For the past two years, Russia’s Central Bank has been considering the elimination of its smallest yet historically beloved coin, the kopeck. This might be the most obvious economic choice ever, as even a fresh-off-the-plane study abroad student could figure out. In 1704, Russia was the first country in the world to introduce a decimal monetary system, where one ruble was equal to one hundred kopeks. This worked great—until rampant inflation set in.
Today, the cost of producing a kopeck is approximately forty-five times higher than the value of the coin itself, which is equal to one hundredth of a rouble, which is itself about one-third of a dollar. So we’re talking about .03 cents here. Ah Russia, where a five-kopeck coin costs seventy kopecks to make.
Over the last few years, the average price of all the kopeck’s ingredients (copper, nickel, and compressed steel) have risen by 30-47%. Other problems with the kopeck include ongoing inflation and new technology. I’ve noticed that almost nothing in Russia is priced in kopecks, and Russians increasingly use credit cards.
So what are you to do when the surly cashier at Ideya or the post office gives you change in kopecks? They’re no good for vending machines, cashiers hate to see you break them out, and because they don’t have ridges, they’re not even good for scratching lottery tickets. I mean…I’ve seen beggars on the metro turn them down. Even native Russians seem baffled by them (there does not appear to be a CoinStar equivalent here)—it’s no wonder Russians occasionally refer to their currency as деревянный (wooden).
So I present to you some alternative uses for kopecks, practiced by IMOP students and Russians alike:
1.) The most obvious, use them to make wishes in fountains. Russians seem so desperate to be rid of their kopecks, that you can usually find a lot of them around statues as well. At Peterhof, for example, visitors pelt a certain statue of Peter the Great with kopecks, hoping to land one in the flared top of his riding boots.
Around St. Petersburg, you will notice a lot of memorial plaques displayed at the birthplaces or former homes of famous Russians (writers, painters, ballerinas, etc). Many of these have a kind of shelf or windowsill beneath them, on which you can place flowers in remembrance. It is also common to leave kopecks there.
2.) Use your kopecks as a projectile. While ineffective in terms of damage (a kopeck is lighter than a dime), they can sometimes make an intimidating noise.
3.) Put them under a wobbly vase or table leg to keep it steady.
4.) Save your kopecks until you have enough to make sculptures, or a mini kopeck city of towers. Street art?
5.) A kopeck coin is just the right size to use in place of a flathead screwdriver. In a similar fashion, you can also use them to open remote control battery compartments.
6.) While useless in Russia, kopecks are much more valuable and interesting once you get back to the US. If you happen to get a really shiny one, it could make a good souvenir.
7.) Most Russian families (and many IMOP students) have a bottle or box for kopecks at home, to save the trouble of carrying around a pocketful of essentially useless coins. Once full, they make great doorstops, weapons, and counterweights to keep your laundry line taut.