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Coin And Paper Of North Russia--Trafficking In Exchange--New Issue Of Paper Roubles--Trying To Peg Rouble Currency--Yanks Lose On Pay Checks Drawn On British Pound Sterling Banks.

The writer has a silver Nicholas the Fifth rouble. It is one of the very few silver coins seen in Russia. Here and there a soldier was able to get hold of silver and gold coins of the old days, but they were very scarce. The Russian peasant had to feel a high degree of affection for an American before he would part with one of his hoarded bits of real money.

Of paper money there was no end. When the Americans landed, they were met by small boys on the streets with sheets of Archangel state money under their arms. The perforations of some Kerenskies were not yet disturbed when great sheets and rolls of it were taken from the bodies of dead Bolos. Everybody had paper money. The Bolsheviki were counterfeiting the old Czar's paper money and the Kerensky money and issuing currency of their own. The Polar Bear and Walrus 25-rouble notes of Archangel and their sign-board size government gold bond notes were printed in England, as were later the other denominations of Archangel roubles, better known as British roubles. Needless to say there was a great speculation in money and exchange. Nickolai and Kerensky and Archangel and British guaranteed roubles tumbled over one another in the market. Of course trafficking in money was taboo but was brisk.

Early the Yankee got on to this game. His American money was even more prized than the English or French. The Russian gave him great rolls of roubles of various sorts for his greenbacks. Then he took the good money on the ships in the harbor and bought, usually through a sailor, boxes of candy and cartons of cigarettes and,--whisper this, bottles and cases of whiskey of which thousands of cases found their way to Archangel. The Russian then went out into the ill-controlled markets and side streets of Archangel and sold to his own countrymen these luxuries at prices that would make an American sugar profiteer or bootlegger seem a piker. Meanwhile the Yank or Tommie or Poilu went to his own commissary or to the British Navy and Army Canteen Bureau, "N. A. C. B." to the doughboy's memory, or to our various "Y" canteens and at a fixed rate of exchange--a rate fixed by the bankers in London--to use his roubles in buying things. He could also use the roubles in buying furs and skins of the Russians who still had the same saved from the looting Bolsheviki. At the rate first established, an English pound sterling was exchangeable for forty-eight roubles and vice versa. But on the illicit market, the pound would bring anywhere from eighty to one hundred and forty roubles. The American five dollar bill which was approximately worth fifty roubles in this "pegged" rouble money on the market when an American ship was in the harbor, would bring one hundred to one hundred and fifty roubles. No wonder the doughboy who was stationed around Archangel or Bakaritza found it possible to stretch his money a good way. Many a dollar of company fund was made to buy twice as much or more than it otherwise would have bought. And in passing, let it be remarked that the Yank who had access to N. A. C. B. and other canteen stores was not slow in joining the thrifty Russki in this trafficking game, illicit though it was. And truth to tell, many a case of British whiskey was stolen by Yank and Tommie and Russki and Poilu and sent rejoicing on its way through these devious underground channels of traffic. One American officer in responsible position had to suffer for it when he returned to the States. The doughboys and medics and engineers who were up there are still filled with mixed emotions on the subject, a mixture of indignation and admiration.

"Let him now who is guiltless throw the first stone."

Returning to the discussion of currency, let it be recorded that after the market was flooded with all sorts of money and after the ships stopped coming because of the great ice barrier, the money market became wilder than ever. Finally the London bankers who had been the victims of this speculation, decided upon a new issue of pegged currency. At forty to the pound the old roubles were called in. That is, every soldier who had forty-eight roubles could exchange them for forty new crisp and pretty roubles. Their beauty was marred by the rubber stamp which was put over the sign of old Nicholas' rule, which the thoughtless or tactless London money maker printed on the issue. The Russian would have none of this new money with that suggestion of restoration of Czar rule. Inconsistently enough they still prized the old Nickolai rouble notes as the very best paper currency in the land, and loud was the outcry at giving forty-eight Nickolais for forty English-printed and guaranteed roubles of their own new Archangel government.

To stimulate the retirement of all other forms of currency, which measure in a settled country would have been a sensible economic pressure, the Archangel government set a date when not forty-eight but fifty-six roubles might be exchanged for forty new roubles. Then a date for sixty-four, then for seventy-two and then eighty. Thus the skeptical peasant and the suspicious soldier saw his old roubles steadily decline in exchange value for the new roubles. Of course they had always grabbed all the counterfeit stuff and used it in exchange with no compunctions. That was the winning part of the game. Now they were pinched. It afforded some merriment to hear the outcries of some who had been making rolls of money in the trafficking.

At the same time there was real suffering on the part of peasants in far distant areas who could not get their currency up for exchange or for stamping and punching which itself was finally necessary to even get the eighty-forty rate. They felt mistreated. To their simple hearts and ignorant minds, it was nothing short of robbery by the distant London bankers. Soldiers on the far distant fronts were caught also in the currency reform. Some of the fault was neglect by their own American officers and some was indifference to the subject by those American officers at Archangel who were in position to know what was going to be the result of the attempt to peg the currency at a fixed rate.

An officer who was in Archangel during the summer on Graves Commission service after the American units had been withdrawn, reports that speculators for a song bought up great bales of the old Kerensky and Nickolai currency supposed to be cancelled, dead, defunct stuff, and when there was a considerable evacuation of central Russians who had been for months refugees in Archangel, this currency came out of hiding, and its traffickers realized a handsome profiteerski by selling it to the returning people at sixty to the pound sterling, for in interior Russia the old stuff was still in circulation. At any rate that was Shylokov's advertisement. During the summer, the money market, says Lieut. Primm, became a violent wonder. On one day a person could not obtain two hundred and fifty roubles for one hundred North Russian roubles and a day or two later he might be importuned to take three hundred old for one hundred new.

Neither the soldiers nor the Russians saw any justice in this flip-flopping of the currency market, to which of course they themselves were contributors. The thing they saw clearly was that when they had need of English credit (that is, checks) to send money to London banks or when they wanted to buy goods from England or America, then they could buy only with the new, the guaranteed rouble, which might be dear, even at one hundred and twenty-five to the pound sterling and was dearer of course in terms of old roubles, the more the demand was for the new roubles which were in the hands of speculators who manipulated the market as sweetly for themselves as the American profiteers with their oral and written advertisements manipulate our foodstuffs and goods for us. On the other hand, if the soldier or peasant or small merchant had dues coming to him in English money he then found them valued at forty to the pound sterling. This difference between eighty and one hundred and twenty-five he thought (naturally enough to his unsophisticated mind) was due to the vacillation in policy of enforcement of the pegged rate and prosecution of the traffickers.

However opinion may differ as to the blame for the inability to peg the exchange, we know it was a bonanza to the speculators. Ponzi ought to have been there to compete with the whiskered money sharks. And we know there were Americans as well as British, French, Russians and other nationals who were numbered among those speculators.

After all is said we must admit that the money situation was one that was exceedingly difficult to handle. It was infinitely worse in Bolshevikdom. The doughboy who used to find pads of undetached counterfeit Kerenskie on the dead Bolsheviks, can well believe that thirty dollars of good American chink one day in the Soviet part of Russia bought an American newspaper man one million paper roubles of the Lenine-Trotsky issue, and that before night, spending his money at the famine prices in the worthless paper, he was a dead-broke millionaire.

During the time American soldiers were in Russia they were paid in checks drawn on London. During the war, this was at the pegged rate ($4.76-1/4) which had been fixed by agreement between London and New York bankers to prevent violent fluctuations. But at the end of the war, after the Armistice, the peg was pulled and the natural course of the market sent the pound sterling steadily downward, as the American dollar rose in value as compared with other currencies of the world. To those who were dealing day by day this was all in the game of money exchange. But to the soldier in far-off North Russia who had months of pay coming to him when he left the forests of the Vaga and Onega this was a real financial hardship. Many a doughboy whose wife or mother was in need at home because of the rapidly mounting prices put up by the slackers in the shops and the slackers in the marts of trade, now saw his little pay check shrink up in exchange value. He felt that his superior officers in the war department had hardly looked after his interests as well as they might have done. Major Nichols did succeed at Brest in getting the old pegged rate for the men and officers, but many had already parted with the checks at heavy discount for fear that the nearer they got to the land for which they had been fighting, the more discount there would be on the pay checks with which their Quartermaster had paid them their pittances. Soldiers of the second detachment came on home with Colonel Stewart to Camp Custer and were obliged (most of them) to take their little $3.82 per pound sterling of the British pound sterling paid them by Quartermaster Major Ely in North Russia, at $4.76-1/4. Later, through the efforts of the late Congressman Nichols, many of those soldiers were reimbursed. Of course complete restitution would have been made by the war department if all the soldiers had sent their claims in. Hundreds of American veterans of the North Russian campaign lost ten to twenty per cent of their pay check's hard earned value.


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