The Coins, Weights, and Measures, used in Russiaby@hakluyt

The Coins, Weights, and Measures, used in Russia

by Richard Hakluyt March 18th, 2023
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Written by John Hasse in the year 1554. Forasmuch as it is most necessary for all merchants which seek to have traffic in any strange regions, first to acquaint themselves with the coins of those lands with which they do intend to join in traffic, and how they are called from the valuation of the highest piece to the lowest, and in what sort they make their payments, as also what their common weights and measures be.  For these causes I have thought good to write something thereof, according to mine own knowledge and experience, to the end that the merchants of that new adventure may the better understand how the wealth of that new frequented trade will arise.
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The Discovery of Muscovy by Richard Hakluyt is part of the HackerNoon Books Series. You can jump to any chapter in this book here. The Coins, Weights, and Measures, used in Russia

The Coins, Weights, and Measures, used in Russia.

Written by John Hasse in the year 1554.

Forasmuch as it is most necessary for all merchants which seek to have traffic in any strange regions, first to acquaint themselves with the coins of those lands with which they do intend to join in traffic, and how they are called from the valuation of the highest piece to the lowest, and in what sort they make their payments, as also what their common weights and measures be.  For these causes I have thought good to write something thereof, according to mine own knowledge and experience, to the end that the merchants of that new adventure may the better understand how the wealth of that new frequented trade will arise.

First, it is to be noted that the Emperor of Russia hath no other coins than silver in all his land which goeth for payment amongst merchants; yet, notwithstanding, there is a coin of copper, which serveth for the relief of the poor in Moscow, and nowhere else, and that is but only for quas, water, and fruit—as nuts, apples, and such like.  The name of which money is called pole or poles, of which poles there go to the least of the silver coins eighteen.  But I will not stand upon this, because it is no current money amongst merchants.

Of silver coins there be these sorts of pieces: the least is a poledenga; the second, a denga; the third, nowgrote, which is as much to say in English, as halfpenny, penny, and twopence; and for other valued money than this there is none.  There are oftentimes there coins of gold, but they come out of foreign countries; whereof there is no ordinary valuation, but they pass according to the agreement of merchants.

Their order in summing of money is this: as we say in England, halfpenny, penny, shilling, and pound, so say they, poledenga, denga, altine, and rubble (rouble).  There goeth two poledengas to a denga, six dengaes to an altine, and twenty-three altines and two dengaes to a rubble.

Concerning the weights of Russia, they are these.  There are two sorts of pounds in use amongst them—the one great, the other small.  The great pound is just two small pounds; they call the great weight by the name of beasemar, and the small they call the skallawaight.  With this small weight they weigh their silver coins, of which the Emperor hath commanded to put to every small pound three rubbles of silver; and with the same weight they weigh all grocery wares, and almost all other wares, which come into the land, except those which they weigh by the pode, as hops, salt, iron, lead, tin, and batrie, with divers others.  Notwithstanding, they used to weigh batrie more often by the small weight than by the great.

Whensoever you find the prices of your wares rated by the pode, consider that to be the great weight, and the pound to be small.  Also they divide the small pound into forty-eight parts, and they call the eight-and-fortieth part a slotnike, by the which slotnike the retailers sell their wares out of their shops, as goldsmiths, grocers, silk-sellers, and such other, like as we do use to retail by the ounce.  And as for their great weight, which they call the beasemar, they sell by pode or ship pound.  The pode doth contain of the great weight, forty pounds; and of the small, eighty.  There go ten podes to a ship pound.

Yet you must consider that their great weight is not full with ours; for I take not their great pound to be full thirteen ounces, but above twelve I think it be.  But for your just proof, weigh six rubbles of Russian money with our pound weight, and then shall you see what it lacketh; for six rubbles of Russia is, by the Emperor’s standard, the great pound.  So that I think it the next way to know the just weight as well of the great pound as of the small.

There is another weight needful to be known, which is the weight of Wardhouse; for so much as they weigh all their dry fish by weight, which weight is the basemere as they of Russia do use, notwithstanding there is another sort in it.  The names of those weights are these: the marke pound, the great pound, the wee and the ship pound.  The marke pound is to be understood as our pound, and their great is twenty-four of their marke pound; the wee is three great pound; and eight wee is a ship pound.

Now, concerning their measures.  As they have two sorts of weights, so they have also two sorts of measures, wherewith they measure cloth, both linen and woollen.  They call the one an areshine, and the other a locut.  The areshine I take to be as much as the Flanders ell, and their locut half an English yard.  With their areshine they may mete all such sorts of cloths as cometh into the land, and with the locut all such cloth, both linen and woollen, as they make themselves.  And whereas we used to give yard and inch, or yard and handfull, they do give nothing but bare measure.

They have also a measure wherewith they do mete their corn, which they call a set-forth, and the half of that an osmine.  This set-forth I take to be three bushels of London measure.  And as for their drink measure, they call it a spanne, which is much like a bucket; and of that I never saw any true rate, but that some was greater than other some.  And as for the measures of Wardhouse, wherewith they mete their cloth, there is no difference between that and the measure of danske, which in half an English ell.

Concerning the tolls and customs of Russia, it was reported to me in Muscovy that the Turks and Armenians pay the tenth penny custom of all the wares they bring into the Emperor’s land, and above that they pay for all such goods as they weigh at the Emperor’s beam two pence of the rouble, which the buyer or seller must make report of to the master of the beam.  They also pay a certain horse toll, which is in divers places of his realm four pence of a horse.

The Dutch nation are free of this; notwithstanding for certain offences, they had lost their privileges, which they have recovered this summer, to their great charge.  It was reported to me by a justice of that country, that they paid for it thirty thousand roubles, and also that Rye, Dorpt, and Revel, have yielded themselves under the government of the Emperor of Russia; whether this was a brag of the Russians or not, I know not, but thus he said, and, indeed, while we were there, there came a great ambassador out of Liffeland for the assurance of their privileges.

To speak somewhat of the commodities of this country, it is to be understood that there is a certain place fourscore miles from the sea called Colmogro; to which place there resort all the sorts of wares that are in the north parts—as oils, salt, stock-fish, salmon, feathers, and furs; their salt they make of salt water by the seaside; their oils they make of seals, whereof they have great store, which is brought out of the bay where our ships came in; they make it in the spring of the year, and bring it to Colmogro to sell, and the merchants there carry it to Novogrod, and so sell it to the Dutch nation.  Their stock-fish and salmon cometh from a place called Mallums, not far from Wardhouse; their salmon and their salt they carry to Moscow, and their dried fish they carry to Novogrod, and sell it there to the Leeflanders.

The furs and feathers which come to Colmogro, as sables, beavers, minks, ermine lettis, graies, wolverins, and white foxes, with deer-skins, they are brought thither by the men of Penninge, Lampne, and Powstezer, which fetch them from the Samoydes that are counted savage people, and the merchants that bring these furs do use to truck with the merchants of Colmogro for cloth, tin, batrie, and such other like, and the merchants of Colmogro, carry them to Novogrod, Vologda, or Moscow, and sell them there.  The feathers which come from Penning they do little esteem.

If our merchants do desire to know the meetest place of Russia for their standing house; in mine opinion I take it to be Vologda, which is a great town standing in the heart of Russia with many great and good towns about it.  There is great plenty of corn, victuals, and of all such wares as are raised in Russland (Russia), but specially flax, hemp, tallow, and bacon; there is also great store of wax, but it cometh from Moscow.

The town of Vologda is meetest for our merchants, because it lieth amongst all the best towns of Russia, and there is no town in Russia but trades with it; also the water is a great commodity to it.  If they plant themselves in Moscow or Novogrod their charge will be great and wonderful, but not so in Vologda, for all things will there be had better cheap by the one-half; and for their vent, I know no place so meet; it is likely that some will think the Moscow to be the meetest by the reason of the court, but by that reason I take it to be worse; for the charge there would be so great by cravers and expenses that the moiety of the profit would be wholly consumed, which in the other place will be saved.  And yet, notwithstanding, our merchants may be there in the winter to serve the Emperor and his Court.  The Emperor is a great merchant himself of wax and sables, which with good foresight may be procured to their hands; as for other commodities there are little or none in Muscovy besides those above rehearsed; if there be other it is brought thither by the Turks, who will be dainty to buy our cloths considering the charges of carriages overland.

Our merchants may do well to provide for the Russians such wares as the Dutch nation doth serve them of, as Flanders and Holland cloths, which I believe they shall serve better with less charge than they of Rye or Dorpt, or Revel; for it is no small adventure to bring their cloths out of Flanders to either of these places, and their charge not little to carry them overland to Novogrod which is from Rye nine hundred Russian miles.

This Novogrod is a place well furnished with flax, wax, hides, tallow, and many other things; the best flax in Russia is brought thither, and there sold by the hundred bundles, which is done also at Vologda, and they that bring the flax to Novogrod dwell as near Vologda as Novogrod, and when they hear of the utterance which they may have with our nation, they will as willingly come to them as go to the other.

They have in Russia two sorts of flax, the one is called great flax, and the other small; that which they call great flax is better by four roubles in a hundred bundles than the small.  It is much longer than the other, and cleaner, without wood; and whereas of the small flax there go twenty-seven or twenty-eight bundles to a ship pound; there goeth not of the greater sort above twenty-two or twenty-four at the most.  There are many other trifles in Russia, as soap, mats, &c., but I think there will be no great account made of them.

Articles conceived and determined for the Commission of the Merchants of this Company resiant (resident) in Russia, and at the Wardhouse, for the second voyage, 1555, the first of May, as followeth.

First the governor, consuls, assistants, and whole company assembled this day in open Court committeth and authoriseth Richard Gray and George Killingworth jointly and severally to be agents, factors, and attorneys, general and special, for the whole body of this company; to buy, sell, truck, change, and permute, all and every kind and kinds of wares, merchandises, and goods, to the said company appertaining, now laden and shipped in the good ship called the Edward Bonaventure, appointed for Russia, the same to utter and sell to the most commodity, profit, and advantage of the said corporation, be it for ready money, wares, and merchandises, or truck, presently, or for time, as occasion and benefit of the company shall require, and all such wares as they or either of them shall buy, truck, or provide, or cause to be bought for the company to lade them homeward in good order and condition, as by prudent course of merchandises shall, and ought to appertain, which article extendeth also to John Brooke for the Wardhouse, as in the seventeenth and eighteenth articles of this commission appeareth.

2.  Item, it is also committed, as above, to the said agents, to bind and charge the said company by debt for wares upon credit, as good opportunity and occasion shall serve, with power to charge and bind the said company and their successors for the payments of such things as shall be taken up for credit, and the said agents to be relieved, ab opere satis dandi.

3.  Item, full authority and power is committed to the said first-named factors, together with Richard Chanceler, grand pilot of this fleet, to repair to the Emperor’s court, there to present the King and Queen’s Majesty’s letters, written in Greek, Polish, and Italian, and to give and exhibit the merchants’ presents at such time and place as shall be thought most expedient; they, or one of them, to demand, and humbly desire of the Emperor, such further grants and privileges to be made to this company as may be beneficial for the same, to continue in traffic with his subjects, according to such instructions as be in this behalf devised and delivered to the agents whereunto relation is to be had, and some one of these persons to attend upon the court for the obtaining of the same, as to their discretions shall be thought good.

4.  Item, that all the said agents do well consider, ponder, and weigh such articles as be delivered to them, to know the natures, dispositions, laws, customs, manners, and behaviours of the people of the countries where they shall traffic, as well of the nobility as of the lawyers, merchants, mariners, and common people, and to note diligently the subtleties of their bargaining, buying and selling, making as few debts as possibly may be; and to be circumspect, that no law, neither of religion nor positive, be broken or transgressed by them, or any minister under them, nor yet by any mariner or other person of our nation; and to foresee that all tolls, customs, and such other rights, be so duly paid, that no forfeiture or confiscation may ensue to our goods either outward or inward; and that all things pass with quiet, without breach of the public peace or common tranquillity of any of the places where they shall arrive or traffic.

5.  Item, that provision be made in Moscow or elsewhere, in one or more good towns, where good trade shall be found for a house or houses for the agents and company to inhabit and dwell at your accustomed diets, with warehouses, cellars, and other houses of offices requisite; and that none of the inferior ministers, of what place or vocation soever he be, do lie out of the house of the agents without license to be given; and that every inferior officer shall be obedient to the orders, rules, and governments of the said agents; and in case any disobedient person shall be found among any of them, then such person to be punished for his misbehaviour at the discretion of the said agents, or of one of them in the absence of the other.

6.  Item, if any person of the said ministers shall be of such pride or obstinacy, that after one or two honest admonitions he will not be reformed nor reconciled from his faults, then the said agents to displace every such person from the place or room to him here committed, and some other discreet person to occupy the same, as to the said agents by their discretions shall seem meet.

7.  Item, if any person shall be found so arrogant, that he will not be ordered nor reformed by the said agents, or by one of them in the absence of the other, then the said person to be delivered to the justice of the country, to receive such punishment as the laws of the country do require.

8.  Item, that the said agents and factors shall daily one hour in the morning confer and consult together what shall be most convenient and beneficial for the company; and such orders as they shall determine, to be written by the secretary of the company, in a book to be provided for that purpose; and no inferior person to infringe or break any such order or device, but to observe the same exactly, upon such reasonable pain as the agents shall put him to by discretion.

9.  Item, that the said agents shall in the end of every week, or oftener, as occasion shall require, peruse, see, and try, not only the cashier’s books, reckonings, and accounts, firming the same with their hands, but also shall receive and take weekly the account of every other officer, as well of the vendes, as of the empteous, and also of the state of the household expenses, making thereof a perfect declaration as shall appertain; the same accounts also to be firmed by the said agents’ hands.

10.  Item, that no inferior minister shall take upon him to make any bargain or sale of any wares, merchandises, or goods, but by the commission and warranties of the said agents under their hands; and he not to transgress his commission by any way, pretence, or colour.

11.  Item, that every inferior minister—that is to understand, all clerks and young merchants being at the order of the said agents—shall ride, go, sail, and travel to all such place and places as they or he shall be, appointed unto by the said agents, and effectually to follow and do that which to him or them shall be committed, well and truly to the most benefit of the company, according to the charge to him or them committed, even as by their oaths, duties, and bonds of their masters they be bounden and charged to do.

12.  Item, that at every month’s end all accounts and reckonings shall be brought into perfect order into the ledger or memorial; and the decrees, orders, and rules of the agents, together with the privileges and copies of letters, may and shall be well and truly written by the secretary, in such form as shall be appointed for it, and that the copies of all their doings may be sent home with the said ship at her return.

13.  Item, that all the agents do diligently learn and observe all kinds of wares, as well naturals as foreign, that be beneficial for this realm, to be sold for the benefit of the company; and what kind of our commodities and other things of these west parts be most vendable in those realms with profit, giving a perfect advice of all such things requisite.

14.  Item, if the Emperor will enter into bargain with you for the whole mass of your stock, and will have the trade of it to utter to his own subjects, then debating the matter prudently among yourselves, set such high prices of your commodities as you may assure yourselves to be gainers in your own wares, and yet—to buy theirs at such base prices as you may here also make a commodity and gain at home, having in your minds the notable charges that the company have defrayed in advancing this voyage; and the great charges that they sustain daily in wages, victuals, and other things, all which must be requited by the wise handling of this voyage, which, being the first precedent shall be a perpetual precedent for ever; and therefore all circumspection is to be used; and foreseeing in this first enterprise, which God bless and prosper under you to His glory and the public wealth of this realm, whereof the Queen’s majesty and the Lords of the Council have conceived great hope, whose expectations are not to be frustrated.

15.  Item, it is to be had in mind that you use all ways and means possible to learn how men may pass from Russia, either by land or by sea, to Cathaia, and what may be heard of our other ships, and to what knowledge you may come, by conferring with the learned or well-travelled persons, either natural or foreign, such as have travelled from the north to the south.

16.  Item, it is committed to the said agents that, if they shall be certified credibly that any of our said first ships be arrived in any place whereunto passage is to be had by water or by land, that then certain of the company, at the discretion of the agents, shall be appointed to be sent to them to learn their estate and condition, to visit, refresh, relieve, and furnish them with all necessaries and requisites at the common charges of the company, and to embrace, accept, and entreat them as our dear and well-beloved brethren of this our society to their rejoicing and comfort, advertising Sir Hugh Willoughbie and others of our carefulness of them and their long absence, with our desire to hear of them, with all other things done in their absence for their commodity, no less than if they had been present.

17.  Item, it is decreed that, when the ships shall arrive at this going forth at the Wardhouse, that their agents—with Master Chanceler, grand pilot; John Brooke, merchant, deputed for the Wardhouse, with John Backhand, master of the Edward; John Howlet, master, and John Robbins, pilot, of the Philip and Mary—shall confer and consult together that is most profitable to be done therefore for the benefit of the company, and to consider whether they may bargain with the captain of the Castle, and the inhabitants in that place, or along the coast for a large quantity of fish—dry or wet—killed by the naturals, or to be taken by our men at a price reasonable for truck of cloth, meal, salt, or beer, and what train-oil or other commodity is to be had there at this time, or any other season of the year; and whether there will be had or found sufficient lading for both the said ships to be bought there, and how they may confer with the naturals for a continuance in haunting the place, if profit will so arise to the company; and to consider whether the Edward in her return may receive at the Wardhouse any kind of lading homeward, and what it may amount unto, and whether it shall be expedient for the Philip to abide at Wardhouse the return of the Edward out of Russia, or getting that she may return with the first good wind to England without abiding for the Edward; and so to conclude and accord certainly among themselves upon their arrival that the certainty may (upon good deliberation) be so ordered and determined between both ships that the one may be assured of the other; and their determinations to be put in writing duplicate to remain with each ship, according to such order as shall be taken between them.

18.  Item, that John Brooke, our merchant for the Wardhouse, take good advice of the rest of our agents how to use himself in all affairs while the ship shall be at the Wardhouse; he to see good order to be kept, and make bargains advisedly, not crediting the people until their natures, dispositions, and fidelities shall be well tried; make no debts, but to take ware for ware in hand, and rather be trusted than to trust.  Note diligently what be the best wares for those parts, and how the fish falleth on the coast, and by what means it is to be bought at the most advantage, what kinds and diversities of sorts in fishes be, and whether it will keep better in bulk piled or in cask.

19.  Item, he to have a diligent eye and circumspection to the beer, salt, and other liquid wares, and not to suffer any waste to be made by the company; and he in all contracts to require advice, counsel, and consent of the master and pilot; the merchant to be our housewife, as our special trust is in him.  He to tender that no laws nor customs of the country be broken by any of the company, and to render to the prince and other officers all that which to them doth appertain—the company to be quiet, void of all quarrelling, fighting, or vexation; abstain from all excess of drinking as much as may be, and in all to use and behave themselves as to quiet merchants doth and ought to appertain.

20.  Item, it is decreed by the company that the Edward shall return home this year with as much wares as may be conveniently and profitably provided, bought and laden in Russia, and the rest to be taken in at the Wardhouse as by the agents shall be accorded.  But by all means it is to be foreseen and noted that the Edward return home, and not to winter in any foreign place, but to come home, and bring with her all the whole advertisements of the merchants, with such further advices for the next year’s provisions as they shall give.

21.  Item, it is further decreed and ordained inviolably to be observed, that when the good ships, or either of them (by God’s grace) shall return home to the coast of England, that neither of them shall stay or touch in any haven or port of England, otherwise than wind and weather shall serve, but shall directly sail and come to the port of the city of London, the place of their right discharge; and that no bulk be broken, hatches open, chest, fardell, truss, barrell, fat, or whatsoever thing it shall be, be brought out of the ship, until the company shall give order for the same, and appoint such persons of the company as shall be thought meet for that purpose, to take view and consider the ship and her lading, and shall give order for the breaking up of the said bulk, or give license by discretion, for things to be brought to land.  And that every officer shall show the invoice of his charge to him first committed, and to examine the wastes and losses, and to deliver the remainder to the use and benefit of the company, according to such order as shall be appointed in that behalf.

22.  Item, the company exhorteth, willeth, requireth, not only all the said agents, pilots, masters, merchants, clerks, boatswains, stewards, skafemasters, and all other officers and ministers of this present voyage, being put in charge and trust daily to peruse, read, and study, such instructions as be made, given, and delivered to them for perfect knowledge of the people of Russia, Muscovy, Wardhouse, and other places; their dispositions, laws, manners, customs, uses, tolls, carriages, coins, weights, numbers, measures, wares, merchandises, commodities and incommodities, the one to be accepted and embraced, the other to be rejected and utterly abandoned, to the intent that every man taking charge, may be so well taught, perfected, and readily instructed, in all the premises, that, by ignorance, no loss or prejudice may grow or chance to the company, assuring themselves, that forasmuch as the company hath travailed and laboured so in these their instructions to them given, that every man may be perfect, and fully learned to eschew all losses, hurts, and damages, that may ensue by pretence or colour of none knowledge, the company extendeth not to allow, or accept ignorance for any lawful or just cause of excuse, in that which shall be misordered by negligence, the burthen whereof shall light upon the negligent offending person, especially upon such as of their own heads, or temerity, will take upon him or them to do or to attempt anything, whereby prejudice may arise, without the commission of the agents as above is mentioned, whereunto relation be had.

23.  Forasmuch as it is not possible to write and indite such prescribed orders, rules, and commissions to you the agents and factors, but that occasion, time, and place, and the pleasures of the princes, together with the operation or success of fortune, shall change or shift the same, although not in the whole, yet in part, therefore the said company do commit to you their dear and entire beloved agents and factors, to do in this behalf for the commodity and wealth of this company, as by your discretions, upon good advised deliberations, shall be thought good and beneficial.  Provided always that the honour, good-name, fame, credit, and estimation of the same company be conserved and preserved; which to confirm we beseech the living Lord to his glory, the public benefit of this realm, our common profit, and your praises.

Finally, for the service and due accomplishment of all the premises, every agent and minister of, and for, this voyage hath not only given a corporal oath upon the Evangelists to observe, and cause to be observed, this commission, and every part, clause, and sentence of the same, as much as in him lieth, as well for his own part as for any other person, but also have bound themselves and their friends to the company in several sums of money, expressed in the acts and records of this society, for the truth and fidelities of them for the better, and also manifester testification of the truth, and of their oaths, promises, and bands aforesaid, they have to this commission subscribed particularly their several hands, and the company also in confirmation of the same, have set their seal.  Given the day, month, and years first above mentioned.

The Oath Ministered to the Servants of the Fellowship.

Ye swear by the holy contents of that book, that ye shall well, faithfully, and truly and uprightly, and with all your endeavour, serve this right worshipful company in that order, which by this fellowship’s agent or agents in the dominions of the Emperor of Russia, &c., shall be unto you committed, by commission, commandment, or other his direction.  And that you shall be obedient and faithful to the same, our agent or agents, and that well and truly and uprightly, according to the commission, charge, commandment, or other direction of the said agent or agents to you from time to time given and to be given, you shall prosecute and do all that which in you lieth for the good renown, commodity, benefit, and profit of the said fellowship; and you shall not, directly or indirectly, openly or covertly, do, exercise, or use any hide or feat of merchandises for your own private account, commodity, gain, or profit, or for the account of or for any other person or persons without consent or license of this said fellowship first obtained in writing.  And if you shall know or understand any other person or persons to use, exercise, or do any trade, traffic, or feat of merchandise to or for his or their own account or accounts, at any time or times hereafter, that then ye shall truly and plainly disclose, open, utter, and reveal, and show the same unto the said fellowship, without fraud, colour, covin, or delay: So help you God, &c.

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