Emperor of all the Russias. 1812.

Image from: Birmingham Assay Office (256)

The coronation of Alexander I took place in September 1801. At that time foreign artists were still short of images of the young Russian Emperor, so it was important for Boulton to find an original of a good quality.

An image of Alexander I was first mentioned in the letter of Matthew Boulton’s London agent R.Chippendall on 16th November 1801 (However, it seems that Chippendall mistakenly dated his letter “1801” as all the other correspondence on this subject is dated ‘1802’). Informing Boulton about his business with a Mr Hoy, “a resident and citizen of Petersburgh”, he wrote that Mr Hoy had  “a very excellent Bust of the Emperor Alexander, which he says is a is a very striking likeness, and which he seemed to wish you to see.”10 . Mr Hoy was probably a merchant and St Petersburg shopkeeper who had business relations with Boulton, and brought to market some of his wares. At the end of the 18th and early 19th centuries, among several Petersburg “English Shops”, there was one establishment owned by Messrs Hoy and Bellis at 74, Malaia Millionnaia. It was quite successful, as an English visitor wrote in May 1801: “…went into the Shop of Mrs Hoy, a great English house that sells everything.”11 Merchants coming to Britain from Russia obviously brought not only the latest news of “precarious state of Northern affairs”, but also various items including portraits of Emperors and other notable personalities.

On 28 November 1802 Matthew Boulton wrote to R.Chippendall:
I want to have engraved the following heads viz.
1st The King for I have no good likeness of him.
2nd The Emperor of Russia from a bust now at Hackney /…/ But I would not bestow a Die upon any one of them unless I could obtain a good likeness which can only be done by Modelling the face from the original.

On the same day Boulton also wrote to the London sculptor and wax modeller Peter Rouw (1771-1852) requesting him to make a model of the bust of “the Emperor of Russia from a Bust in the possession of Mr Weissinghausen, No3 Castle Court Cannon Street.” 13 .

Peter Rouw was well known to Boulton. In the same year 1802 he produced fine wax medallions of James Watt (National Portrait Gallery, No183), of Matthew Boulton himself and his son Matthew Robinson Boulton. Next year they were exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts.

It is not clear who Mr Weissinghausen was, but Chippendall obviously kept his idea of Mr Hoy’s bust, as on 30th November he wrote back:
I have introduced Rouw to Kuechler and knowing Mr Hoy had a very excellent Bust of the Emperor Alexander I have, in company of the two artists, had a sight of it at Mr Hoy’s house, – with which they are both much pleased. – Mr Hoy with great politeness has proposed for Mr Rouw to take the Bust to his apartments and return it to him when he has done with it … tomorrow he leaves this Kingdom for Petersburgh – of which I was acquainted, what caus’d me to lose no time in the application. …There can be no doubt (from the Acc[ounts] of some Russians we saw) that this bust is from the same cast as the one you mention and from their account as well as that of Mr Hoy) – there cannot well be a greater likeness.14

. On 7th December Chippendall wrote again: “I have seen Rouw this day – he has Alexander’s head now by him – a likeness and impression from a seal belonging to Mr Hoy – which is likewise reckon’d a likeness.”15

The work on Alexander’s coins was obviously connected with the needs of the Russian Mint, as in Boulton’s notebook there is a memorandum for himself from the end of March 1803: “Send for a medal or a Model of the Emperor’s head and I will […] engrave a pair of dies, make the pinchers and strike a few pieces all which I will send to the Mint at St P[etersburg] with the collars, also 2 sets of medals”16 . On the next page – another memo: “Write Mr Olenine, answer his letter, Portrait of the Emperor’.

In April 1803 the bust of Emperor along with Rouw’s wax model arrived at Soho.
Specimens with the portrait of Alexander I were produced in silver, copper gilt and copper. Actually they are not medals, but pattern coins (roubles and poltinas, or half roubles). The signature of C H Kuchler on some of specimens adds the artistic and hictorical value to them. The coins vary in size, weight and even design. All of them have on the obverse the portrait of Alexander I, with the inscription: “ALEXANDER I.D.G.IMP. AVTOCR.RVSSOR.” Some of them on the reverse have a Greek cross on a plain field and the date: 1804. Another design on reverse represents the Russian coat of arms: a double headed spread eagle holding an orb and sceptre.

Unfortunately, neither Kuchler, nor Rouw named the sculptor of the original image of the Russian Emperor, on which their works were based. It should be mentioned that in spite of all Rouw’s and Kuchler’s efforts, there is no real resemblance between Alexander I and the image on the coin. Further research would be helpful in establishing a more detailed account of the provenance and history of these fine artistic works.

The “Russian” medals and coins of Soho Mint indicate strong links between Russia and Birmingham at the time of Industrial Revolution. They are not only objects of high artistic merit, but one more example of Matthew Boulton’s deep interest in Russian current affairs and his professional response to them.

12 Cit. Pollard J.G, “Matthew Boulton and Conrad Heinrich Kuchler, The Numismatic Chronicle, Vol.X, London, 1970, p.300.

13 Birmingham City Archives, MB’s letter to Rouw, No 178

14 Birmingham City Archives, MBP, Chippendall, No131.

15 Birmingham City Archives, MBP, Chippendall, No 134.

16 Birmingham City Archives, MBP 378/76.

Catherine the Great’s Medals

Image: Death of Catherine the Great. Double-headed eagle and bust of the monarch. 1796. Designed by Conrad Heinrich Kuchler.

Image from:: Birmingham Assay Office (19)

Catherine the Great was one of Boulton’s most important customers. Over the decades he supplied her court with ormolu wares, and her last commission was the supply of machinery for the St Petersburg Mint. Her death in November 1796 caused many troubles for the Mint business, as Paul I, who succeeded to the throne, loathed his mother’s style of life and reversed her policies. In reaction, he tried to revive the memory of his father, Peter III, who had been murdered in 1762. Paul started his reign with the spectacular removal of Peter’s remains from the Alexander-Nevsky Monastery to the Peter-Paul Cathedral in the Peter-Paul Fortress, where all Russian Tsars since Peter the Great had been buried. This event was commemorated by a medal with the portrait of Peter III (by C Leberecht).

Boulton seems to have well understood the situation at the Russian Court, as in February 1797 he wrote ironically to one of his correspondents:

I have been so much engaged with /…/ trying to settle a Treaty of Amity with Paul Ist that I have not had time to think of you. /…/The Emperor to shew his duty and affection to his mother, has turned out her ministers, changed the plan of politics, countermanded his orders to me. /…/ Nevertheless I have some reasons to think he will come back again to my shop when he is crowned on the day his mother is buried.7

For Matthew Boulton it was only natural to commemorate Catherine the Great’s death with a fine gilt medal. On the obverse there is a portrait of the Empress and the inscription:
‘Б.М. ЕКАТЕРИНА II. ИМПЕРАТ. И САМОДЕРЖ. ВСЕРОСС. [By the Grace of God Catherine II Empress and Autocrat of All the Russias].
On the reverse the Coat of Arms of the Russian Empire is shown, and the dates of Catherine’s life: NAT.2 MAJ.MDCCXXIX OBIIT 6/17 NOV.MDCCXCVI [Born 2nd May1729 Died 6/17 November 1796].

In the Catalogue of the Collection of Coins, Medals, Medallions, Tokens, Dies etc. in the Assay Office (Birmingham, 1985) this medal is dated 1796. However, it was probably not Paul I who commissioned the medal on the death of his mother, nor was he likely to have been pleased with such an object. The specimen from the Hermitage catalogue is dated “c.1803”, which places it in the reign of Alexander I, the beloved grandson of Catherine the Great8 .

In the Hermitage collection there is another work of medallic art associated with the Soho Mint – a gold miniature medal intended for setting in a ring. It reproduces a carved portrait of Catherine the Great cut by her daughter-in-law, the Grand Duchess Maria Fedorovna (1759-1828) who was the wife of Paul I. She possessed significant artistic talent. Carl Leberecht gave her lessons in wax modelling, ivory carving, engraving on steel and on gemstones. Her portrait cameo of Catherine the Great was sent to J.Wedgwood to be copied in jasper. Jacob Reichel, a major collector, medallist and designer at the St Petersburg Mint (1760-1856), believed that the medal had been made on Matthew Boulton’s lathe9

7 Birmingham City Archives, MBP 326/5

8 Treasures of Catherine the Great. Hermitage Rooms at Somerset House (London, 2000), p.68. Cat.No 95.

9 Treasures of Catherine the Great, p 68, Cat.No 94.

The A.V. Suvorov Medal

Image: Count Alexander Suvarow, Liberator of Italy. 1799. Designed by Conrad Heinrich Kuchler.

Image from: Birmingham Assay Office (25)

The “Suwarrow” medal was first mentioned in an agreement between Kuchler and Boulton on 10th June 17994. It is dedicated to the victory of General-Field Marshal Alexander Suvorov (1729-1800) over French troops in Italy. It is rather strange that the work on it was started long before the military campaign was complete.

In 1798 Russia joined the second anti-French coalition, which included Great Britain, Austria, Naples and Turkey. It was William Pitt who proposed Suvorov as Commander-in-Chief of the allied forces in Northern Italy. At the urgent request of the allies the Emperor Paul I had to agree. In spite of the fact that the famous Suvorov was out of favour with the Emperor and had even been dismissed in 1797 and exiled to his estate Konchanskoe, near Novgorod, Paul had to recall him and send him to Italy. Suvorov left Petersburg in February 1799. Passing through Mitava he was presented to the exiled French King Louis XVIII. He arrived at the army in Italy on 4th April 1799, and only four days later he undertook several actions in the region of the river Adda, and defeated troops of Generals Scherer, Moreau and Seruier.

On 18th April Suvorov’s troops occupied Milan, and on 15th May they took Turin.
In June a French army under General Macdonald was defeated in a fierce battle at Trebbia. On 17th July the fortress of Mantua, one of the best fortified French bases in Italy, capitulated. On 4th August sharp fighting for the town of Novi took place. In this 16 hours long battle the French forces suffered an utter defeat. The allies themselves lost 6,000 men killed and wounded. In his letter to Paul I, Suvorov said that “it was the bloodiest battle in the chronicles of the world”. In a very short time the French were finally dislodged from the whole of Northern Italy, which was claimed by Austria.

The Russian Ambassador Count S.Vorontsov reported from London that Suvorov “was the idol of the English nation, and his health is drunk every day in houses, taverns and cottages” 6 . For the victory in this campaign Paul I presented Suvorov with the title of ‘Prince of Italy’. This is the moment which is commemorated in the Kuechler’s medal.

On the obverse the profile bust of Suvorov is shown, with an inscription around: “ALEX.SUWOROW PRINC. ITAL. COM. RIMNIKS.” The portrait derives from the Russian medal of Suvorov by the artist Carl Leberecht (1755-1827) who was a leading engraver at the St Petersburg Mint. Leberecht’s medal was struck in 1790. It marked Suvorov’s victories of 1787, 1788 and 1790 in the Russo-Turkish war, when he was granted the title ‘Count of Rymnic’. On the reverse Suvorov is shown as a Roman warrior, or Mars, the God of War, raising the figure of Italy and trampling on the shield of a fallen French soldier. An inscription around announces: “ITALIAE LIBERATOR. MDCCXCIX”.

The medal was probably struck before the remarkable crossing of the Alps for Switzerland in September 1799 and the final battles at St Gotthard and Devil Bridge.
For these campaigns, in October 1799 Suvorov was promoted to the highest military rank of Generalissimo, but this rank is not reflected in Kuechler’s medal. These were the last actions of the 70 year old Field Marshal. In October 1799 he was recalled to St Petersburg and died there on 5th May 1800.

The German/British medallist Kuchler was the first artist to express the image of Suvorov as Mars. Next year, on the first anniversary of Suvorov’s death, a monument to him was erected in St Petersburg. In this the Russian sculptor M.I. Kozlovskii (1753-1802) expressed the same idea. Twenty years later, Byron mentioned Suvorov in the same terms in his poem Don Juan.

The Suvorov medal takes a worthy place among the other Soho medals commemorating events of the Napoleonic Wars, such as medal dedicated to Admiral Howe, and particularly the so-called Davison’s Nile medal, which commemorates Lord Nelson’s victory at the battle of the Nile in 1798, and then the Trafalgar medal of 1805.

4 Birmingham City Archives, MBP, 320/40.

5 Longworth P, The Art of Victory. The Life and Achievements of Generalissimo Suvorov(London,1965), p.264.

6 Longworth, op cit, p.264.

Matthew Boulton and Medal Making

Image: Medal commemorating the Union of England and Ireland. 1801. Designed by Conrad Heinrich Kuchler. Britannia shakes hands with Hibernia with a seascape in the background. The bust of George III is on the right.

Image from: Birmingham Assay Office (31)

In 1789, Matthew Boulton wrote to one of his correspondents that the art of medalling was one of the most backward in England, and had made the least progress of any during the reign of his present majesty 1. Turning his interest to the art of the medal, Matthew Boulton begun by executing a fine medal commemorating the King’s recovery in 1789, after his year-long episode of madness. The success of the next medal marking the King’s preservation was such as to induce Boulton to pursue this line of business, not only for profit, but for promoting Soho and increasing its reputation.

Following this success, Boulton employed various designers and engravers for medals, at first the French artist J P Droz (1746-1823), whose employment proved not to be satisfactory, and then German medallist C H Kuchler (c.1740 – 1810).
His life and work are described in detail in the article by J G Pollard “Matthew Boulton and Conrad Heinrich Kuchler”, The Numismatic Chronicle, Vol.X, 1970, p.259-318

Conrad Heinrich Kuchler had worked in Darmstadt, Mannheim and Frankfurt-am-Main, between 1763 and 1777 and then moved to the Low Countries. He arrived in England as a refugee from the French invasion and settled in London. Some of Kuchler’s medals were shown to Matthew Boulton in 1793, and though he was not particularly impressed by them, he offered Kuchler a generous contract for engraving dies for medals. In 1795 Kuchler moved to Birmingham. He became the designer of medals and coins on many subjects which were struck at Soho Mint at the end of the 18th and the early 19th centuries, including items on Russian subjects. Although in 1802 he had left Birmingham for a short time, he soon returned back, and his name is now mainly associated with Soho. In the end he had worked for Boulton for almost 17 years, and died and was buried at Handsworth.

In the printed List of Medals and Coins struck at Soho Mint, Staffordshire2, in the section of medals, among other works, four items on Russian subjects are mentioned:
Emperor of Russia,
General Suwarrow on his success in Italy,
Empress Catherina of Russia,
Emperor Alexander of Russia.

The list is not arranged chronologically. The first and the last ones are probably variants of the same specimen. Examples of the medals are quite rare, but can be found in several collections, including the State Hermitage, the British Museum and the Birmingham Assay Office.

The work on Russian themes coincided in time with Boulton’s design and erection of the Mint for St Petersburg, which took him almost ten years to complete.

It seems that Boulton was well acquainted with Russian medallic art, as among presents from Russia received by him was a set of Russian medals. His son John Phillp, visiting London in June 1802, wrote in his diary: “Went with Mr Chippendall to Mr Young the medal seller in Ludgate Hill. He has a fine and well chosen collection of medals of all descriptions. … I saw a collection of Russian medals, the same, as Mr Boulton had presented to him from the Emperor of Russia. He asks 50 [guineas] for the set.” 3. It is not clear which Emperor of Russia Phillp meant. It might have been either Paul I, or Alexander I, but it explains the sources for the portraits of such Russian personalities as A.V.Suvorov, or Catherine the Great.

1 Smiles S, Lives of Boulton and Watt (1865), p.395.

2 Birmingham City Archives, MBP, Soho Mint, No 416.

3 Birmingham City Archives, Phillp’s Diary 1802

Matthew Boulton’s Medals and Coins on Russian Subjects

Image: Medallion of the Hudson’s Bay Company. 1820. Designed by Conrad Heinrich Kuchler. An example of the high quality medals which were designed by Kuchler.

Image from: Birmingham Assay Office (60)

Text: Olga Baird


Matthew Boulton made many products which achieved high standards of design and manufacturing. Conrad Heinrich Kuchler and Peter Rouw were two of the creative individuals who worked for Matthew Boulton during his lifetime and for his Soho business in Handsworth after his death. Their commemorative medals combined artistic excellence with an equally high standard of execution. Olga Baird’s article provides an insight into creation of medals on Russian subjects and the historical context in which they were produced.