Central Bank: The Ruble Has a Secret, Invisible Sign

It could have been a cracked egg. A duck. Maybe a pretzel. Instead, it's just "RR."

A rather anticlimactic end for the "Sign of the Ruble" contest, which was to solve the ruble's identity crisis by finally giving it a symbol, along the lines of the famous $ or ? or pounds . As it turns out, the premise upon which the contest was based - that the ruble had no official symbol - was not quite sound.

The Central Bank, which initially supported the contest when it was announced in September, has balked. After six months of investigation, the Central Bank has determined that the ruble already has a sign. An invisible sign.

As it was invisible, it seems few people were aware of it.

"Since 1995, all bank notes [issued by] the Central Bank of Russia bear the sign RR or 'Russian Ruble,'" the Central Bank wrote in a letter dated Feb. 17 and delivered to the contest organizers. "The Central Bank of Russia at this moment sees no reason to change this."

Pointing to the five-ruble note as evidence, the Central Bank says that on the face-side there is a stylized ribbon - printed in dark blue on the left and dark green on the right - that conceals the letters RR.

As evidence that it was not just making this up, the Central Bank press service offered documents from 1995 that mention RR (in Russian, PP) as the ruble's official sign.

Participants in the "Sign of the Ruble" contest were devastated and slightly confused.

"Does this mean that our contest is useless? If so, I can only say that I know the dollar sign and the pound sign, but I've never seen or heard anything about a ruble sign," said artist-contestant Sergei Donbrydnev, in an e-mail interview conducted Tuesday. "The ruble has no sign - yet!"

Perhaps the Central Bank simply did not have the stomach to choose among the 311 designs on offer - which run the gamut from a lopsided peace sign to the above-mentioned ducks and pretzels to a play on the Soviet hammer and sickle, the sickle replaced with an 'R.'

Contest organizers - Kommersant newspaper, ORT television, KAK and Dengi magazines and the Portfolio design club - have refused to quit.

"We gave everything we had to this contest and it will continue," said Yury Kalashnov from Portfolio design. He said they would not focus on trying to replace the RR sign with something better.

The idea that the ruble would have a secret identity seems only fair. After all, it has been through a lot; it probably deserves some privacy, some time off by itself.

In the past ten years it has lost 99.996 percent of its value. It has been printed in colors ranging from purple to orange to light-green, and in face values ranging from 1 ruble to 100,000 rubles. It has been redesigned, re-denominated, "put in a corridor," devalued and, at times, simply scorned.

"The ruble - and this is no secret to anyone - isn't the most stable currency," said Portfolio design club's Nikolai Oblapokhin back in September, when the contest was announced. "It ignites no national pride, no one can identify it, and no one ever loves an unknown thing. It's impossible to bring the ruble to international standards immediately, but we can start small by giving it a recognizable symbol."